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It feels like it’s been “that time of year,” since the day after Thanksgiving. The economy’s in a bad way, so more than ever the pressure is on us to buy our way out of the hole and bring smiles to the faces of our loved ones at the same time, right?

Ever seen “The Story of Stuff?” Now’s a great time to watch that one again or for the first time and then to think about gifts that will fill your bellies instead of a landfill: food from local producers! Consider a gift of maple syrup, pickles or preserves from the local farmers market.

From our friends at Mother Nature Network (MNN), a fine list: 10 slow food Christmas gift ideas,” including CSA membership, local wine, and a membership to Slow Food USA. Brilliant!

And from membership coordinator Sheila Karaszewski:

Confession: I start listening to Christmas songs on Thanksgiving. And I don’t stop until the tree is down, the remnants of wrapping paper are cleaned up, and the last crumbs of the cookies have long disappeared. Yes, I’m a sucker for the winter holiday season and whether we’re talking about Christmas, Kwanza, Hanukkah, or Festivus, I think all the traditions and festivities are simply divine.

But while I’m daydreaming happily about gifts to give and cookies to make, not everyone has visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads this time of year. Some people are thinking about how to heat their homes and feed their families; others are worried that this will be the year they have to tell the kids that Santa doesn’t exist. As much as I love the holidays, I find that I can’t enjoy it in the same way unless I’ve done something to spread the cheer to those who need it most. I suspect that most of you feel the same way, so I’m going to help get you started with some easy ideas. Some of my favorite ways to help are with what I personally feel is most important this time of year – food, warmth and celebration.

• Donate money to your local food bank (n.b. money is better than cans)
• Volunteer your time or give money to a homeless shelter that operates a soup kitchen
• Gather warm coats, mittens and blankets and donate to a coat drive
• Bring toys to children who are hospitalized for life-threatening illnesses
• Bring food and conversation to nursing homes and senior care facilities
• Sponsor a needy family – provide a holiday meal, presents and decorations