Searching for those little holiday gifts can be a bit maddening. After all, what do you get the same beloved neighbors and friends on whom you have already bestowed scented candles, gourmet coffee and gift cards year after year?
Six years ago, a group of women responded with a solution. Instead of exchanging presents, they redirect those funds toward something good. They call it “Cheers to Charity,” and they strictly enforce their no-gift-giving rule. That money has to go to charity. Other than that, the parties go on as they always have, with everybody bringing wine or an appetizer to enjoy the evening catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.
Dana Burke, mom to three boys, hosted the inaugural party. She was delightfully surprised that 75 people showed up at her home that December in 2005, but nobody then knew just how successful the new charity idea would be.
“We took a box of cash and checks to Bo’s Place (a charity that helps children and adults cope with grief). They counted up all the money in front of us and there was $10,000 in there. We were so blown away,” said Dana.
The idea was conjured up while a few longtime friends were jogging along Tanglewood Boulevard. Since then, Cheers to Charity has raised nearly $40,000 for five non-profit organizations.
The best part for Pam Frazier, a mother of four, is that the hostess gets to choose the charity. As the hostess last year, she chose The Periwinkle Foundation, an organization that sends kids recovering from cancer to summer camp.
“We created this adorable poem talking about ‘being jolly and no more tamales’ as our invitation, and we just passed it around, e-mailing it to everyone,” Pam said. “We don’t close the door to anyone. We invite other groups of friends. We encourage folks not to buy gifts for their friends but to instead invite them to this party.”
Susan Cravens, mom of two, has attended the parties since the beginning. This month, it is her turn to host and her charity of choice is Amazing Place, a day program for adults with early to moderate memory loss. “You get together with friends and catch up with everybody. And instead of running around ragged buying 50 $10 gifts for everyone, I just write one check that is going to be used for good,” said Susan.
Sarah West, an architectural consultant and mom to three teen boys, will host next year. She has been surprised by how the idea has caught on.
“It has gotten bigger and bigger every year. A sorority sister of one of the ladies has started doing the same thing in Missouri. A couple of groups in Austin are doing it,” said Sarah. “You are giving something more meaningful that is really going to affect somebody’s life rather than spending your money, your time, your energy giving gifts that are going to end up sitting on a shelf.”
Danna Burkett, who decorated the signature donation box that travels from home to home each year, was thrilled to put her artistic talent toward something useful instead of a gift that may not be appreciated.
One year, after laboring as usual in the kitchen making her traditional chocolate and coconut “Martha Washington balls,” she told her friend that she’d be getting hers soon. She turned around in time to catch the friend playfully sticking her finger down her throat as if gagging.
“We laugh so hard about it now. But I was spending so much time and energy doing something that not everyone enjoyed. Now we are all doing something we love and truly enjoy,” said Danna.
Ann Snodgrass, mom to four boys, admits that it is sometimes still tempting to buy a little gift for someone but that it has gotten easier after five years to just say no.
“None of us need another decoration or candle anyway. Other people need it more, and there is no question about convenience. I think that is why it took off so well. I think everyone appreciates the purpose of it and the bit of hectic-ness it takes out of your holiday,” said Ann.
Now another generation is seeing the merit in what these women are doing.
Dana Burke’s daughter, Caroline, attended one of the parties when she was a senior in high school and sold her hand-made jewelry to her mom’s friends. She made $1,300 and contributed it to the Cheers to Charity kitty.