Paying it Forward, Giving Back

Columnist Tracy Lorenz discusses a different kind of gift for the nature loving crowd.

Tracy Lorenz

Gift giving can mean a multitude of things—it is a chance to show gratitude, cement a relationship or share a good laugh. I love finding presents large and small that garner meaning and are memorable, but it isn’t always an easy task to find the one item that goes down in Christmas gift history.

Especially with the outdoor enthusiast, buying the right item is difficult since products are technically different and largely appeal to personal preference. Plus, outdoor gear is made to last and withstand all conditions so there shouldn’t be much necessary replacing, not to mention we tend to wear out gear until it refuses to hold one more piece of duct tape. What do you give to the backpacker that has everything? The skier who has five pairs of skis? You already looked at my gift column and nothing catches your attention.

I found myself in this situation a few years ago when I wanted to give an interesting and thoughtful Christmas gift to a roommate who had everything she needed (and truthfully, everything she wanted was out of my price range). The solution? I bought her a real, live manatee.

No, I did not go to Florida, haul up a sea cow, put a bow on it’s head and deliver it to her doorstep—but I give her get a cute little stuffed animal and a certificate of ownership from the Save The Manatee Club, as well as weekly e-mails about how “Flash”  (that’s what she named it) was enjoying his rehab in the Gulf of Mexico.  When this year’s oil spill happened three years after Flash’s adoption, we both made sure to check on his safety.

Though we all mean to support our favorite environmental organizations and conserve our outdoor playgrounds, it isn’t the first thing that comes up on the to-do list. However, giving a minimal amount makes a huge difference especially when state and federal budgets are tight and environmental protection is crucial to our future. Sometimes taking action to support an organization takes a gift from a friend to pave the way, or planning a volunteer day together with coffee or dinner at a favorite restaurant.

Picking a non-profit organization and giving a donation personally connects people to a specific cause and promotes greater education within the smaller community. Through gifting a gift to the right organization, you can show that you chose wisely based on interests and hobbies; an avid kayaker might be more interested in preserving the bay, whereas an outdoorsy teacher would support outdoor education organizations.

If you’re looking at a nature traveler who would dart across the country in a second, larger organizations like The Sierra Club and National Parks Foundation might be best—becoming a member has its perks, like discounted lodge living, newsletters and parks passes.

Locally, The Bay Institute helps preserve the San Francisco Bay and its many animal inhabitants and The Greenbelt Alliance fights to preserve open spaces. Baykeeper watches for pollution and fights to keep the water clean and the Marine Mammal Center helps animals when they encounter the worst.

Organizations such as NatureBridge help educate youth about the outdoors and get kids involved in hands on natural science programs. Bay Area Wilderness Training gives youth without the resources equipment and training to start outdoor trips in their communities.

Nature is amazing by itself, but humans have a huge impact on what stays and what goes—these organizations make a productive and sustainable change. Whichever program ignites your fire, giving a gift of giving is in sync with the holiday spirit and will start 2011 in a positive place.?

How do you support your favorite environmental organization? Tell us in the comments.

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