This essay was first published in the Anchorage Press.

If you are like me, you dread the end of the year because it means finding the perfect gift for certain friends and family who really don’t want or need anything. In fact, many are getting rid of stuff and don’t need more stuff, are keto-ing so don’t want cookies and other carbs, and feeling the strain in the world with so many new people in need. I am about to solve this problem for you. It’s called Mitzvah Mall.

Mitzvah Mall 2019 at Congregation Beth Sholom

More than a decade ago, Congregation Beth Sholom launched an idea to transform the very concept of gift-giving. “Mitzvah” literally means “commandment” and, in practice, refers to a good deed. At the Mitzvah Mall local nonprofits are invited to share their mission and sell their vision to willing donors who want to provide the gift of giving to their friends and family. The nonprofits accept donations, as little as $5 and usually not more than $50. In exchange, donors received a beautiful certificate to give as a present.

So your sister might receive a certificate acknowledging a gift in her name to provide weekend meals for 100 needy kids instead of another scarf or bottle of body lotion. It’s magic.

Twelve years into it, this holiday bazaar is going strong, with more than 22 nonprofits participating (including the Food Bank of Alaska). Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised for charities that work to make a life-changing impact in our community.

At Rasmuson Foundation, we regularly reach out to our partner nonprofits across the state to learn what they are seeing in their communities. Here’s what I heard in a couple of my most recent conversations:

  • According to the Food Bank of Alaska, the number of people seeking assistance across the state is 75% higher than a year ago.
  • Calls to 2-1-1, the statewide assistance line, have increased 300% from a year ago. The major needs being presented are rental assistance, food, childcare and COVID information.

National Crisis Response Canines is one of the organizations that individuals can support through this year’s Mitzvah Mall.

Mitzvah Mall is an opportunity for families to give in the true spirit of the season. It’s a great way to have your kid or grandkid learn about being generous. It’s also a chance for our community to come together to make big change with a simple concept — gifting our friends and loved ones the means to make a difference, to provide needed meals, shelter, services and care to those who need it most — whether people or our animal friends. These are gifts that make Alaska the place we all love to call home. We are a generous and kind community and now more than ever we need that Alaska spirit to keep our nonprofit groups supported.

This year’s event will take place virtually at least through Dec. 1. For more information, check out the Congregation Beth Sholom Facebook page or web feature, found here

Mitzvah Mall is not going to solve our problems, but it can help us be part of the solution. I hope you’ll join me in participating.