Waste-free gift ideas for kids

birthday-cake-380178_1280About two years ago, my Boulder sister-in-law, Jacquie, decided to stop the deluge of plastic dolls, board games, made-in-China bracelets and other geegaws her daughters received for their birthdays. So she came up with another way to satisfy the urge to give and receive: birthdays became celebrations for causes and institutions that the girls care about and have a personal connection to.

Each birthday, the kids request that party guests donate to a cause or institution they’ve chosen and researched, instead of buying gifts. Since young kids usually invite their entire elementary class, donations can really add up (usually 20-or-so donations of $10 or $20 dollars). So far, the girls have chosen to give to the tigers at the Denver Zoo, Thorne Ecological Society, Boulder Humane Society and a family in Kenya that they know of through friends in Africa. These gift-giving ideas are not limited to birthdays, though. They are a great way to celebrate holidays and other special occasions, too!

  • The Denver Zoo tiger party raised over $440 in donations. My 6-year-old niece enjoyed free admission to the zoo for one day (along with a few friends), met with the tiger keeper and observed the tigers being fed.
  • Thorne Ecological sent my older niece a card signed by all the staff and a Thorne sweatshirt (which she later wore at Thorne’s summer camp).
  • Boulder Humane Society provided a 35-minute behind-the-scenes tour to the birthday girl and her parents as their thanks for her fundraising efforts.
  • And the family in Kenya wrote a letter saying how thrilled they are to afford a chicken coop and chickens so they have a dependable source of protein from chicken eggs.

How can Barbie or Sponge Bob compare to that?

Jacquie also gives donations as gifts to the children whose parties her kids attend. She contacts each child’s guardian and explains her gift-giving philosophy. For very young children, she usually gives a membership to the World Wildlife Federation. Members can choose to receive a small stuffed animal of an endangered species and the WWF magazine, which contains many age-appropriate articles and stories about animals.

Here’s contact information for organizations Jacquie’s family has donated to:

World Wildlife Federation: 1-800-225-5993
Denver Zoo: Ellen Chu, Development and Membership Representative,  303-376-4860 or echu@denverzoo.org
Thorne Ecological Institute: Stephanie Muirhead, Administrative Director, 303-499-3647 (ext. 100)
Boulder Humane Society: Dan Shires, 303-442-4030

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