The holiday season is approaching and in the spirit of giving, perhaps we will think about how our shopping and spending affect the lives of other people around the world.

This year, how about considering a gift with free-trade awareness and social responsibility, or charitable donations for friends and family?

There are many organizations that mobilize initiatives to better the situations of people locally and globally, and the holidays are a great time to pitch in on the effort.

Payless Gives Shoes 4 Kids
This holiday season, Payless ShoeSource is planning to distribute 4,000 pairs of shoes to children of Canadian families in need through their Payless Gives Shoes 4 Kids program.

The retailer is calling on local charities as partners in a grassroots effort to distribute the coupons for free shoes to local children across Canada.

“Especially in the economic crisis, those in need are hit the hardest,” said Payless spokesperson Mardi Larson. “This year, the economic crisis is still rippling globally and the need is international.”

Shoes are a necessity and having launched the program in the U.S. last year, Mardi said the focus this year was to go international with the shoe-giving program.

“Many times, these are the first pair of new shoes for these children. And what’s great is that they can go into a Payless store and pick out their own pair of shoes to reflect their own personal style. It’s such a confidence booster.”

Ten Thousand Villages
Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit organization that creates a marketplace for artisans in developing countries to provide sustainable living for them.

Villages practises fair-trade principles that allow artisans to support their families to provide the essentials, like sending their children to school and having a safe place to live.

“We work with people who have very few options or opportunities. Sometimes we work with women or groups in very rural areas where there are absolutely no other employment opportunities for them. So it’s basically providing a market for them,” said Bev Hiebert, the director of sales for Ten Thousand Villages.

With 50 stores across Canada and more than 100 festival sales, Villages works with more than 2,000 volunteers.

“We work with about 130 different groups in 36 different countries so customers will see a variety of product, everything from Christmas decorations to textiles to even furniture,” Hiebert said.

On Nov. 28, Villages will launch a project-based holiday program where you can buy a goat for a friend or even a farm on behalf of your company.

Go to www.tenthousandvillages.ca for the online shop, local stores and complete details.

Free the Children
Free The Children is a children’s charity and the world’s largest network of children helping children through education. In fact, 65 per cent of its annual donations come from children’s fundraising initiatives, says Craig Kielburger, founder of Free The Children.

“We provide youth with leadership training, global citizenship curriculum in schools and opportunities to assist their local and global community,” Kielburger says. “Right now, our network of over one million young people extends across 45 countries.

“With the help of these enthusiastic young leaders, we have been able to build over 500 schools in Africa, Asia and South America, providing daily education to over 50,000 students.”

Me to We
Working together with the Free The Children charity is Me to We, a new kind of social enterprise for people who are conscious of their daily choices and want to help change the world through socially responsible lifestyle choices.

Fifty per cent of Me to We’s net profits goes to support Free The Children while the other half is reinvested back into the enterprise to ensure its sustainability. Me to We sells products like a “Be The Change” organic T-shirt for example, which positively speaks their message and makes for a gift that’s made in Canada.

“Every volunteer trip, organic T-shirt, song, book, speech and choice adds up,” Kielburger says.

Free The Children has many holiday gift options at www.freethechildren.com.

There are also many socially conscious gift ideas through Me to We at www.metowe.com.

Mount Sinai
The Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation in Toronto launched its Giving Catalogue to help women and babies, the hospital’s largest patient group.

“Essentially what happens is someone can, for example, make a donation of $100 and purchase an isolation pediatric stethoscope that we need to care for babies that are born very premature and require specialized care. And then their friend will get a card letting them know that this gift was made on their behalf,” says Susan Horvath, president of the Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation.

“So many of us have so much. We don’t need more ‘things,’” Horvath said.

“Think how good somebody will feel receiving a gift that they know will help save the life of a seriously ill baby. We’re really talking about making a difference to families.

Go to www.supportsinai.ca to shop online, or call 416-586-8203 ext. 3936 for more details.