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Alternative gift ideas for kids bring more joy (and less stuff!)

Alternative gift ideas for kids bring more joy (and less stuff!)

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes. If you’re looking for a gift that fits just right, especially for kids, check out these fresh ideas for something that’s one-of-a-kind and maybe even enjoy it together this holiday season!

Families with kids may like a membership to the zoo, OMSI, children’s museum, or tickets to a play, movie or a sports event. While experience gifts can be a tough sell to little kids, you can help make it fun in the moment too.

Try creating a countdown calendar and mark off the days until they get to go to the event or destination. Or print out photos from similar past experiences, and wrap them up, to help them imagine the experience and create excitement.

Inviting friends can make it even more fun, if that’s an option for the type of experience you’re giving. And helping kids choose experience gifts for others can also help them appreciate this kind of gift giving. Starting this tradition with them now can create memories that will last long beyond the holiday season.

Here are some more non-toy gift ideas for kids (borrowed from Nourishing Minimalism's Non-Toy Gift Guide):

  • Classes: Music, dance, riding, drawing – classes are a great way to encourage children in their interests and let them know that you pay attention to them and what they enjoy.
  • Activities: Mini golf, bowling, skating rink. These are so much fun! And a big part of the fun is going together. Children love spending time with the adults in their lives; they want to see you enjoying your time as well as enjoying them.
  • Recipe and ingredients: Cooking brings people together. Baking something special or cooking dinner is an ideal time to spend together and learn life skills. Print out a recipe, purchase all the ingredients and set a date for cooking together. Bonus: PDX Parent has a profile of Portland chefs cooking with their kids – recipes included!
  • Arts and crafts supplies: If your craft box is running low, stock up a little on things you need. Add in something fun the kids haven't used before. A gift of arts and crafts supplies often brings on the imagination, and kids can't wait to get to work. Bonus: Set up a crafting date, take time out of your own schedule and make crafts together! Keep a basket of craft supplies and get out a book for inspiration.
  • Coupons: An envelope of coupons that they can "spend" at any time: I'll do one chore -- no questions asked; movie and popcorn night, you pick the movie!; 1:1 game of cards or basketball (whatever the child's interest is in); sit and read a book with me; stay up 1/2 hour past bedtime.
  • Restaurant gift card: Dinner, ice cream, coffee, cupcake – whatever suits their fancy! Give them the freedom of inviting whomever they wish: it may be mom or dad; it may be a grandparent, aunt or even teacher they would like to spend more time with.
  • Dress-up clothes: Gently used clothing offers hours of play.
  • Books: Get books from the library or pick up a used copy at one of Portland’s many bookstores. Be sure to pass the books on when you are done, so they don't clutter up your home.

Photo credit: Oregon Zoo

Find gift ideas for other hard-to-buy-for people in your life in our resourceful holiday series. #holiday

Warm the holidays with these community gift ideas

Warm the holidays with these community gift ideas

December is the season of creative giving and good times spent with friends and family. Remember, Portland is full of community resources —and resourceful ways — to give and make meaningful moments.


Make memories

Give a fun outing to ZooLights for kiddos who already have a full toy box.

Families with kids may like a membership to the zoo, OMSI, children’s museum, or tickets to a play, movie or a sports event. While gifts of experience can be a tough sell to little kids, you can help make it fun in the moment too.



Help dad clean the gutters with an extension ladder borrowed from a tool library.

Tool libraries are available to residents of East PortlandNorth PortlandNortheast Portland, and Southeast Portland. Become a member of a tool library near you! Gift a family member or neighbor time — yours! — to help with a house project.


Fix it

Repair a favorite old lamp for mom at a repair café.

Repair PDX hosts monthly free repair events that bring volunteers who like to fix things together with people who have broken items that need fixing. Help spread repair culture through the repair movement!


Try resale

Find a gently used party dress!

Portland has a thriving reuse and thrift shop market for not only clothing, but also household goods, electronics, furniture, art supplies and building materials.

Check out the Resourceful PDX map for lending libraries, donation centers, resale, repair and swap shops.

Enjoy dessert first with Chinook Book’s sweet offerings

Enjoy dessert first with Chinook Book’s sweet offerings

By Carrie Treadwell from Resourceful PDX partner, Chinook Book

The 17th annual edition of Chinook Book highlights local, sustainable businesses with a belief that they can give back and also thrive in the community. This includes new options in food-focused Portland!

The website has a new feature that shows all of the community coupons. You can see the 112 merchants and 126 coupons under Dining. This feature includes many standard Portland spots for eating local, plus some new dessert options like:

  • Wiz Bang Bar
  • Lovejoy Bakers
  • Dairy Hill Ice Cream
  • Maple Parlor

The Chinook Book team spends time thinking about businesses and their industries and the approach and criteria with which they appear in the book.

The print edition includes information and resources on how to connect with local food and Portland’s many farmer’s markets, as well as the plethora of local businesses that are in line with resourceful living. The app continues to improve to offer even more personalized navigation and provides savings at your fingertips.

Resourceful PDX shares community resources with the newly updated map (page 14 in the print edition). There are many places to go for used art supplies, building materials and clothing. Look for coupons and tips for bike shops, consignment and thrift stores, hardware stores, and even car sharing opportunities.

Find savings by using both the print book and mobile app, available at local retailers and through school and nonprofit fundraisers.

Grab a friend and take advantage of a two-for-one dessert special!


St Johns Food Share offers more options for residents

St Johns Food Share offers more options for residents

By Alicia Polacok from Resourceful PDX partner, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability

Founded in 1988, St Johns Food Share is a member-owned, volunteer-powered food sharing community. Formerly known as Golden Harvesters, St Johns Food Share has a mission to empower Portland residents by providing food options, preserving dignity and promoting self-sufficiency. Each year, the food share distributes over 300,000 pounds of food to local families.

New name draws new members

When Golden Harvesters became St Johns Food Share, the name change and rebranding prompted a big increase in members – they more than doubled membership just through word of mouth!

Members are volunteers

Food Share membership is open to all residents. In exchange for a minimum of eight donated volunteer hours and $30 monthly dues per household, you can shop twice a week in the store at no additional charge. The monthly fee helps pay for the store space, electricity and utilities.

Volunteers are crucial to the operation of the Food Share. It was a volunteer who brought the organization into the 21st century too – with software and computerization that hadn’t existed before. Paying membership fees are coming online soon too.

Lynda, a St Johns Food Share member and volunteer, shows off available options at the store. 

One new member, Lynda, drives from St Helens to visit the store and volunteer on Fridays as a store lead. This volunteer position includes making displays look organized, greeting and assisting first-time shoppers with using the computer and weighing items for check-out.

“Having this option really makes a difference,” said Lynda. She explained that the Food Share “offers a way to stretch my monthly money because social security only goes so far.” She can keep her kitchen stocked with a variety of items – fresh produce, dairy products, protein and staples – while keeping good food out of the waste stream.

Food is donated

You’ll find a well-stocked store offering a variety of foods donated from partner agencies. These include Pacific Coast Fruit, St Johns Community Garden, Fred Meyer, New Seasons, Grocery Outlet and more. St Johns Food Share also works with social service agencies to pass along viable food through their food banks. Some of these programs include Grace Christian Fellowship, Hereford House and Linnton Community Center in North and Northwest Portland.

One Food Share volunteer, Judie, said the organization also works with various farmers who take back the food that isn’t viable for human consumption and use the food scraps to make compost or as pig feed.

Learn more

Curious about Food Share? If you aren’t sure you want to be a member, you can shop free the first time. Or you can sign up as member right away.

St Johns Food Share is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.

Find St Johns Food Share under Donation Center on the Resourceful PDX map.

Resourceful PDX discovered this “new” community resource when a resident used the Add to the Map button on the Resourceful PDX map. Let us know if you have a resource to add!

Get moving on the way to school

Get moving on the way to school

Options is the name of the game as you shift back into the school routine. How you get to and from school, after-school activities, sporting events, and play dates – all of these are times to consider alternatives and, as a bonus, offer ways to spend more time with family and friends.


Connect and collaborate with other parents on a carpool for the kids to reduce pollution and traffic congestion while saving time and money. Use this free online tool to find carpool companions. Or talk to friends and neighbors to share in the day-to-day schedule and make the most of your time.

Walk or bike

Promote exercise (and get some yourself) and quality time with your kids by walking or biking with your kids to school. Find maps to school, information and events through Safe Routes to School or sign up for their newsletter.

Bike shops all over Portland offer repair services and classes, and can help outfit you for the weather. Or come to a Repair Café to learn how to get minor things repaired for free.

In whatever ways your family chooses to get back to school, incorporating thoughtful actions that are good for you and the community help provide lasting effects as the seasons change and the new school year becomes routine again.

Visit our other recent posts to find more tips and ideas about kids in school.

Save money by packing waste-free lunches for school

Save money by packing waste-free lunches for school

It’s easy and fun to pack waste-free lunches with colorful reusable containers, utensils and cloth napkins!

Tips for waste-free lunches

1. Pack lunch in reusable containers or a lunch box. Wash and reuse containers for sandwiches and snacks. 

  • Many grocery stores offer food containers and lunch boxes – be sure to check that they are free of BPA, lead, PVC, phthalates, and vinyl. 
  • Lunch Sense and PlanetBox also offers safe, toxin-free products online. 
  • Reuseit lunch kits help with planning your kids’ lunches and offers alternatives to disposable items.
  • ReUsies Snack and Sandwich Bags has a coupon in the Chinook Book and offers an alternative to disposable bags.

2. Choose durable bottles for drinks.

  • Fill them with tap water, which is just as good as bottled water and at less than a penny per gallon, it's a great bargain.

3. Bring your own metal forks, spoons and cloth napkins.

Reuseit presents a number of tips and ideas about reusable items and waste-free lunch options in their video.

By planning ahead and creating weekly meal plans, you can reduce waste while shopping, too. Stock the fridge in one trip, and you’ll save time and resources too.

Check out other back to school resources in our previous kids in school posts.

Get extra credit with your school supplies

Get extra credit with your school supplies

Compiled by Eco-School Network Leaders at the Center for Earth Leadership

The time of year between July 4 and September 15 represents a season (other than summer!): Back-to-School. When retailers are emphasizing a shopping season, resourceful people take notice and consider their actions to avoid impulse purchases. 

On average, a family with school-aged kids will spend $673.57 for clothes, accessories, electronics, shoes and school supplies. The National Retail Federation surveyed more than 6,800 consumers about their annual back-to-school plans, finding that families with children in grades K-12 are expected to spend 9.6 percent more this year than last year. (Source: Time)

The average spending per family in each category breaks down as follows:

  • Clothing: $235.39
  • Electronics: $204.06
  • Shoes: $126.35
  • School Supplies: $107.76

Here are some strategies to help you save money, buy less stuff and get the most from this back-to-school season.

Avoid using shopping lists unless supplied directly by the school

Online and store-supplied shopping lists are often written by the companies who manufacture school supplies. Obtain the school’s supply list to ensure you get what the teacher needs.

Set your school up with Schoolhouse Supplies

Schoolhouse Supplies is a local organization that collects corporate donated supplies, buys supplies in bulk and delivers the school supplies directly to the school. These supplies are less expensive because they are purchased or donated in large quantities. They save parents the hassle of running all over town in the family car to purchase supplies and ensure that the right supplies are bought for the class. Schoolhouse Supplies offers teachers low- or no-cost classroom supplies. Learn more at the how to donate page online.

Buy supplies after winter break

Instead of purchasing supplies at the beginning of the calendar year, work with your teacher and volunteer to purchase supplies after winter break. At some schools, the supplies often run out at mid-year. By replenishing just the most-used supplies, you’ll help ensure that those supplies that have run out will be replaced and the classroom won’t have excess supplies they don’t need.

Volunteer to conduct a supply audit for your students’ classroom

Auditing how many supplies are used versus what supplies are purchased is a valuable activity for teachers. Often, supply lists are generated at the beginning of a teacher’s career and as technology and teaching needs change, the supply doesn’t receive the fine tuning necessary to keep it relevant.

Create a Party Pack for your teacher

Most classrooms have several parties or celebrations annually, in addition to student birthday treats. Creating a Party Pack that contains durable items can significantly reduce the amount of garbage produced by classroom parties. While parties differ, the average event produces 30 gallons of garbage (per Portland Eco-School Network research). That fills approximately one large black garbage bag. 

Contact the Center for Earth Leadership for more information about the Eco-School Network. 

Find farm fresh food near you in Portland

Find farm fresh food near you in Portland

Eat well and support Portland’s local food economy at over 20 farmers markets and 50 CSA farms. Resourceful PDX partner Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) has two maps to connect you to local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen in Portland.

The farmers market map allows shoppers to find a market based on the neighborhood or the day they want to shop. Farmers markets don’t just offer fruits and vegetables either. Many also carry wine, cider, beer, honey, meat, fish, pasta, prepared foods and flowers.

Find a market near you, or on the day you want to shop

Find a market near you, or on the day you want to shop

Community benefits from farmers markets include:

  • Accessibility to fresh, local food
  • Direct farmer communication
  • A variety of vendors
  • Opportunities to connect with friends and neighbors
  • Community resources

You can discover the best of the region's bounty through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms. CSA farms sell shares, or memberships, to households who typically receive weekly boxes of seasonal vegetables delivered to their neighborhood. Many CSAs also provide a wide variety of additional foods, including fruit, eggs, dairy, fish, meat and poultry.

The CSA map includes farm information and locations of over 200 pick-up sites.

BPS has tracked the growth of CSA farms that deliver to Portland since 2008. Over the past eight seasons, farms have flourished from 19 to 50, shares have grown from 2,000 to 6,000, and sales have sprouted from $1.1 million to $2.6 million

Learn more about CSAs through the Portland Area CSA Coalition.

Sports fan or outdoorsy type still on your gift list?

Sports fan or outdoorsy type still on your gift list?

Matthew may live in Portland now, but he still shares an abiding love for the University of Florida Gators football team with his brothers who live in Florida. Instead of sending his brothers more Gators gear for their packed closets, Matthew gets them tickets to a game. While his brothers enjoy the game in person, Matthew feels more connected to his team and his brothers as they share photos and messages as he watches the game on TV from Portland.

Matthew shows off his team pride in Gators gear.

Matthew shows off his team pride in Gators gear.

Sports fan on your gift list?

Is there a Trail Blazers fan or a member of the Timbers Army on your gift list? Tickets to a game allow for gifts of experience for the sports fan on your list. Giving tickets to a Blazers or Winterhawks game can be fun for the whole family. Or plan ahead for a different seasonal sport, like the Timbers, Thorns or Hops, and gift a day at the field.

Game day party host on your list?

There are many ways to make game day parties more resourceful (and add more team spirit), including how you serve the food and drinks. Growlers, reusable glasses and dishware are all ways to show your team pride and be more sustainable and make great gifts for sports fans.

Outdoor enthusiast on your list?

Do you have a snowboarder or skier in the family? Or are you looking for something the family or group of friends can do together?

Portland has options for renting gear before you head to the mountains or trails. Next Adventure offers equipment rentals for skis, snowboards and snowshoes, as well as gently used outdoor gear at great prices. REI has rental options for Nordic skiing, mountaineering gear and snowshoes.

A gift of lift tickets or an annual Sno-Park Parking Permit makes it that much easier for snow fans to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Find discount season passes by checking out Mt. Hood Meadows Holiday Gift Guide and Timberline.

Find gift ideas for other hard-to-buy-for people in your life in our resourceful holiday series. #holiday

Give busy parents a “time out” this holiday season

Give busy parents a “time out” this holiday season

Annette’s choice to start new traditions is a win-win for her and her family and offers inspiring gift ideas for the parents or busy couples on your gift list.  

“Once my kids got married, I started giving them overnight stays at local Portland hotels as Christmas presents. I also give them a gift certificate for dinner at a local restaurant. They always look forward to seeing where they are going, and I feel good about supporting local businesses. It really isn’t any more expensive than buying a bunch of stuff, provides lasting memories for them, and is quick and easy for me to buy this way.”

When Annette’s daughter and son-in-law started a family of their own, free time became even more precious. To provide them with a break, Annette not only gives gift certificates to a hotel and restaurant, but tops off the special evening out by babysitting the two boys, ages 7 and 4, allowing quality time with her grand kids.

“My daughter is a stay-at-home mom, so these weekend getaways mean a lot to her. Her husband works long hours and travels frequently, so this down time is great for them, and for me because I get time with my grandsons. They look forward to time with their ‘Nana,’ which includes eating candy, beating me at video games and staying up past their bedtime.  It’s a win-win for everybody!”

Annette’s son and his wife are young, busy professionals. They have to pencil time into their calendars to spend time together, so they also benefit from this time away together. With the hotel gift idea, they can call and reserve whatever date they want that fits their busy schedule, for any occasion.

Offering any part of this getting-away experience could be a valuable gift to time-crunched family. Perhaps consider offering to babysit the kids while parents take themselves out for dinner, or buy movie tickets to kick off an evening out for friends.

Deals are available for local restaurants, hotels and businesses. Visit Travel Portland to gather some gift ideas, drop hints for your own local wish list, or find coupons for many local restaurants in Chinook Book.

Find gift ideas for other hard-to-buy-for people in your life in our resourceful holiday series. #holiday