01/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Green Parent Chicago's Alternative Gift Giving Guide

There are many ways to give a meaningful gift to someone you love and many ways to spread the Christmas spirit to someone who needs extra help or support this season.

Here are just a few ideas to begin your list:

"Buy Green, Buy Fair, Buy Local, Buy Used, and Buy Less" is the mantra to mind when shopping for a less commercialized holiday according to the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

Try that time tested frugal giving technique: hold a secret Santa exchange. Select a price level or theme and draw a name, each person gives one gift and gets one gift.

Create an alternative gift registry for your children's or family's wish lists online. In it, you could list museum memberships, class and activity fees, educational products, or babysitting.

Plan a book exchange or magazine exchange. It's like getting a subscription for free.

Donate to a charity or plan a group donation among several families you know. Volunteer with your kids at a local charity. has a simple search feature that lets you search for family and youth volunteer opportunities around the Chicago area.

Give or buy only used and recycled or give only handmade items, like home baked goodies. For homemade and handmade gift ideas and instructions, like how to make a beanie, poncho and mittens from an old sweater, visit Threadbanger, the site that proves sewing rocks.

Donate your time and give experiences instead of stuff.

Purchase gifts from local social enterprises and nonprofit organizations that benefit Chicago area men, women and families. Some of the many in the area include:

The Enterprising Kitchen, which helps women work toward self-sufficiency and economic independence.

Beeline helps men and women re-entering the community from prison establish a work history, learn good work habits, and gain skills to further employment and career advancement.

Growing Home provides job training through a non-profit organic agriculture business.

WomanCraft, an eco-friendly and fair trade social enterprise in the North Lawndale neighborhood produces handmade, recycled paper products.

The Heartland Alliance benefits the impoverished and those whose human rights are threatened.

Visit Chicago Fair Trade for a listing of other local businesses selling fair trade goods and services.