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Conscientious Christmas

Sick of malls and consumerism, some people find new ways to give
Monday, December 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:57 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

This holiday season, the Schopp family decided to forgo their usual gift exchange, and instead of decorating homes they are focused on building them.

Laura Schopp e-mailed her four sisters and one brother to enlist their talents to raise money for Food for the Poor Inc., a Christian international aid organization that has distributed more than $1.7 billion in food and medical, educational and building supplies to countries in the Caribbean and Central America.

They employed their skills — from knitting to mixing recipes — to raise money for Food for the Poor and Heifer International, an organization that provides honeybees, chicken and other livestock to families in developing nations and requires that families share animal offspring with others in need.

The Schopps’ contribution of $2,000 to Food for the Poor will build a home in Nicaragua. Private donors will match their contribution twice, so multiple new homes will be built for families there.

“I had reached a fatigue stage with gift buying, but I still wanted to do something as a family,” said Schopp, a professor of health psychology at MU. “I wanted more family time and less mall time.”

For the Schopps, it was contributing in a positive way as a family, but for other Columbians, creating gifts from recycled materials or buying locally provided an alternative to purchasing gifts off the shelves of a department store chain.

Schopp learned about Food for the Poor while participating in a playground building service project in St. Louis in the mid-1980s. She and her daughters, Maggie, 7, and Lucy, 8, mixed dry ingredients in jars for meat and potato pie, Spanish red beans and rice, and M&M oatmeal bars. They decorated the jars with recycled fabric and sold them outside the Root Cellar on Saturday afternoon.

“We wanted to do something that pulled us together and minimized our impact on the environment,” Schopp said. “We wanted to turn off the Christmas machine and the stress of trying to run around, and still find a way to express our love together.”

Joan McElroy heard about Schopp’s jars while protesting the war in Iraq at the post office Saturday morning.

“I was familiar with Laura’s work in the community, and I thought that is was great that she got her children involved in making the jars for a good cause,” said McElroy, a freelance historian.

Political persuasion and social issues guide McElroy’s purchasing decisions.

“Peace Nook promotes voting with your dollar, and I tried to do that by supporting local businesses and buying blue,” she said. McElroy disagrees with the policies of the Republican Party, so she used a Web resource, www.buyblue.org, to research the political contributions of corporations. She then bases some of her buying decisions on how corporate stores use their money.

Many socially conscious consumers were drawn to the Peace Nook by its flyer, “Want to See More Peace in the World? Vote with Your Dollars and Tell a Friend.” It advertised its seventh annual gift-making workshop, which gave new life to carpet swatches, vinyl tile samples, tattered cloth and used glass that might have ended up at the municipal landfill. But in the hands of creative children and commercially conscious adults, the discarded and donated items find new lives as journal covers, mosaics, Christmas wreaths, bath salt containers and glow jars. They are a small sample of the homemade gifts Columbians created at the Peace Nook’s workshop, held in the back of the Ninth Street bookstore and activism hub.

“It’s a combination of sustainability — using recycled materials or ones destined for the landfill — and encouraging people to celebrate in a simple way and not to go into debt,” said Kim Dill, the organizer of the event.

Nearly 100 people shuffled through the basement to create unique, meaningful and personal gifts for family members and friends.

At the request of his wife, Kent Shelby and his son, Ridley, spent the afternoon gluing and painting an array of Christmas gifts.

“Since we have had kids, we find we really enjoy gifts from them that require some thought and labor,” Shelby said.

After carefully busting up vinyl tiles, Ridley glued them to a piece of wood to create a mosaic for his mom.

“The place was humming with a happy vibe,” Shelby said.

Meredith Morrow, 22, created wreaths and a mosaic for her family members.

“By making something, it’s a more personal expression, and it shows you took the time and effort to make something unique,” she said.

Dill said homemade gifts are simply better than going to Wal-Mart and picking some cookie-cutter item off the shelf. She also suggested that people offer their time for a project or free baby-sitting.

“It’s really important to be thinking about living in a sustainable way, with an energy crisis putting a huge burden on the Earth, it’s nice to do something that doesn’t have an impact on resources,” Dill said. “It also helps people focus on spending time with family and enjoy the connections that we have that make the holidays special.”


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