December 18, 2020

Here we are, at the end of a long, challenging year. Before we move forward into 2021, there are still bits and pieces of 2020 that call on our attention, including celebrations of faith, gift giving and setting resolutions for the New Year. And yet, so many have expressed mental, emotional and physical exhaustion at this point – some have said they may not exchange gifts with folks they normally do; others are pondering “what really matters for next year?”

Of all the years in recent memory, this nontraditional year warrants nontraditional gifts – gifts we exchange with those who matter most, and gifts that lift our local and global communities. Perhaps you’ll find a spark from this mash-up of ideas and examples:

Offset Food Insecurity

Last month, I heard Jose Andres address the Richmond Forum. Away from the comfort of his DC home, he was in Honduras with the emergency relief team from his non-profit World Central Kitchen, which is devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters. He mentioned something that really resonated: we have plenty of food in the world – the problem is access. Help bridge the gap and consider gifting to:

  • Jose’s World Central Kitchen at
  •, where my great Northern Virginia colleagues are providing fresh, organic fruits, vegetables and protein for those in need;
  • or find your local food bank at

Support Frontline Workers

Friends launched Meaningful Meals to deliver meals to exhausted healthcare workers and the pay-it-forward effect went into full force. What started as a meal delivery to eight employees at a nursing home evolved into support for pharmacists, firefighters and hospital housekeeping staff as grateful recipients passed on the gifts. Read their story here:

Shop & Support Local Businesses

Ordering online is easy and low risk. But supporting our community organizations is critical now more than ever. Here are ways to combine investing in your community with great gift-giving:

  • Launch your own “Foodie Tour” with gift cards to your favorite local “Restaurant of the Week” selections.
  • Shop in the gift stores of local museums, art galleries and botanical gardens – combine a fun gift like a puzzle or game, with quality time exploring with your family.

Love Your Neighbor

Michael Esmond of Gulf Breeze, FL paid the electric bill for 114 families in his community that could not pay past due bills and were at risk for losing electricity ( Find a neighbor in need, cover their bill, and then take your family to a drive-through lights display to celebrate the power of power.

Also, the pandemic has led to an increase in shoplifting, and while food tops the list, diapers and infant formula are in high demand. Who do you know that could benefit from this gift? Make a surprise delivery on their doorstep. Or a quick Google search will show you where to donate these items to local service organizations.

The Gift of Learning

William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail; but the lighting of a fire.” The possibilities for a spark are endless and here are a few to get you started:  How-to books from local retailers; podcast memberships; Master Class membership; virtual classes in photography, sketching or watercolors from arts organizations; and small group or private hands-on workshops. Could this also be the time to renew newspaper and magazine subscriptions canceled years ago?

Quality Family Time

Continue to invest in our connections, both to family that we’re unable to visit and within our communities.

  • Remote volunteering is a thing! Sign up for virtual volunteer service with your family and friends. Check out HandsOn in Richmond, VA, or search for offerings in the Community Foundation in your hometown.
  • Schedule calls/video chats with elderly members of your family. Endeavor to compile a history of their stories: What is your favorite story growing up? If they’re an immigrant, what were the circumstances of getting to America? What was the best trip of your lifetime? Or, just lend your ear and give them the gift of listening.
  • Launch a family project to support a need in your community, like my colleague in Maryland who turned a PB&J assembly line into a massive meal delivery effort for Our Daily Bread in Baltimore.

Lightness and Levity

Last but never least, a little humor and joy to bring forward lightness.

  • Who Gives A Crap toilet paper, that supports building toilets and healthy sanitation like hand-washing stations where they’re most needed.
  • And the wonderful, inspiring Book of Joy, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams, purchased from your local bookseller.

In closing, I hope this list brings you inspiration for meaningful ways to recover the last of 2020 and to lead you into 2021 with hope and health.