This last instalment of the Plant Hearted Holiday Gift Guides is all about gifts that benefit more than just the friend or family member you are buying for. The gift ideas on this list are suggestions for charitable donations on behalf of your gift recipient, because sometimes the very best gifts are the ones that directly help someone in need. These gifts benefit both human and non-human animals and a donation to any of these would be a meaningful gift that reflects vegan values while helping those in need. As an added bonus, these gifts are perfect for last minute “shopping” and are well suited to the hardest-to-buy-for people on your list.
Before getting started, I think I would be remiss not to say a few words about one of the most common philanthropic gifts today, namely, the donation of farmed animals to families in developing countries, through organizations such as Heifer International and Oxfam. This is a delicate subject, and too complex for me to address fully here, but suffice it to say, this is not a gift that I would advocate giving. The practice of charitably donating farmed animals is controversial and has been the subject of both praise and criticism over the years. Critics assert that the donation may not be as helpful as we might expect, pointing out that the animal must be fed, stored and cared for, will consume precious resources such as land and water, and will not necessarily improve the recipient family’s situation. In addition to such considerations, which have been more thoroughly raised elsewhere (here and here, for example), there are additional concerns from an animal welfare and ethics standpoint.
In suggesting that we should refrain from gifting animals to families in need, I am not passing judgment on the morality of animal agriculture in developing countries. This issue is a complex and interesting one, and I may someday do a post that examines each side of this debate. But for now, I think the controversy surrounding the practice of gifting farmed animals, plus the fact that there exist many other charitable options that are at least as effective, are reasons enough to avoid this particular form of charity. For the purposes of choosing where to provide charitable donations, I think it is sufficient to simply review the plethora of options available, and choose one that benefits the recipients of the donation without directly contributing to the exploitation of non-human animals. There are so many avenues for helping others; removing the donation of farmed animals from the list only removes a tiny fraction of our options.
This list, as a Vegan Holiday Gift Guide, goes one step further, and focuses on charity donations that will be particularly meaningful to vegan and vegetarians. The gifts below focus on helping those in need, both human and non-human, while adhering to the tenets of a vegan ethic.
(All photos included below are taken directly from the website of the organization in focus.)
1. UN Refugee Agency
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, provides a wonderful option for providing much-needed sustenance to hungry people. A $95 gift donation here will provide a family with the gardening tools and seeds they need to grow nourishment for themselves as well as generate an income. A $30 gift donation here will provide and individual one week of 3 servings per day of a nut-based food that treats severe acute malnutrition, Plumpy’Nut. A $100 gift here provides a stove and cooking utensils to a family in need. For each donation, the UNHCR website allows you to create a (digital, printable) card for your gift recipient so that you can let them know about the donation you have made in their name.
2. A Well-Fed World
A great option for philanthropic gifting that helps people and animals is offered by A Well-Fed World, which will currently double your donation and split it evenly between the following four international food charities, as described on AWFW’s website. International Fund for Africa provides immediate and long-term assistance to some of the world’s most vulnerable children through their new innovative and multi-prong School Health and Nutrition Program. Plenty International, operating in Guatemala, works with agricultural experts to grow and distribute three varieties of non-gmo soybeans to farming families. Vegan Feeding Program in India provides wholesome meals of lentils, vegetable curry, fruit and drinking water, which are packed in palm leaves and delivered to the poor. Lastly, Grow Where You Are is a team of veganic farmers and food justice activists operating in the USA and empowering individuals and families to improve their personal food security by planting backyard and community food gardens. When you donate through A Well-Fed World, they will also send an information booklet to your gift recipient.
3. Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank
The mission of the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank is to provide healthy, environmentally-responsible and cruelty-free food to Toronto vegetarians in need. This bourgeoning volunteer-run Vegetarian Food Bank provides all vegan-friendly food (at least 50% of which are fresh, whole foods) to those in need and donates any leftover perishable food to other local food banks.
4. The Nature Conservancy Plant a Billion Trees Project
The Plant a Billion Trees Project aims to plant one billion trees by the year 2025, with current focus areas being Brazil, China and the USA. The trees planted help to reverse deforestation, maintain ecosystems and create and preserve habitat for plant and animal species. As the Project website states, forests help sustain all life on Earth. This is a gift that will benefit the planet and all of its inhabitants.
5. American Humane Association
The American Humane Association is an organization devoted to protecting two of society’s most vulnerable groups: children and animals. On their website, you can donate to the work they do on behalf of animals or on behalf of children, and in each case you may identify a person your gift is in honour of, and your friend or family member will receive an acknowledgement.
6. Donation to Your Local Animal Shelter
Another way to directly benefit animals with your gift is to donate to your local humane society or animal shelter. Animal shelters are in constant need of support, and you can help increase adoption rates and reduce rates of euthanasia by donating to your local animal shelter on behalf of your friend or loved one. Most humane society and shelter websites will allow you to make donation in honour of your gift recipient and many will send an acknowledgement to your friend or family member on request. The Toronto Humane Society, for instance, sends a card for each donation over $20 and the Calgary Humane Society allows you to choose an e-card for any gift donation.
7. Donation to Your Local Farmed Animal Sanctuary
Farmed animal sanctuaries do compassionate, important, and challenging work. Not only do such sanctuaries provide comfort and care to thousands of animals that previously knew neglect, deprivation, and abuse, they also provide an incredibly meaningful experience for visitors, allowing people to interact with animals as individuals and offering therapeutic bonding between human and non-human animals. But caring for animals as individuals instead of as commodities is expensive and these costs are covered solely by the generosity of the sanctuaries and their donors. Farmed animal sanctuaries are always in need of donations to keep their operations running. With some, you are able to choose the specific animal your donation will support and you can give your gift recipient a picture of the animal that is being cared for in their honour.
I would encourage you to look up your local sanctuary and consider both a donation and perhaps a visit. Here are a few examples of great sanctuaries: Rescue and Sanctuary for Threatened Animals (R.A.S.T.A.), which recently relocated from Alberta to British Columbia; Farm Sanctuary, which has locations in both New York and California and is very actively involved in animal advocacy in addition to its sanctuary operations; Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary in Ontario; and Farm Animal Rescue and Rehoming Movement (F.A.R.R.M.) in Alberta.
8. Mercy for Animals
While I think that donations to all of the organizations on this list would be appreciated by vegans and non-vegans alike, this last suggestion may only be an appropriate gift for a vegan, or someone deeply concerned about animal welfare and interested in animal advocacy. Mercy For Animals is a Chicago-based non-profit organization dedicated to preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies. It is an animal advocacy organization, with operations that include numerous campaigns to educate the public, encouraging the adoption of a vegan diet, conducting undercover investigations of factory farms, and engaging in legal advocacy. Mercy for Animals is a favourite charity among animal advocates and has always been rated highly by the Animal Charity Evaluators. When you donate under Tribute Gifts, Mercy for Animals will send a personalized e-card to your gift recipient. And donations will be doubled until December 31, 2015!
This Vegan Holiday Gift Guide includes just a tiny portion of the charities and organizations that you can donate to on behalf of your friend or family member this holiday season or for any occasion. I hope this list has helped to inspire you in your compassionate gift giving. Happy holidays!
For ideas about other veg-friendly gift options, please be sure to check out the other Plant Hearted Vegan Holiday Gift Guides: Your Vegan Holiday Gift Guide Part I: Clothing and Accessories; Your Vegan Holiday Gift Guide Part II: Kitchen Things; and Your Vegan Holiday Gift Guide Part III: Literature.