Struggling families may appreciate ‘practical’ giftWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
With the economy still slumping and plenty of area families continuing to struggle, holiday shoppers may be rethinking extravagant gift-giving in favor of more practical offerings for friends, family and neighbors.
Gas or grocery cards can be used and appreciated by almost anyone, said Jane Moore, executive vice president of United Way of Greater Toledo.
For individuals or families moving into a new house or apartment, cleaning or laundry supplies such as dish soap, hand towels, sheets, broom, mop and bucket, or floor cleaner could be helpful, said Kyle Grefe, executive director of FOCUS. Family Outreach Community United Services Inc. is a local nonprofit offering transitional and permanent housing, life skills and job development programs to help people gain permanent housing and skills to reduce their risk of becoming homeless again, Grefe said.
“You could fill a new kitchen garbage can with new supplies for the kitchen, or a laundry basket full of laundry supplies, something along the lines of a welcome basket, those items you just need to get started, those basic household items you can’t do without,” Grefe said. “I think that would be really great.”
A starter tool kit would be another useful gift for those just starting out, Grefe said. Fill a tool bag with a hammer, screwdrivers, tape measure, duct tape and other handy items for the person to keep in their car or home.
Families who buy groceries using food stamps are not able to buy hygiene products, pet food or household supplies with food stamps, so those items are often needed, Moore said.
With cold weather on the way, a snow shovel and salt might make the perfect gift, Grefe said.
“In the winter, if you don’t have a snow shovel, you’ll be really out of luck,” Grefe said, adding that you could also offer your services shoveling someone’s sidewalk or driveway.
Mittens, gloves, hats, scarves, boots or overshoes can help keep the chill off for those who walk to work or school, Moore said. TARTA bus tokens might make a good stocking stuffer for those who ride the bus, Grefe said.
School supplies are items people don’t normally think about around the holidays, but there might be a need, Moore said.
“There is a lot done with school supplies in August, but by holiday time, kids have lost them or used them up,” Moore said.
College students scraping together cash for next semester’s textbooks might appreciate a gift card to a college book store, while someone in job training might appreciate needed items like work boots, safety glasses or scrubs, Moore said.
A gift of energy efficient light bulbs can help a family save money on their electric bill all year long.
“Those can be pricey,” Grefe said. “Even though they last a lot longer, that initial set-up is tough.”
Other energy-saving gifts include insulated curtains or a slow cooker, which uses less energy than the stove, Grefe said.
Families on your list might also appreciate something fun they wouldn’t get for themselves, such as a Toledo Zoo membership, tickets to the Toledo Symphony Orchestra family series, movie theater tickets, or a gift certificate to Imagination Station.
“Think of something they wouldn’t be able to buy themselves, but would be able to enjoy as a family,” Moore said.
A gift card to a restaurant or pizza joint might also be fun for a family that doesn’t eat out often, Grefe said.
“Toledo is such an eat-out place, but there are families who can’t go out because they don’t have the resources,” Grefe said.
For families with children, you could offer to babysit so the parents can have a night to themselves or a chance to run errands without kids underfoot, Grefe said.
Conversely, if someone on your list has everything or is hard to shop for, consider making a donation in his or her name to a local nonprofit, Grefe said.
“Nonprofits are definitely struggling this time of year as well,” Grefe said. “This is a tough time for all of us.”
Volunteering is another way to give back, Moore said.
“There are all sorts of opportunities,” Moore said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity around the holidays, but the gift of time is needed year round.”