By Rebecca Albertson, author of Traveling With Mercy blog. (This article was originally printed in the December 2010 edition of Forsyth Woman Magazine).

Many of us find ourselves in a quandary as we enter the holiday giving season. We have friends and family members to buy gifts for, but our friends and family might just have everything they could ever need. We’re blessed to live in a materialistically wealthy nation, and giving one more nifty gadget to Uncle Bob can seem repetitive or lacking in genuine gift-giving spirit.

Meanwhile, most of the world lives in poverty. Men and women struggle to provide enough food or clean water or medicines for their families. We’re sent conflicting messages in the media. On one hand, we’re told to care for the poor among us, and on the other hand, we’re told to spend as much as our credit cards will allow on the next technological must-have.

Such mixed messages can cause many people to feel overwhelmed and anxious. We live in tension between wanting to give lovely gifts, and also wanting to shift from a materialistic mindset to one of caring for the poor.  Within the past few years, many organizations have been established to combine these two things. With the purchase of a beautiful necklace or a cute pair of shoes, you can benefit an impoverished community at the very same time.

This concept is known as “alternative giving,” and it is a wonderful way to combine our love for gift-giving with our love for helping those in need. Locally, stores like Ten Thousand Villages (in the Whole Foods shopping center in Winston-Salem) and the Amani store (in the Fresh Market shopping center in Winston-Salem) are perfect places to buy a gorgeous gift and know that your money is going directly to benefit the artisans and their families. The Amani store’s profits benefit the women and orphans of Kenya. Both stores feature unique home goods, jewelry, and other accessories that anyone would be delighted to receive as a gift.

Companies like Tom’s Shoes give a child a pair of shoes for every pair of shoes you purchase. This one-for-one concept is also used by the baby blanket company Baby Zoowan.  Jewelry and accessories that directly benefit Ugandan woman can be found at online shops Suubi (beads pictured at top), Tukula (tote bag pictured above), the Akola Project, and One Mango Tree to name a few.  Want to help an elderly African refugee? Buy a piece of their artwork for an art-loving friend.

Heifer International, Oxfam, World Vision, and Samaritan’s Purse are organizations that  allow you to purchase an animal or goods that will directly help a family in need, and you can do so in honor of someone you love.

My hope this season is to remember the real reasons for which we celebrate. Gift giving is a beautiful way to tell our loved ones how much we cherish them.  What could be better than giving gifts while helping people in great need of support? I hope you’ll consider alternative gifts this season… happy shopping!

For more ideas on alternative gifts, pick up this month’s issue of Forsyth Family magazine and turn to page 68 for “Tips for Sustainable Family and Holiday Celebrations.”

Do you have other ideas you can share? And are there shops like these in Greensboro and High Point too?