Spur the Global Economy – Stay Home and Make a Difference This Thanksgiving

(This piece has been featured on the Homepage of ABC’s Million Moms Challenge; with the full text on the blog here, on the Huffington Post, in Global Giving’s news and below.)

Feeling the pressure of tighter consumer spending, giant retailers catering to bargain hunters will open earlier than ever this Black Friday, on Thanksgiving Thursday.  Imagining the stampede of shoppers is enough to give me indigestion, even before I take a bite of turkey.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. My family has found a way to support the global economy by staying home and acquiring nothing – with a game that’s become a tradition.

Right after our Thanksgiving meal, we always play games like Scattergories or watch a classic movie, and now, whoever wishes from our big, opinionated extended family joins in for what has become known as our “Global Giving Game.”   As part of our day of abundant eating and giving thanks, giving back has become part of the routine everyone comes to expect.  Our giving game feels like a continuation of the prayer uttered before the meal – a conscious act uniting far-flung family members that come together for the holiday with each other and with those we’ve never met around the planet.

After about a 3-minute orientation on the GlobalGiving.org website we break into “teams” with about five people in each, depending on how many people have brought laptops.  Each team logs in to the GlobalGiving website and starts discussing various issue areas they might like to support – from democracy to disaster aid to education, maternal health and hunger.  The issues and possibilities can get overwhelming, and we need to accommodate ages ranging from six to ninety, so we deliberately wedge this “game” between dinner and dessert.  We give each team only about twenty minutes to come up with a recommendation that the entire group would then consider and vote on.

As the groups navigate the site, discussions around the computers get richer and more serious.  People were fascinated by the range of innovative programs and were drawn in by the desperate needs all over the world.  I heard the team of little girls talking with one of the grandmothers about what it’s like when there’s no clean water and the day must be spent walking to fetch water for the family instead of going to school, and another “team” discussing the merits of supporting computers in U.S. classrooms versus vaccines for kids in Africa.  Possibly the biggest challenge in the process was to get people to decide on a single project to recommend – they felt the needs were simply too big to narrow down their choices in such a short time.  This itself was a great learning experience.  The first year we were able to narrow it down to one choice between four teams: to support girls’ education in Afghanistan, as this satisfied interests for women’s empowerment, education, health, and U.S. and global security.  The second year we couldn’t narrow to just one, so we supported an education project in the United States , maternal health globally, and water wells at needy schools in Kenya.

Once we make the difficult choice of which project(s) to support, we put a wooden box in the middle of the coffee table for whoever wants to contribute an anonymous donation.  The youngest kids prepare in advance, so they bring their own money set aside from their savings.  It’s always exciting to count the total from our group effort.  We emphasize that this isn’t meant to replace personal philanthropic giving nor to put anyone on the spot, and we won’t pass around a collection box.  Our goal wasn’t to raise big money, but to give everyone a taste of this process.  The first year we raised $197, then, when we counted, my cousin’s 6-year old daughter ran to get her $3 and a brother-in-law gave his promised $0.27 worth to take us to a total of $200.27.

Each year the experience has far surpassed my expectations.  Amidst homemade pecan, pumpkin, key lime, and chocolate mousse pies and my mom’s amazing chocolate-swirled cheesecake, conversations about global issues inevitably continue across generations.  I noticed the next day so many of us had Facebook statuses that were inspired by our little Global Giving Game.

This year, with many of our family members signed on to the Million Moms Challenge, I’m looking forward to seeing what creative solutions we might find, and my now eight-year old and her cousins have already set aside allowance money to bring for the best bargain we might find on Black Friday – the “priceless” gifts of uniting as a family, learning, and making a difference in lives near or far.

The more we learned about the needs of families worldwide, the more we connected, taking to heart the simple fact: we all want to raise healthy babies and kids.

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