An artisan from a group called Sacred Mark in Bangladesh makes soap, which Ten Thousand Villages sells in Canada. Benefitting victims of the Bangladesh sex trade, Sacred Mark is part of a rehabilitation program to train these women and offer the possibility of a new life. Photo by Éric St-Pierre

Giving a gift with meaning

  • December 21, 2013

With Christmas around the corner, hasty shopping decisions can lead to purchasing presents void of meaning. If you still have loved ones to buy for, consider these five socially responsible places to buy Christmas gifts that will make a difference.

1. The Brandaid Project’s pop-up shop

If you want to support artisans in Haiti this Christmas, check out this pop-up shop at The Bay’s Queen Street location in Toronto for items ranging from bowls and wall art to cushions and quilts.

“It’s a consumer brand for Western consumers who want to buy products from countries like Haiti and be sure that 25 per cent of the retail price has already been paid to the makers of those products,” says Cameron Brohman, co-founder of the Brandaid Project, an organization that partners with artisans in the developing world to get their art into global markets.

“These are village-based enterprises that support the families in these villages,” adds Brohman, who says the 40-something items will be available until Jan. 2.

2. Ten Thousand Villages

With 36 stores across Canada, Ten Thousand Villages sells fair trade products ranging from jewellery and books to home decor and toys.

“When we deal with artisans in developing countries, we don’t set the price and we don’t negotiate down the price with them,” says Holly deGraaf, director of retail operations and public relations.

In addition to fair wages, fair trade is also about having safe working conditions, says deGraaf.

“It’s also no child labour, it’s empowering women and equality for all. Seventy per cent of our artisans are actually women because the countries that we work in, they often don’t have an opportunity to earn an income.”

3. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Gift of Light

As mental health issues become increasingly apparent in Canadian society, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is running its annual Gifts of Light campaign. Rather than give money towards research — which you can opt to do as well — this program offers donors more concrete options via gifts for patients divided into three categories: heart, hope and healing.

For example, one option is the $25 “Keeping in Touch” gift, which includes a phone card, stationary and transit fare to help a patient reach out in a time of need.

If you feel so inclined to make a donation on a loved one’s behalf, you can send them an e-card, have a card mailed to their home or print and customize a card yourself.

4. Kiva

To help empower entrepreneurs around the world, Kiva is an online ( lending portal that allows you to donate funds that are used to provide bad credit personal loans for worthwhile projects.

From startups in Bolivia and Armenia to local community workers who support their respective economies, there are lots of options.

With gift cards available so your recipient can select an entrepreneur, your money goes far becuase once their loan is repaid, the funds can be reused to make more loans.

5. HomeSense’s Hosting for Hope gifts

If you’re looking to pick up a gift you can put under the tree, HomeSense is selling various housewarming items as part of its “Hosting for Hope” collection.

From a tea set and cocktail shaker to candles and a Scandinavian throw, the net proceeds will be used to support local shelters and violence prevention programs in the community.

(Santilli is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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