Our Guide to Giving

All Elsa’s grandparents are stumped. What can Santa bring to a nine-year-old who already has two of everything and sometimes 22? She loves Webkinz, but her mother and father say their Webkinz population has already exploded.

There are plenty of things I want to give this granddaughter, but few of them fit in a box that can be wrapped up with a bow.

Ten-year-old grandson Jack, on the other hand, knows just what he wants. Jack wants an iPad. 

Those real-world dilemmas played at the back of my mind as I planed this year’s gift guide.

In years past, we’ve had a lot of fun with Bay Weekly’s holiday gift giving guide, figuring out what to give the most difficult people on our lists.

One year, for example, a difficult mother-in-law got pounds of her beloved Bowen’s Grocery chicken salad, individually portioned and frozen.

Another year, when we reversed roles and writers got to make their own wish lists, I asked for gifts to help me maintain all the stuff I already had. On that scrubby Christmas, I got sponges and brushes and cleansers.

But this year, I feared the fun had fled the formula.

This year, extravagance has a bitter edge.

Recovery, retail watchers tell us, has started at the top. Luxury buyers are back in business. I keep bumping into magazine advice on what to buy for not only the man, woman or child but also the dog who has everything.

On the other hand, recovery has not yet trickled down to everyone. If you’re not rich, this isn’t a year you can afford to spend as if you were. In our own neighborhoods, businesses are closing, homes going to foreclosure, cars driven until they won’t run another mile.

We’re getting a tiny taste of what most of our world’s people live with every day: scarcity, loss and privation. 

So this year, we’re shifting our focus from gifts to giving.

Dear Reader, this is no lump of coal in your stocking.

Far from it. Instead, we’re warming hearts over the stories of neighbors whose giving satisfies the ache — or longing — of real need.

We’ve taken a heady scheme, matching the great human needs defined by the psychologist Abraham Maslow to local charities at work to satisfy needs from basic to self-actualization.

The first of our five stories featured in Santa’s Best Gifts tells how Calvert County’s Project Echo meets life’s most basic needs — food and drink, warmth and shelter — for neighbors whose lives have hit bottom.

The second tells how local volunteers at Orphan Grain Train reach around the world to close the gap between desperation and safety.

The third tells how the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Boys & Girls Club gives kids a place to be and grow in the care of loving people.

The fourth tells how Calvert County’s Nam Knights Old-Line Chapter help rebuild the ability and esteem of wounded warriors.

The fifth tells how Anne Arundel County’s Chapter of American Association of University Women use books, and their sale, to help young girls soar to the heights of their dreams.

Read these stories, and you’ll see what I mean about warming hearts.

Of course I know that you and I will still be piling presents under our Christmas trees. So this issue includes a little help on that front, as Dennis Doyle picks three gifts for sporting men and women and Alex Knoll sights gifts from the heavens. 

And, because some of those gifts will fit in boxes tied up with bows, Margaret Tearman advises on how to wrap it all.

May you give — and receive — perfect gifts, wanted and needed.