06/12/2016 2:09 PM AEDT | Updated 07/12/2016 2:10 PM AEDT

Giving A Human Face To The Spirit Of Christmas

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I love Christmas shopping. The sales, the wrapping, the limited-edition gift packs, the gifts with purchase... and that's just for my presents from me to me. After I'm sorted, it's (eventually) on to thinking about who else I have to buy for. Each year, I purchase gifts for so many people (including myself), most of whom don't need a thing (including myself), and many of whom secretly actually only want one thing -- cold hard cash to spend how they like.

Of course, it's deemed unthoughtful to just hand over a card with currency in it, and rude to ask for it. But is it really such a faux pas? Or is the real issue that it's human nature to want to see someone's joy when they receive your gift, and cash often just seems too impersonal, too general?

Perhaps the same can be said for charitable giving. People I've discussed this with always say that they want to see that they are really helping people and to know that their donation is making a difference. And this applies especially at the time people tend to give the most -- at Christmas. Which is why when I heard of a Christmas Giving program that pairs donor families and recipient families for food and gifts, I wanted to discover more.

I noticed via my daily Facebook stalking that friends of mine were signing up to the national Spirit of Christmas program, which Adelaide chick Lucy Cornes started four years ago. It seems that what's unique about this program is the direct matching of families and the chance for them to communicate and even meet face to face -- making Christmas giving so much more personalised, and thus satisfying. Since its inception, hundreds of families have been paired together -- often making the difference between people having something to unwrap on Christmas Day, or nothing at all.

Cornes believes that the program has been embraced by the community because it encourages donors and recipients to interact directly, and share their personal stories. As a result, many lasting friendships have been developed. Donors report feeling immense satisfaction from knowing they have given gifts that are truly desired and appreciated, and recipients have said that the most touching part of their involvement is not the actual gifts themselves, but the thought and effort that total strangers put into making their Christmas special.

I did a Google on the interwebs (and did a lazy FB status asking my friends) and found dozens of brilliant Aussie Christmas Giving Programs that you can get directly involved with. I love the idea of this kind of involvement, because it's not obvious to everyone that need can take shape in many forms, so it broadens people's understanding of issues that others face. I've discovered that many different types of families can be recipients of any sort of Christmas giving -- single-parent families, families who have the basics in life but cannot afford 'luxuries' such as Christmas gifts, or families for whom a supermarket voucher would provide food to eat on Christmas Day.

For Cornes, a memorable example is one family who reached out to say their son was very ill with cancer and they could not fathom the concept of Christmas for their other children. By the following Christmas, the family had lost their son, and found themselves incapacitated by grief. Both years, the Christmas program brought personalised festivity for the other children during a very bleak time; and for the donor family, a very gratifying experience.

So if you are looking for for a Christmas Giving Program that enables to you to make your contribution a more personal experience, below are some of the results of my interwebs research that, while being in no way affiliated with any of them, I suggest are worth checking out. (And note, I saved the best concept until last.)

She Shopped Spirit of Christmas: pairing families for direct gift giving.

ASRC Foodbank Drive: Foodbank is a free grocery store in the ASRC Footscray centre. You can donate food in person at several venues and see for yourself how the store is helping to feed those new to the community.

Target and Uniting Care Christmas Appeal (this year focussing on migrants and homeless youth): allows you to act as a collection centre for gifts, so you can see the spirit and generosity unfold in your workplace.

Variety, the Children's Charity: consider donating your time and/or services to the various Christmas parties and activities that Variety hosts for of thousands of children across Australia each December.

SA Dog Rescue Shoebox of Love: contact your local animal shelter to see what they need at the time of the highest risk of pet abandonment.

The Smith Family Christmas Toy and Book Drive: gives you the chance to host a gift collection in an organised, registered way, for your family, school, or workplace.

My favourite suggestion for how to really involve yourself in Christmas giving is by offering yourself to be Santa for a day. For example, Puddle Jumpers Incorporated are looking for someone to be their Santa at their Christmas Party. So why not contact a local community group or charity and Red-Suit-Up.