(Photo: Reuters/Keith Bedford)
A blend of consumerism and charity often takes over the spirit of America during the Christmas holiday season, and for conscientious consumers there are a number of opportunities to find great gifts and at the same time provide help for someone in need.
A number of different companies, for example, make a charitable donation with each purchase of their products. TOMS Shoes has started the One for One movement, in which they donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for every shoe purchased from their company. The company also sells eyewear, and helps those with vision issues by providing prescription glasses, eye surgery or other medical treatment for each pair of glasses it sells.
Krochet Kids International, a nonprofit Christian organization founded by three high school friends in 2008, sells products crocheted by people in impoverished communities in Uganda and Peru, allowing them to make a fair wage. The organization seeks to not only provide much-needed economic opportunities to people in developing nations, but also provides them with education, mentoring and encouragement.
"We believe actions rooted in love bring lasting and powerful change," the Krochet Kids website states. "Our model for love is that of the ultimate servant: Jesus."
Save1.com, a coupon website, says 17,000 children die every day on average from the effects of malnutrition, which is why the company is working to feed hungry children around the world. Each time an online coupon is used through the site, Save1 uses a portion of the commission they receive to provide a meal. As of Friday afternoon, the organization has provided over 90,700 meals to those in need.
And One Hope Coffee, a self-described "social impact coffee" company, sells coffee beans to help wake people up in the morning while, at the same time, making a positive impact on important social issues. Each month the organization chooses a cause to support, then donates half of its profits from each bag of coffee beans sold to that cause. In the month of November, for example, the company donated half of its profits to creating more awareness about men's health issues, and its website specifically mentions the issue of prostate cancer and the importance of getting screened. One Hope also sells wine, and uses half of its profits to fund a number of other causes, including ending childhood hunger, fighting breast cancer, providing support for veterans and more. One Hope has, to date, raised over $1 million for charity.
In addition to these types of organizations, there are also more direct ways to give gifts to the needy around the world. Open Doors, for example, has an online gift catalog that allows donors to choose from 27 gifts they can have sent to persecuted Christians worldwide.
"Whether you put a Bible in someone's hands, train a struggling pastor, help somebody learn to read the Bible or provide practical help for a martyr's family, you will find there are many gifts you can provide to bring hope where faith costs the most," Open Doors founder Brother Andrew said in a statement. "While life can be painful and unjust, your gift sends this message: 'You are not alone. You are loved and remembered by me.' Your gift will give them hope."
World Vision has a similar catalog. Donors can purchase goats, chickens, ducks and other animals for hungry families, or use their gift to help bring clean water to an area where there are sanitation problems. They can also provide a variety of other things, like help for sexually exploited girls or money toward a small business loan for women, among other gifts.
There are also less direct ways for Christian consumers to make an impact this holiday season, Chris Stone, founder of Faith Driven Consumer (FDC), told The Christian Post on Friday.
Where Christians shop matters, he says, because many companies will use some of their profits to support charitable activities in the community. If a company is trying to reach out to women, for example, they might find it important to support breast cancer research.
So being conscientious about where a person shops is important year-round, but "especially at Christmas" when so much money is spent on gifts and other holiday items, says Stone. For that reason, FDC has created a "Faith-Friendly Christmas Guide" for the second year in a row, so consumers can make informed gift-buying decisions this year.
"We're not saying that one company's better than the other. That's not the point," said Stone. "We're not telling people where to shop. That's not the point. The point is: If stewardship is a factor, if you believe that every choice matters...if you're making your buying decisions with a biblical worldview as a filter, the Christmas shopping guide shows you which companies are more likely to be compatible with those values."
Stone says 46 million people, or 15 percent of the population, are considered Faith Driven Consumers and are looking for companies that are willing to reach out to them as an important market segment.
"We're not saying choose [Faith Driven Consumers] over someone else. We're just simply saying: We're here and we are actively looking for a place where we're welcome and where those who are welcoming us understand who we are, understand our unique characteristics," said Stone.
Stone says his organization isn't asking Christians to do anything but consider which companies they are buying from. He believes the "second bottom line," or the opportunity to buy from companies who demonstrate their compatibility with Christian values, is important to consider when buying Christmas gifts.
According to FDC's Christmas Guide, holiday sales this year are expected to reach $586.1 billion – a 4.1 percent increase from 2011.