Gifts that do good

Once upon a time, the holiday season started in December.
Sure, some finished gift-shopping earlier, but these are the same people who plan their meals a week in advance. We know they exist because they show us their compartmentalized meals on Facebook, but they aren’t taking over the world.
But now, with holiday decorations hitting some store shelves as early as July, it can be hard to resist the increasingly intense feeling of I really should be thinking about this now, so I don’t blow my budget later, followed by the inevitable Oh no, it’s Black Friday already. I should have started earlier and didn’t so now I’ll just indiscriminately buy things.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Our spending is our power,” says Shelby Lendrum, owner of P’lovers (a store focusing on sustainable products, with locations in Halifax, Dartmouth, and Mahone Bay). “How we choose to spend our money reflects our values, what’s important to us.”
Lendrum calls this “shopping mindfully,” which means that instead of simply ticking names off a list, you consider where you’re spending your money, how the item was made, whether or not you’re creating unnecessary waste, and whether the recipient will truly love the gift.
Shopping mindfully shouldn’t blow your budget. “If we can’t afford it, maybe we shouldn’t be buying gifts,” says Lendrum. “Maybe we should be buying a beautiful card and sending a message instead. A beautiful handmade card is a piece of art and something they can frame, and it can be as inexpensive as $3.”


Driftwood doorstops, handmade in Halifax.

Shopping locally is a great way to put that plan of shopping mindfully into action, and Plan B Merchant’s Co-op on Gottingen Street is kind of a local poster child for shopping local. It’s a non-profit social enterprise cooperative that regularly showcases the products of about 65 small businesses. “The space is a low-cost alternative so [people] can get their stuff out there,” says president Bob Chiasson.
Buying gifts locally is an opportunity to invest in your community. “When you shop local and responsible, you’re helping your local economy,” says Lendrum. “It’s us that are donating and hosting events and offering our space up to non-profits so they can host events and fundraisers. Shopping locally is a way of ensuring your voice is heard and valued.”
Shopping locally has a ripple effect. “These items are made and curated by your neighbours,” says Chiasson. “They, in turn, can spend the money here. And in doing so, that’s a path to building a more sustainable society for everybody.”
Named for the piping plover, an endangered shoreline bird native to Nova Scotia, P’lovers has always focused on environmentally friendly products—things like plant-based cleaning products and jewelry made from upcycled skateboards.
“We’re eco-friendly or planet-friendly first, and then people-friendly second,” says Lendrum. “As the need for fair trade became more apparent, we started to demand certified fair-trade products, ethically made, directly sourced, and obviously local, when the alternative is available locally.”
Plan B stocks a lot of upcycled products as well. “We have a number of artists and craftspeople that sell their work here,” says Chiasson, “and they all have a sort of creative reuse approach to their work. For example, we have a really great leatherworker here and he uses only recycled leather. We have another person here who creates this really incredible sort of assemblage jewelry from found objects. She also uses a lot of tiny bones, and they’re all secured from ethically sourced roadkill. So nothing went to waste, although roadkill is a terrible thing in a different way.”

Natural bath salts handmade on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore.

The co-op also has a large collection of curated vintage clothing, as well as a line of “sustainable fashion,” upcycled clothing that Chiasson says is all locally handmade. “It’s more expensive than the vintage stuff,” he says. “But it’s often less expensive than the stuff you’d find in department stores or big retail box stores.”
But what about gifts for people who already seem to have everything? Or the people who say they don’t want or need anything?
“There are always those people on your list who are hard to buy for, so a gift to a charity is a good choice,” says Erin McDonah, director of marketing, planning, and research at United Way. “You feel good about giving them, and they’re a wonderful way to honour your friend or family member.”
Charity donations can sometimes seem impersonal, but they really shouldn’t be. “You should consider who you’re giving the gift to,” says McDonah. “Think about some of the things that they value.”
If there’s an initiative you think they’d like to support, consider donating to that organization.
“In some ways, it can be a more creative gift option because you really are thinking about the impact you’re having,” says McDonah. “It could be a healthy meal for people who are hungry in our community, it could be warmth on a cold night, it could be a safe place to call home. It’s all of those things.”


Adsum House: Buy groceries, pay for activities, or help celebrate a special occasion.
Laing House: Donate items or funds for Laing House stockings.
Mobile Food Market: Purchase a produce pack for a community member. Contact Julia Kemp, program coordinator.
Canada Helps Gift Card: Give Canada Helps Gift Cards and let recipients choose their own Canadian charities.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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