Thursday, March 4, 2021
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Simple, Inexpensive Gifts Can Go a Long Way During This Pandemic Holiday Season

We are in the midst of the holiday season in this country, with Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Day among others. These holidays offer us the opportunity to give thanks, reaffirm our ideals, celebrate new life and goodwill, build and maintain our families and communities, contemplate our past and look forward to what the future brings.

Wonderful thoughts and principles all — ideals every one of us should strive to maintain all year long. 

However, a small, slightly-less-positive issue connected to these holidays is that over time in this country we’ve come to associate the holiday season primarily with the giving and receiving of gifts. Not necessarily a bad principle in and of itself – especially since one of the holidays celebrates the birth of someone who was quoted as saying. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” So, give we should. 

But, in our efforts to “give” we might have created a bit of a monster – many retailers make an outsize portion of their annual income in the holiday season because of the largesse of shoppers striving to buy the right gifts. As Lucy Van Pelt says in A Charlie Brown Christmas, “Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.” And that dialogue was written in 1965. Fifty-five years later, it’s just as relevant regarding our holiday activities. 

So what’s a fine, upstanding person to do? Try to follow the ideals, or just join the masses and learn the useful art of gift-wrapping and scotch-taping?

I’ve long since made my peace with the gift-giving concept and give when and what feels good to me. Alternatively I also receive a few gifts during the holiday season, for which I am extremely grateful.

Except this is not a normal holiday season. For the first time in my adult life we are not personally mailing family cards during the season. For years we have featured our children on the front of our holiday card, but the pandemic means our son has been and will be in Buffalo with his college football team at least through Christmas so we can’t take the traditional sister/brother photo for the card. 

We completely understand this is a very, very minor inconvenience in the face of this global pandemic. Millions upon millions are dying and in dire straits all around the world, and that, with apologies to two Penn State alumni, “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of four little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

So how, in this crazy world during this abnormal holiday season, will the practice of holiday gift-giving and receiving go on? Is there a way to give someone something special this holiday season that not only shows how much you care about them but also fills a need for them? Because isn’t that what we really want when we give a gift – to know that the recipient will use it? 

I have a suggestion for a way you can memorialize this completely disjointed pandemic holiday season and give gifts that show you went the extra mile. Gifts that are modest and often inexpensive. Gifts that qualify as simple pleasures. Here’s your answer: Consumer Packaged Goods. Or CPG’s for short.

CPGs are products we all use daily that we need to replace or replenish on a regular basis. Food, beverages, clothes and household products are the primary examples. The CPG retail segment delivers over $800 billion in annual sales to the economy. Normally CPG sales trot along at a 1-2% increase per year. 3% is an outstanding year. During the peak of the pandemic this year our unprecedented consumer behavior resulted in CPG growth of over 30%. 

What that means to you and me is that, as the business logistics students at PSU will tell us, the supply chain got disrupted in a once-in-a-lifetime way. This caused a lot of products to be out-of-stock in our stores. Toilet paper, paper towels, pasta, canned tomato products, flour, baking goods, specialty ice-cream brands, peanut butter varieties, pickles, canning jars, beef, cleaning products, and the list goes on. 

Many of these products have since come back in stock as manufacturers and distributors have adjusted to the new pandemic reality. Maybe not as plentifully or as regularly in-stock as we consumers might like or be used to – the last two times I went to the local warehouse store Charmin toilet paper was out-of-stock again – but not in a “you’ll never see it again” type scenario.

Yet there are some CPGs that left and still have not come back. Items that, if someone gave them to me as gifts, well, I would be very grateful and know that the giver had gone above-and-beyond in their efforts to find something that showed they cared about me as well as something I could badly use. Not that I’m suggesting anything, but in no particular order, here are a few of those CPGs:

  • Salmon Oil vitamins. An important distinction on this product – do not get “fish oil” which can be found in abundance. Wild Alaskan salmon oil. 

  • Clorox wipes. Not store-brand or off-brand wipes, but authentic Clorox wipes. This is an issue with the next two products as well. You may find other versions of these products but none we tried have measured up to the originals.

  • Dial Foaming Soap and refills. Again, not the store-brand or off-brand foaming soap. Only the real brand name works. 

  • Purell hand sanitizer. Definitely do not get a store or off-brand.

  • Nitrile gloves. A product I use anytime I would plan to put my hands somewhere they were going to get dirty with a chemical cleaner – car washing, household cleaning, drain unclogging, etc. Much easier to use than the traditional “rubber gloves” and much easier to store. 

  • Half-gallon Ziploc bags. The most popular size around our house. Most items I use Ziploc bags for are too big for the quart/sandwich size bag, but the gallon bag is way too big. 

The above are a few of the very useful items I’ve noticed out-of-stock ever since the pandemic began. I’m sure you have found them out-of-stock as well – and perhaps many other items important to you. So if you should find yourself this abnormal holiday season giving in to the spirit of the masses and using your gift-wrapping and scotch-taping skills, but still having difficulty deciding on just the right present, maybe a few good ol’ CPGs are the simple answer you are looking for!