Alternative Gift Giving – the Gift of Sustainability

Embrace the spirit of generosity and explore the world of purposeful giving today. This holiday season, while everyone is hustling and bustling to get through their gift list, we’re relaxing at home because of alternative gift giving! 

We gave up buying Christmas presents for each other a long time ago. After all, we’re of that age where we really don’t need more stuff. A point driven home when we both had to repair and contribute to clearing out our parent’s houses.

Now, our attitude is ‘we have each other; what more could we possibly need or want’? Well, as it turns out, the missing component for me was giving to others who are less fortunate in ways we hadn’t done in the past.

For instance, after our mom’s both passed away from Alzheimers, I made the hard decision to monetize our blog so we could formally raise money in both their memories.  Admittedly, I hate having ads running on our website. Not only don’t I like the clutter of advertisements, but I never had a desire to reap any financial gain from our content.

Give and Take

I’ve always enjoyed sharing our projects with the creative community for free. Of course that joy fades to exasperation when we run into unscrupulous people out there who take more than they give. For instance, when sites steal our content picture-for-picture and word-for-word, claiming our work as their own (or without credit), it astounds us – every.single.time. One example of such a ‘taker’ is our blue jean planter (shown below in a Google search)!

While sites like this don’t even bother to remove our watermarks, others are even more determined and find ways to remove them. I honestly don’t mind creators building on our content. When others share their own versions of our work, as long as we’re given credit and a link back as the originators of the idea, we’re cool with it.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and our content is out there to inspire. But you’d be surprised how many bloggers – that should know better – sometimes don’t even bother to properly credit the source.

By the way, you’ll find more unique upcycled projects in the craft rehab section of our website and on our home page.

Change of Heart

Anyway, getting back to why we monetized, although it takes a ton of effort, we take great pride in sharing our content. But at the expense of turning off readers who dislike ads as much as I do, I had a change of heart. When thinking about how much good would come of donating that revenue, it was a no brainer really. And if you’re reading this, it means we still have readers! It seems you really love our upcycle content. So, if we haven’t said so lately, we really appreciate each and every one of you! Thank you for your support here and on our YouTube Channel!

At first, we created ‘crochet for a cure’ content, like this crochet pillow cover, and crochet for a cure e-book. Then we ventured into some affiliate work (which we no longer do because of my health issues). But every little effort makes a difference. Because now, each year on or around Christmas day, we make an online donation to the Alzheimer’s society.


But in addition to blog content to bolster our fund raising efforts, we give something equally  as precious – our time. You may remember Hubs’ passion for restoring vintage sewing machines. I’ve mentioned it several times in various posts, like our diy bookends post. This past summer, when Hubs wasn’t getting sewing machines into the hands of avid sewers locally, he was busy converting sewing machines into hand cranks. The intention was to donate them to a third world country.

Alternative gift giving; a man showing a woman how to use a sewing machine

We often take for granted that we have an abundance of electricity here and are living in the land of opportunity. We are amongst the luckiest people in the world. And I truly believe that we have a responsibility to help those less fortunate however we can. Whether that means donating time or money, or random acts of kindness, we can all step up, get off our phones and do something to benefit others. And not just at Christmas time.

A few years ago a friend of ours told us about a drive at their local church where they send shipments of much needed goods to Africa, like medical supplies and sewing machines. Hubs worked diligently to collect and repair machines to include in their next shipment. Sadly, the church fell on some hard times. So when Spring rolled around they could not afford to continue their good work overseas.

Giving with a Purpose

But this story has a happy ending. Because of word of mouth, Hubs learned about AfriCycle – a group of volunteers that collects donated bikes and sends them to international communities in need. When households have a mode of transportation – and no longer have to spend income on getting around, that savings can be invested in farming, education and healthcare instead. It’s a win-win for alternative gift giving!

We were thrilled when Ben Voss, the Executive Director of Africycle, agreed to include Hubs’ sewing machines in a shipment sent this past August. You can take a tour of Africycle’s operations in Zomba, Malawi.

When we pulled up to Africycle’s donation centre, the site was a hive of activity with volunteers disassembling bikes to make room for more in the shipping container. They typically send around 400 bikes per container.

Africycle is one way to participate in alternative gift giving

Africycle is one way to participate in alternative gift giving

Update on Our Donation

Yesterday, we got this email from Ben with an update on our donation:

“Glad to report that we received the sewing machines here in Zomba, Malawi this week. They arrived safely and in great condition. We don’t take for granted the efforts you put into restoring these machines and offering them as donation to people that will use them to their fullest capacity!

We will organize a plan for the allocation of these machines and provide further feedback/stories. Our staff saw the machines, and were very impressed, saying “ wow! original singer machines!”

Here is a photo of our manager with one of the machines.

We inventoried 5 machines. Can you please confirm that was the number you donated for shipment.

Best regards and thanks,



PS. I will share this, and thanks, to Mary as well. I’m sure she will be thrilled to see this came to fruition and grateful for this connection!”

Permission to post this picture of Africycle’s manager holding one of our donated machines was granted and we’re so happy to be able to share it.  Doesn’t he have the most beautiful smile? Talk about a picture being worth a thousand words!!

Manager of Africycle holding sewing machine donated by Birdz of a Feather

Africycle’s manager holding one of our donated sewing machines.Photo: courtesy of B. Voss

As for Mary, also mentioned above, she is the person who led us to Africycle. But I have to also mention one of the wonderful volunteers at Africyle who shares a love of sewing. When we started to unload our sewing machines and sewing supplies, we realized a really our stupid mistake on our part. We had our packing materials but had forgotten to bring containers to pack the sewing machines into. Duh! We were over an hour away from home, and this was only one pitstop of many so we couldn’t go back.

sewing machines in the trunk of a car to be donated for alternative gift giving

One of the volunteers didn’t skip a beat. She not only found us a container but, as we were unfamiliar with the area, she personally went out of her way to purchase another one locally to protect the machines. The fact that it all arrived safe and sound is thanks to her.

Sewing machines packed in a box, ready to be donated

Why Giving Back is Good for the Soul

It’s rewarding to make a concerted effort to give back year round – not just around the holidays. There are so many reasons to give back. First and foremost, a helpful soul is a happy soul. With all the darkness in the world right now, it personally makes me happy to share our time and money to shed some light wherever we can.

I love how Hubs’ connected with his passion of restoring old sewing machines to improve the lives of people we’ve never met half way around the world. And how I turned my passion for crochet and blogging into a fund raiser for Alzheimer’s. It’s a rewarding feeling beyond the words on this post.

Your Turn – Leave us a Comment

Now it’s your turn. Do you do give back to a cause you care about with your special gifts or passions? We’d love to hear your thoughts about our fundraising efforts in the comments and we’re also genuinely interested in hearing about how you give back too!

Pin Alternative Gift Giving

Pinnable image for alternative gift giving


2 thoughts on “Alternative Gift Giving – the Gift of Sustainability

  1. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for posting this, Sara. I’m one of the fortunate people who’s been to Malawi and many other countries on our beautiful continent. All for work purposes, mind you, not leisure, and have seen first hand how resourceful and talented our people are. Everything has a purpose and when that purpose no longer works or breaks, they figure out a new way to reuse what they have. They are the true masters of repurposing. Those sewing machines are going to keep on giving for a very, very long time. You guys did good <3 Thank you

    • Wow Michelle! Thank you too for letting us know that! How wonderful that you have actually been to Malawi and can relay that firsthand; you made our day! Repurposers are our kind of people so they couldn’t be in better hands!

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