Neil Christians, the director of the Family Ministry Team at Christ Lutheran Church, knew just what to get his mother for Christmas last year. A pig. His mother loves pigs and often receives them - in the form of teapots, sculptures and potholders - as gifts.
"She was really tickled," Christians said. "It was her favorite of all the pigs she has received over the years."
What Christians actually gave his mother was a card, purchased at the Christ Lutheran Church Alternative Gift Market, that lets her know he purchased a pig for a family in Africa in her name.
Pigs are among the many unique and inventive gifts - from providing malaria nets for families in India to bringing life-saving mobile health care clinics to Haiti - that are available for purchase at the church's Alternative Gift Market.
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"We have been doing the Alternative Gift Market for about 10 years," Christians said, explaining that it is a great way to raise funds for good causes and raise awareness among the church's congregants.
All middle and high school classes at Christ Lutheran are given a sheet of national and international charities and are assigned one of their top three choices.
The students study the charity and the cause behind it and work together to formulate a plan for how best to support the need they have identified.
Krista Peterson, a seventh-grader at Crestdale Middle School, appreciates the opportunity to learn about people in need in other countries.
"Last year my Sunday School class raised money to help build homes in Nicaragua," she said. "It makes me feel good because I get to help those that aren't as fortunate as I am."
"Even though it's not a tangible gift, its impact is huge," said Emily Helms, a junior at Weddington High School.
Helms likes the fact that an alternative gift is the gift that keeps on giving, noting that many of her alternative gift recipients have been inspired to do even more for that charity or cause.
For Tyler Peterson, a junior at Providence High School, the impact of the alternative gifts is that they illustrate how even a small donation or an individual effort can make a difference.
"Everyone wants to make a difference in the world, but everybody always says that they are just one person, so why even try?" said Peterson. "Here is your chance."
"The kids are incredibly creative with their displays," Christians says, and are charged with the dual goal of educating the public about their cause and inspiring them to purchase a gift that will support the underlying charity.
For instance, last year's display for a charity that provides clean water for a Bolivian village "showed what clean water looks like compared to the water the villagers were using."
The displays also make clear that every penny makes a difference.
"For instance, a $5 donation could provide clean drinking water for a Bolivian family for an entire year," said Christians.
The options at this year's Alternative Gift Market span the globe and cover causes as diverse as hunger, education, gender equality, reducing child mortality, maternal health, medical services and environmental sustainability.
Perhaps you'd like to participate in a tree-building program that benefits three rural communities in Nepal or help fund the "Hugging Grannies" program in China, which ensures that thousands of Chinese orphans awaiting adoption receive emotional support from surrogate grandmothers.
These are among the many gifts that will be available for purchase.
"We change what's in their hearts, and get the kids plugged in to these issues and causes on an ongoing basis, not just at Christmastime," said Christians.
Goodbye to Ronni
I wrote a story about Ronni Eddy's monthly gathering of friends and her fight with lung cancer in the South Charlotte News Ballantyne edition on Oct. 21. Eddy died at her home on Nov. 3. A memorial service was held Nov. 13 at Forest Hill Church on Park Road.
Her friends do not think it's a coincidence that Eddy died on the first Wednesday of the month, the day of the monthly lunches that Eddy had coordinated and enjoyed prior to her diagnosis. Her lunch buddies will continue their monthly gathering but will now begin each one with shared memories about their dear friend.
Janet Decillis says that Eddy's "kindness, sense of humor, strength, strong moral compass, intelligence, positive attitude and love will all live on in her beautiful daughters, Allison and Brynne."