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A different kind of Christmas shopping

It’s that time of year again, when Halloween and Christmas merchandise jostle each other for space on store shelves. I took a wander through the mall on my lunch hour – I wasn’t shopping for anything, but it didn’t take me long to feel that I’d had enough. And it got me thinking that there must be a better way to spend Christmas than buying cartloads of things that nobody really needs and might not even really like.

If you are thinking along the same lines, then here are a couple of gift-giving ideas I’ve come across which I think are a little more worthwhile and meaningful than the usual bottle of perfume, CD, or wool socks.

FH (Food for the Hungry) Canada has their Poverty Revolution 2010/2011 Gift Guide out. It’s full of really neat gifts that people can purchase to help impoverished communities in developing countries around the world. Did you know that $25 can buy two chickens, four rabbits, or fruit and vegetable seeds to help a family start raising their own food? There are items even more inexpensive than that: athletic supplies are $15 and $20 will provide vitamins for three children for an entire year. And if you really want to splurge, how about a goat ($75) or even a hand-dug well ($1,000)?

I had a blast going through the catalogue and doing mental Christmas shopping for kids around the world. Much more fun than I had the other day going through the clearance centre at Sears, trying on boots that wouldn’t even zip halfway up my calves. The boots were a great price, but the same amount could also buy breakfast or school supplies for an entire classroom of kids. Now that’s what I call a bargain.

If you live in Vancouver and want something a little more local, check out the Hope in Shadows photography exhibition at the Pendulum Gallery on Georgia Street (on until October 23rd). The prize-winning photos, all taken by residents of the Downtown Eastside, are featured in an annual calendar which you can purchase at the gallery or from one of the many street vendors around town. The 2011 calendar features colour photos for the first time since the project began in 2003. On its cover a beaming little boy stands in front of a bright wall mural, holding up a sign that says, “I can make a difference.”

The photos on display are beautiful and all the more remarkable because they were taken using a very simple disposable camera. The one I liked most was a black and white portrait of two young girls playing violins, with their backs to the viewer. I later learned that the photographer was a young girl herself, a friend of the budding violinists’.

“People think that everyone who lives in the Downtown Eastside is either a drug addict or homeless person, or both,” says Garvin Snider, one of the photographers who very kindly toured me around the exhibit the afternoon I visited. “That’s just not true. We have lots of kids down there, lovely families.” The photos show that there is indeed another face to the Downtown Eastside, and it’s one that shines with hope. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

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