It was my mother, the Queen of Christmas, who first suggested it, amazingly. She'd always seen gift certificates as cheating somehow—plus the loss of control over how it was spent irked her no end. So when she suggested that, rather than hours spent shopping for earrings or a sparkly pin or gloves or a scarf, she'd like us to give to a charity in her name, we heaved a sigh of relief. And we agreed that she could return the favor for us. Here are a few suggestions if your family feels the urge to do the same.
When Lake Oswego native Curt Ellis made a movie with his college buddy and best friend Ian Cheney, he had no idea that, as a result, he'd be running a nationwide service organization that in its first five years has put 205 young people (and a few oldsters, too) out in the field to work with 600 local schools and 200,000 school-age kids, educating them about nutrition as well as building and tending school gardens and promoting local food in school cafeterias.
Cheney (l) and Ellis in King Corn.
That movie was King Corn, a documentary that followed Ellis and Cheney as they attempted to grow an acre of corn in the nation's heartland. In a recent conversation at their Portland office, Ellis said that as he and Cheney toured the country showing their film on college campuses, he was struck by how few opportunities the students had "to put their shoulder to the wheel and change their relationship to food." The question then became, he said, "how to create a pathway where [the students] were making a difference in our food system."
Coincidentally, at that same time President Obama had signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, reauthorizing and expanding the Americorps service program. The signing of the act prompted Ellis and a group of friends to form a nonprofit corporation called FoodCorps, which applied for and received grant funding from Americorps, which now accounts for 20 percent of its budget.
In addition to the direct impact that FoodCorps members have in schools, Ellis said that the organization seeks to build a cadre of leaders in the food movement, the success of which is borne out by the fact that every single one of its alumni have gone on to find work in related fields.
"I love what I get to do at FoodCorps," Ellis said. "Stories from the field are heartening—there's something magical about kids trying a food for the first time." On the effect FoodCorps has had on its members, he said, it helps them take an equity lens and learn about community organizing. "It's ultimately about promoting social justice, lifelong health and opportunity."
- Zenger Farm An urban farm representing a unique partnership between the City of Portland and a non-profit organization that encompasses a six-acre working organic farm and a 16-acre wetland inside the city limits. An educational center, it also supports immigrant programs, tours, classes and a CSA.
- Outgrowing Hunger This Portland-based organization (photo above) was formed to get healthy food to hungry people by transforming unused private, public and institutional land into neighborhood gardens.
- Friends of Family Farmers Works to support small, family-scale Oregon farms and farmers to promote local, sustainable agriculture through education, legislation and the establishment of farmer networks.
- Next Generation Nepal A friend's daughter works for this group in Nepal. It's attempting to stop child trafficking in that country by rescuing children, rehabilitating them and reconnecting them with their families, all in incredibly difficult conditions, lacking fuel, heat and clean water.
- Architectural Heritage Center A nonprofit providing a resource for historic preservation through programs, tours and exhibits which help people appreciate and preserve older and historic buildings, neighborhoods, and traditional commercial areas.