All I want for Christmas is an Ebola emergency kit. That's not because I think I'm at risk of catching the disease. It's the latest charity Christmas gift available through Unicef and it captured my imagination.
The idea with charity Christmas gifts is you don't give gifts to people who already have everything. Instead, you choose a gift from a charity website such as Oxfamunwrapped.co.nz, and you send a gift card to your relative, friend or workmate to say what you've done on their behalf. The gift goes to someone who needs it in a less privileged country.
Invariably journalists write about Oxfam's goats whenever charity Christmas gifts come up. A goat will give a family seven litres of fresh milk a week to drink and sell. But I don't get paid to repeat the same message every Christmas.
Just when I was mulling the "what can I give other than a goat" issue over, I came across Unicef's Ebola kit. Now that's a charity Christmas gift that is timely. The $55 pack contains soap, gloves, chlorine and protective gear for one health worker in affected areas of Africa. It's a gift that even my children will understand. They, like many other children, are aware of Ebola and would appear to be more worried than their mother about catching this disease. That's what weekly current affairs tests at school do to you.
Other Unicef survival gifts such as vaccinations and water for life for Vanuatu can be found at: unicef.org.nz/store/doc/SurvivalGiftsCatalogue.pdf
If Christmas is the time for giving, there are many more ways to help underprivileged people, both here and overseas, than by simply buying gifts. Whether you're the Spark Foundation, which runs fundraising website Givealittle, or at the other end of the scale you're a shopper at the Taradale Town Hall's Christmas Shoppe raising money for the Child Cancer Foundation, there is something you can do this Christmas.
If you want to give Christmas gifts to Kiwi children who wouldn't otherwise receive them you can deposit them unwrapped in special bins at ASB Bank branches. Give a thought to teenagers as well.
City Mission fundraising team leader Alexis Sawyers says dry food goods can also be left in those bins and they will be distributed to needy people.
Other yuletide ideas for supporting the City Mission's work include:
• Donating online to Become Someone's Angel. The website becomesomeonesangel.co.nz should have gone live yesterday, all going well.
• Being a street volunteer for the appeal on December 5 and 6.
• Volunteering. Help is needed from December 29 onwards to pack up after the City Mission's annual Christmas dinner and to help in the food banks. January is also a time of much need for individuals and families who have run out of money and charities are inundated with requests for help.
• Visit Motat or Stardome and get reduced entry prices if you donate a present before Christmas.
• You could attend a carol service raising funds for the Mission. The Greater Auckland Chorus will be busking in Franklin Rd on December 12 and 17 to raise money for it.
Whether it's time or money you have to give, there is always something to do. At the well-off end of the scale, more than 100 high-rollers set up charitable trusts and foundations each year in New Zealand, says John McFetridge, director of personal client services at Perpetual Guardian. These trusts and companies do a lot of giving at this time of the year.
A growing number of organisations have chosen to forgo sending Christmas cards in recent years and make a donation to a charity instead. That seems like a good idea on many levels.
McFetridge's staff have Christmas presents for the City Mission under the tree in the office. Many will also be encouraged to spend a day on work time to volunteer at the Mission in the run-up to Christmas.
Organisations such as Christmas Box need volunteers to pack parcels. Christmas Box will distribute more than 12,000 packages to needy families in New Zealand, Melbourne and Rarotonga. The boxes include treats such as scorched almonds that many families can't afford.
There are many other charities that need help. The Salvation Army can do with volunteers to sort and wrap gifts, make up hampers of Christmas food, prepare and serve on Christmas day at community dinners, clean up after the meal, or provide transport. The charity needs food donations, financial donations, and wants groups of friends, neighbours, family or workmates to Adopt a Family for Christmas. Adopted needy families are given a hamper of goods from those who choose to sponsor them. Anyone interested in that programme should email email@example.com directly.
Increasingly people are hand-picking the charities they give to. The classic example, says McFetridge, was Auckland's Santa, who nearly didn't make it up on to the Whitcoulls building this year until family-owned construction company Mansons TCLM stepped in to fund it.
Givealittle has seen an increase in giving to personal causes this year. It has Christmas-themed fundraising campaigns listed, such as the Glen Innes School Christmas Banquet, which had raised $3400 already when I checked this week. Givealittle spokeswoman Georgia Moselen-Sloog says the online fundraising platform is providing expert coaching to fundraisers looking to run similar initiatives for Christmas. Information can be found on Givealittle's Facebook page.
Philanthropy New Zealand is promoting #GivingTuesday, which happens this coming Tuesday with more than 100 New Zealand charities taking part. The idea was first launched in the US in 2012 to inspire charitable giving in the lead-up to Christmas.
For its part in #GivingTuesday the Child Cancer Foundation is encouraging people to give up the $5 they might have spent on their morning coffee, lunch or treat and donate it to help the organisation's work.
Many smaller charities have launched #GivingTuesday campaigns this year. Philanthropy New Zealand cites the Dream Chaser Foundation in Whakatane, which is setting up a "trail of gold". Passersby will be encouraged to drop a gold coin into the trail. A volunteer will be there to watch the money and to explain what's happening to anyone who is interested.
Another tiny organisation, the Head2Head Charity, is using #GivingTuesday to collect children's books to give to parents. It wants to encourage the parents to spend 15 minutes a day reading to their children. There is more information about #GivingTuesday at GivingTuesday.co.nz.
Oxfam, which often has clever Christmas-related fundraising schemes, is this year launching Oxmas. Schools, workplaces and others are being encouraged to hold mufti days on Friday December 12 with staff/children being asked to donate a gold coin to come dressed in their best Christmas garb.
All of us can contribute to others at Christmas. Sometimes it's by buying things. Charity Christmas cards benefit smaller charities. If you're buying cards anyway then why not choose charity cards? Or you could buy Band Aid 30's new Do They Know It's Christmas single, which was at No 2 on The Official NZ Music Charts earlier this week.
Some people will have time to reflect over the Christmas break and may choose to turn their lives upside down to help others. That's exactly what 25-year-old architect Rebecca Cox is doing. She has chosen to quit the rat race and become an aid worker.
Cox has started her quest by setting out to walk the length of New Zealand to raise $60,000, which will fund a rural training centre in Vanuatu. She passed through Auckland this week.
At the completion of her walk Cox will fly to Vanuatu to use her architectural skills to complete the plans for the centre and do some hands-on construction as well. Details can be found at: oxfam.org.nz/fundraise/trekking-today-training-tomorrow
If you can't give up your job like Cox has, then at least consider signing up for one of the many charitable sports events to be run over the holiday period. Happy giving.