How Theresa Evanoff Makes Gifts Less Wasteful — And More Meaningful

As a mom of three, the founder of social enterprise Gift-It-Forward knows how wasteful gifting can get.

How Theresa Evanoff Makes Gifts Less Wasteful — And More Meaningful
Theresa Evanoff

Of the gifts you’ve received, how many have you kept, much less used? Stanford University estimates that the year-end festive season produces 25 percent more waste. This amounts to some 25 million tons of garbage, mostly made up of wrapping paper and unwanted presents.

And Theresa Evanoff has seen it first-hand. As a mother of three kids aged between five and eight, birthday parties are a constant: “I spent a disproportionate amount of time shopping for birthday presents and receiving generous piles of gifts at our own parties,” she says wryly. She’s also witnessed the “mountains of plastic toys” that her children discarded after they lost interest.

So in 2016, she set up Gift-It-Forward. The social enterprise has a simple premise: it helps party organisers create a digital gift fund, like a virtual red packet, where a portion goes to a charity of their choice and the rest goes to the organisers to spend on their own gifts.

To find out the causes that resonate most strongly with kids, Evanoff consulted her own children — they were most concerned about mothers, animals and other kids.

Evanoff has since partnered with 19 different charities, including pregnancy crisis support group Babes, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. More than 3,000 people have used Gift-It- Forward to facilitate gifting at their parties — this has translated to 815 days of diapers for teenage mothers, 175 wishes granted for terminally ill children, 2,455 days of tuition for low-income kids, and much more.

“I felt compelled to show my kids that giving is just as important as receiving,” says Evanoff, who uses Gift-It-Forward for her own children’s birthday parties.

“I wanted to shift their thought process from getting piles of gifts they don’t need, to supporting others who are in need.”

Gift-It-Forward supports parties for grown-ups too. Evanoff says it has been used for a 40th-birthday celebration — after donating nearly $4,000 towards Canossaville Children and Community Services, the rest went to a personal whisky collection.

She is glad her platform helps create “micro- philanthropists” and raises awareness about waste and giving back. But nothing pleases her more than having her kids embrace philanthropy in their own way.

“I set out to instil in my children a sense of mindfulness and kindness, so birthdays and other special occasions become more meaningful,” she says. “And that’s something to celebrate.”

This story first appeared in the May 2020 issue of A Magazine.