Gifts To Make A Difference

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 05, 2007
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We all have our “aha!” moments - you know, when you catch yourself doing something and you stop and think, “Am I crazy?”

Mine came last year around this time as I found myself rushing to finish an article for a magazine, stressing over the topic and, at the same time, trying to gift-wrap 18 little bags of Christmas goodies for my son’s preschool friends.

I stopped in the kitchen amid a mini mountain of candy canes and took a step back. The article I was trying to finish was “tips on avoiding holiday stress” (no, I am not kidding), and I suddenly realized that I was immersing myself in gift-giving that had absolutely no meaning.

I don’t know if this mass gift swapping happens where your kids go to school, but I decided then and there that my time, talents and financial resources were not best spent filling goodie bags with candy for preschoolers.

The next day I sent a Christmas card to The Hawaii Children’s Cancer Society with a donation on behalf of Max and his class. I did it this year at Easter and at Thanksgiving too - the Hawaii Foodbank got our funds, and the class a thank you note and hopefully a little education about why we need a foodbank in Hawaii.

This year, my cards and donations are all set to go, the boys are learning that Christmas is a time to think of other people, and there’s one less item on my lengthy todo list. To reduce my holiday stress even more, restaurant gift certificates are on my list for almost everyone, as I can think of no better industry to support, and no more effective way to show thanks to restaurants for their unending community service throughout the year.

And, to make sure that things stay merry and bright in our house, I’m making this a season of giving where it matters and taking the time to go to events where people are making a difference.

Alan Wong and Easter Seals Hawaii began a fairly small fundraiser eight years ago by selling gingerbread kits and then holding a contest to find the best decorated. On Dec. 9 more than 8,000 people will participate in Gingerbread Festivals across the state, with funds raised going to support Easter Seals Hawaii and Kama’aina Kids. It’s an incredible fundraiser and will get you into the holiday spirit in a heartbeat.

If you need a boost to lift your spirits and get you into the holiday mood, the Moana Surfrider and sister hotel Princess Kaiulani have an annual display of stunning gingerbread villages - the creations of executive chef Rolf Bauer. He starts making gingerbread in October and works tirelessly every year on the project, which even he admits has gotten a little out of hand.

“They get bigger every year,” he says of the gorgeous displays that now include cable cars, two train stations and a replica of the Moana. “But it’s so worth it to see the children’s faces.”

Visiting the gingerbread village is free - and magical.

And my all-time favorite evening of the year is the Miracle on Merchant Street, a fundraiser for Ronald McDonald House. Murphy’s Bar and Grill hosts the evening, providing a buffet and free trolley rides to see the Christmas lights for all who bring a new toy. It gets wonderfully hectic with people jostling for food, wrapping presents and waiting their turn on the trolley, but the feeling of goodwill is electric. After a trip through downtown singing carols, the sight of more than 400 hundred presents wrapped under Murphy’s giant Christmas tree leaves you with the feeling that this is truly the most wonderful time of the year.

Happy eating!

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