Last year the extended Maynard family provided each of their nine children with $50 to choose what they wanted to buy for another sibling for Christmas.
The gift was not a present handed directly to the other child but something bought in their name to support an ethical project overseas.
The gifts could help a child remain in school, provide crops for a local farming initiative, help build a health centre, provide clean water for a village or a cow for a family so they had a regular supply of milk.
Evandale couple Grant and Anthea Maynard – along with their three daughters Abigail, Clare and Bridie – have used Tear Australia’s Useful Gifts Catalogue to assist with their Christmas gift giving for more than a decade.
They have firsthand experience of the value of such gifts as Mr Maynard is a former state co-ordinator for Tear Australia, a Christian development, relief and advocacy organisation.
While Tear Australia arguably pioneered the ethical gift-giving catalogue, UnitingWorld and Oxfam offer a similar service.
Mr Maynard said a growing number of Australians are committed to ethical gift giving.
“It is the time of year when people want to be generous, they want to show love to other people, they want to be kind but they are in a bind because people where we live mostly have what they need,” he said.
“There is a real mismatch between the simplicity of Jesus’ birth and the hyper consumerism of the Christmas season.
“So it (buying unwrapped gift cards) is an incredible way to still engage with the spirit of Christmas without buying into Christmas consumerism.
“It is a soft way to be subversive.”
Mr Maynard said involving children across four family groups last year had been a good way to share the message.
“Children have a well-defined sense of justice so by helping them be involved by choosing the gifts meant we had some really good discussion around which gift represented the best value for money,” he said.
“I want my children to have a global consciousness and to realise there is another world out there where people are not as well off.”
UnitingWorld is the international partnerships agency of the Uniting Church. All the projects it supports are run by overseas partners with the agency providing funding, capacity building and oversight.
Many of the projects are in the Asia Pacific and support capacity-building in local churches as well as schooling, health and agricultural initiatives.
National director Dr Sureka Goringe said the Everything in Common gift cards are an ideal way to engage with community aid projects.
Dr Goringe said Christmas time is a peak period of support for UnitingWorld with about 30 percent of donations coming at this time of year.
“It is a time when people are thinking a bit more about others rather than just themselves,” Dr Goringe said.
Dr Goringe said while water, health and agricultural initiatives are strongly supported, a growing number of people support programs which help raise up leaders and the capacity of churches within the Asia-Pacific region.
While UnitingWorld is grateful for all the support it receives, providing money is not the only way supporters can assist the agency.
“One of the ways they can help us most is to talk UnitingWorld’s work with their friends, families and congregations,” Dr Goringe said.
“Having advocates for compassionate giving at Christmastime is very helpful.”
Oxfam Australia is one of Australia’s longest running social enterprises. It sells a range of handicrafts which support artisans and producer partners throughout the world, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Purchases can be made online or from retail outlets in the Bourke St Mall, Chadstone Shopping Centre and Launceston’s Brisbane St Arcade.
Unwrapped gift cards can be purchased in store or online.
Shoppers can also visit www.oxfam.org.au to learn the stories behind their gifts.
Pam Anders, Oxfam’s Director of Public Engagement, said the stories allowed people to shop with the confidence of knowing their gifts are produced ethically.
Some shoppers prefer to buy presents from general retailers but still seek to ensure the goods and services free from exploitation.
The Ethical Consumer Group is a community-based not-for-profit that encourages sustainable purchasing practices by consumers.
It seeks to educate and empower people to make shopping choices that reflect their values.
At www.ethical.org.au consumers can access a rating guide for the operating practices of retailers across a range of categories. This includes appliances, clothing electronics, food and drink, household, office supplies, toys and personal and pet care.
Dr Mark Zirnsak, the director of the synod’s Justice and International Mission unit, said the site provided easy-to-understand guidance for people seeking to buy ethically.