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Gift-giving takes a creative turn this pandemic holiday season

  • LEILA FUJIMORI / LFUJIMORI@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Mililani Waena Elementary School teacher Joslyn Heinold received a personalized mask from a second grade student.

    LEILA FUJIMORI / LFUJIMORI@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Mililani Waena Elementary School teacher Joslyn Heinold received a personalized mask from a second grade student.

  • LEILA FUJIMORI / LFUJIMORI@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Enchanted Lake Pet Center owner Garrick Higuchi sold out of his guinea pigs and rabbits. He holds the store’s first pot-bellied piglet, which is for sale.

    LEILA FUJIMORI / LFUJIMORI@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Enchanted Lake Pet Center owner Garrick Higuchi sold out of his guinea pigs and rabbits. He holds the store’s first pot-bellied piglet, which is for sale.

When you open your Christmas presents this morning, there’s a good chance at least one of them comes in a Mason jar.

Mason jars have been sold out across Oahu as retailers across the country have scrambled to keep them in stock — just one indicator of the various trends in gift-giving this holiday season, indelibly marked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The jars are among the “COVID casualties,” remarked one salesperson at Ben Franklin Crafts.

“Everyone on the island is sold out,” and “for 1-1/2 to two months we’ve been out of stock,” said Austin Schulte, a Ben Franklin Crafts Enchanted Lake store supervisor. People have been using them for pickled mango and pickled onions, prune mui and jams, he said.

With all the necessary belt-tightening just to survive, many have turned to making homemade gifts, while shoppers are supporting local businesses, including those who have started their own small businesses by selling items they’ve made. Others who continue to work, but from home and avoiding social gathering, also got creative.

“We’re more mindful of how we gave this year, and were more creative in how we gave things,” said Robin Naope, 48, a Hawaii Kai resident and special-education teacher at Kahala Elementary School. “We tried to put something together rather than just buying it outright. It’s more special but it did take time. You just have to plan.”

She said half of her household members were working and half were not, so they worked together this year. In the past everyone worked, so “we were all scrambling to get things done.”

She finally had framed a block print she bought about 20 years ago for her sister by one of their favorite artists, and will give it to her today.

“The pandemic sucked, but we made lemonade out of lemons,” Naope said. “We didn’t overspend or underspend.”

Alyssa Coloma, 30, was surprised when four of her previously nonbaking millennial friends exchanged gifts of sweet treats they made themselves. “It’s probably all the quarantine skills they’ve developed,” she speculated.

After seeing her friends give baked goods, Coloma decided her butter mochi with ube was a good present. “I’ve been baking a couple years, but it’s the first time I’ve given it for Christmas.”

She also has noticed an influx of recipes on social media as people hunkering down at home are baking, cooking, canning, gardening and sewing.

Joslyn Heinold, 42, who teaches second grade at Mili­lani Waena Elementary School, was grateful to receive masks sewn by parents, even personalized with her name, and a “cute little bag with a zipper to hold hand sanitizer and mask.”

She’s also received “lots of candy, homemade baked goods from students.”

“Really nice gifts,” she said. “Really thoughtful gifts.”

Some residents opted to help out the local economy this holiday season.

“I’m very fortunate to still get a paycheck,” said firefighter Kai Ah Sam, 46, of Kailua. “I’m supporting local. I didn’t buy anything online.”

He bought his teenage girls clothing by local designers, as well as locally made jewelry and makeup products.

Although some gift- seekers braved the malls and big-box stores, though not in such large droves as in the past, many opted for safer alternatives.

Elizabeth Polendey, 20, of Kaneohe said this year she’s been “buying online rather than going to stores.”

But even online shopping has had a twist.

Local vendors selling a variety of products have organized pop-up weekend events on social media featuring their wares. The event coordinator requires each vendor to invite a minimum number of friends, which could range from 20 to 50. A group of 10 vendors could gain 500 potential customers who want to buy local.

Grace Montibon, who sells a kiss-proof, waterproof lipstick called LipSense by SeneGence, a Tulsa, Okla.-based company, says, “Some people just want to support a local business,” despite the product being manufactured elsewhere.

All the indoor craft fair venues were shut down due to the pandemic, so Montibon joined a craft fair event at Aloha Stadium.

“I like the flexibility,” said Montibon. Because of the novel coronavirus, “I’m at home with the kids 24/7 if I’m not doing craft fairs.” Otherwise, she takes them with her.

Pets themselves have been a comfort during this pandemic to many, so some cuddly animals may have been found under the tree this year.

Enchanted Lake Pet Center owner Garrick Higuchi said the shop usually carries guinea pigs and rabbits, aside from tortoises, chameleons, birds and fish, but were out, so he accepted on consignment the store’s first pot-bellied piglet.

However, he commented to an employee he might decide to keep the 4-week-old little pink-and-black piglet as she rolled over to enjoy some belly rubs.

Jane Redmond, an Enchanted Lake resident, purchased actual gifts (chew toys and treats) for her grand-pets — a grand-dog and two grand-bunnies.

But “the emphasis is more on giving money to the children and grandchildren versus, in the past, it’s been actual gifts,” she said.

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