For Corps Members: Free or Low-Cost Gift Ideas for People You Love

homemade soap, wrapped in cloth

Giving gifts when you are a corps member.

Last year I wrote about how people can show love to the corps member in their life through their holiday gift-giving. This year I wanted to offer some ideas about how corps members themselves can give gifts when their incomes are often incredibly limited.

I asked The New Service contributors and currently serving corps participants Marissa Pherson of AmeriCorps VISTA and Leslie Dolland of Health Corps to share their thoughts, too. Here are the ideas we’ve collectively come up with.

Setting the Stage for Frugal Gift Exchange

If you are gathering many other corps members, extended family, or among a group of old friends, consider throwing a White Elephant party swapping gifts doesn’t have to be expensive when you’re swapping things you already own.

If you are exchanging gifts individually with others — your partner, close friends, family members, and/or fellow corps members — consider setting some ground rules such as: Continue reading

Show Your Corps Member Love this Holiday Season

Rejecting the traditional gift list, I wanted to highlight some things you can give or do over the holidays for the corps member in your life — whether they serve in your office, are in your family, or a good friend. Check out the Give List for more ideas.

1. Ask them/listen to what they say. This year it’s okay not to surprise the corps member in your life. They may actually need help with a chore or an expense and would appreciate that more than any surprise you can dream up.

2. Cash. Economists say it’s the best gift anyway, at least in terms of efficiency. Your corps member can spend it as they see fit. If it feels un-gift-like, offer it in a decorative envelope with a heart-warming letter inside telling them how much they or their service means to you. If your corps member is an international volunteer, deposit the check in their State-side bank account rather than send through the mail.

3. Food/gift cards for food. While a $25 gift card to the local boutique grocer may sound appealing to you, the gift goes further at a store like Trader Joe’s which has low prices. If your corps member is an international volunteer, find out what essential, shippable items they can’t get in their host country and send a well-sealed care package. You’d be surprised how valuable a box of corn flakes or mac & cheese is to them.

4. Subscriptions. The gifts that keep on giving. You can find subscription services for a wide range of things — like magazines, obviously; wine from a local vineyard; and even fair-trade coffee.

5. Socially responsible gifts, donations, or loans in their name. This year your corps member may be especially sensitive to the local impact and cost of goods and services, and to extravagance and waste.

If you want to offer them a material gift, consider buying something that positively impacts the community or region. For example, Echoing Green funds social enterprises and offers this gift guide.

You can also donate to a nonprofit project that means something to them, either their own project (check out this site, for donating to Peace Corps Volunteer projects); nonprofits set up for gift-giving like Heifer International; their local public radio station; or any organization with a mission your corps member believes in. Other nonprofits like HealthCorps offer branded gifts through CafePress.

Another option is lending for a good cause, in their name. For example, Kiva.org allows people to lend money online, in amounts as small as $25, to micro-enterprises around the world — you browse and choose the business you’d like to help start up. When you lend, you aren’t even giving — you’ll be repaid, and can pocket the money or lend again.

6. A party or potluck in their honor. If your corps member is home for the holidays, consider hosting a welcome-back gathering for them and their friends.

7. A visit from you. If your corps member is far from home, consider visiting them. If you can’t visit them over the holidays, announce your plan to visit another time as part of their gift.

8. Tickets to a special experience. The ballet, an athletic event, a concert. Not only will the experience be something they may not afford on their own, it’s also not something material they have to worry about transporting when they move on after their term ends.

9. Meaningful tech tools. A digital and/or video camera to record their year, a video camera add-on for their computer so you can stay in touch through Skype, a MacBook that has it all.

10. Something homemade. Anything from a scarf to a personalized cookbook to a scrapbook of their accomplishments. If you go this route, make the decision based on your own talents as well as their tastes. As with socially responsible gifts, homemade gifts aren’t necessarily cheaper, and they are more time-intensive. But they are keepsakes forever, and will always remind your corps member of this holiday season, when they served in a corps.
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