Organic Housekeepers, cleaning with a conscience, saving the earth one tub at a time.Cassie rides into Greener Pastures

Gifts that keep on keepin’ on
Navigate through the holiday consumerism fog with gifts of charity

By Cassie Pence

During an intimate Thanksgiving with eight close friends, we raised our glasses and gave thanks that none of us were one of those unlucky saps heading to Wal-mart at 3 in the morning in hopes of scoring an unbelievable deal on some electronic, pooping, singing, collectible, plush hamster.

As the snickers and hoo-hahs subsided (and remorse for ripping on our fellow Americans sank in), we collectively decided that what we really meant, what we really were toasting to was being with each other and enjoying an amazing meal together. Friends and food were really all that we needed this Thanksgiving, and we were happy that friends and food were really all that we wanted.

Greener PasturesIt got me thinking about wants and needs and this cloud of consumerism that fogs the holiday season beginning with Black Friday. It doesn’t have to be this way, I thought. What if Christmas, I thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. … OK, I think the Grinch thought that, but it doesn’t have to revolve around 10 percent off a HDTV — that’s for sure.

The truth is, I love all the non-religious traditional holiday brouhaha: baking cookies, decorating a Christmas tree, hanging stockings, caroling, drinking spiced cider (and rum), and I really love the gifts, too. I love making my list, checking it twice and working really hard to find the perfect token of my affection for all the special people in my life. For me, giving does invoke all that holiday spirit that Macy’s and Hallmark promise — even, especially, if it doesn’t come from Macy’s or Hallmark.

Little did I know while I was pimping all those poor saps with Black Friday Fever, my brother, with two tweens in toe, was one of them. This inspired my idea for a short three column series offering up ideas for non-traditional, sustainable gift giving ideas, after all this is a green living column. Hopefully these ideas will serve as your beacon to help light the way to a more meaningful holiday.

Gifts that keep on keepin’ on
Last year for all my little nieces and nephew, I adopted an animal from the World Wildlife Fund in each of their names. This symbolic adoption comes with a cuddly photo, a species info card and an adoption certificate, things that eventually fell behind the dresser, I’m sure, and were quickly forgotten about, but the $25 donation helps protect the future of nature.

This is an example of a gift that keeps on keepin’ on, in other words, it’s a gift that continues to give back. You can practice this same idea locally by buying merchandise or tickets to events and galas that directly support local charities.

Buy your favorite cyclist friend entrance into the Colorado River Ride, a fundraiser for the Snowboard Outreach Society, an organization that build character and self-esteem in youth through outdoor activities. The annual 100-mile bike ride rolls from Beaver Creek to Wolcott to the Colorado River Road to Dotsero all the way back to Avon. The registration fee only covers the cost of the event, so maybe give a little bit more when you donate, and promise your biker friend that you’ll train and come along for the ride.

Dieing to see your man in a tux? Buy him (and yourself) a ticket to the First Descents’ Ball, an annual fundraising party each spring. First Descents seeks to empower young adults with cancer through whitewater kayaking and other outdoor adventure sports, hoping to build self-confidence and emotional strength. I’ve attended, and this is no stuffy fundraiser. It’s a fun and inspirational event. Don’t have a man? Buy a ticket for your best girlfriend (and yourself) and get into a bidding war for a date with hunky Brad Ludden, First Descents’ founder. In the past, the “date” usually closes the exciting live auction.

On Dec. 11, Roxy Vail will host its third annual Gifts that Give Back. Roxy will feature product lines that donate a portion of their proceeds to charities worldwide.  This year, Roxy has 12 product lines that will be in store for the event, including Kazubots, Toms Shoes, Falling Whistles and Feed Bag. Roxy will also donate a portion of all sales from the day to the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness group. So have your designer shoes and wear them, too.

If it’s hard for you to choose a charity, buy your friend or family member a virtual Giving e-Card on, and the recipient can choose which Colorado non-profit to donate the money. After giving it a personalized message, Giving eCard is delivered in an e-mail (double green!) with instructions on how to use it. offers comprehensive, objective and up-to-date information about nonprofits so your recipient can browse away before donating.

Freelance writer Cassie Pence is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle. She and her husband, Captain Vacuum, own Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company. In her next holiday column, she would like feature local and Colorado products. Do you make something that would be a knock out gift? Contact her at



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