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Appreciation: it sounds like such a little thing, but to the unsung heroes in your life expressing your appreciation is the best way to say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. This year, let those who make your days happen—from teachers to garbage collectors, hairdressers to small business partners—know that their efforts and hard work haven’t gone unnoticed with gifts that range from practical to thoughtful.

Useful Things to Help Those Who Help You

Those who help your day-to-day personal and family life function properly, such as teachers, appreciate practical items that help them do their jobs.

“I’m a practical person, so when my family and friends ask for gift ideas, I ask for classroom supplies that I would otherwise have to buy on my own,” says Megan Krug, music teacher at Benjamin Harrison Elementary School in East Chicago. “Laser pointers are great, inexpensive presents that you can get at dollar stores. Some other items that make great presents include dry erase markers, pens and sticky notes.”

You can also help teachers purchase needed school supplies with gift cards. “As teachers, we spend our own money on many of our classroom supplies,” explains Kristina Buikema, third grade teacher at Homer Iddings Elementary School in Merrillville. “Because we spend our own money, teachers appreciate gift cards to teacher supply stores like United Art and Education and Sharp School Services. Gift cards that can be specifically used on apps like Teachers Pay Teachers—which teachers love because we can purchase units created by other teachers—are great, too.”

Krug adds that Staples and Walmart gift cards are both easy-to-find and especially useful gift cards because teachers can purchase a variety of needed classroom supplies at these stores.

And don’t knock gift cards for purchasing treats, too. The key to buying gift cards that won’t end up occupying space in the junk drawer is to buy ones that are useful to the recipient in terms of convenient location and personal preference. Both Krug and Buikema point out that their favorite gift cards outside of those used to purchase classroom supplies are those that can be used at convenient locations such as Dunkin’ Donuts, which has a variety of locations throughout the Region.

Of course, the old-fashioned holiday tradition of making treats is another way of showing appreciation. “I feel loved when my clients remember me at all at Christmas,” says Kelly Dykstra, co-owner with her sister, Traci Sterk, of Back to your roots hair salon in Crown Point. “Receiving gift cards last year was nice, yet my clients who make me homemade cookies, fudge and other goodies also make me feel special. It shows that they took time out of their day to make something special that I could share with my whole family.”

Thoughtfulness Never Goes Out of Style

“It’s the thought that counts” is a cliché, but it contains a core element of truth. “I think all of us appreciate cash or gift cards, yet the best gifts are the ones you can tell meant a lot to the giver,” Steve Vos, garbage collector for a large corporate waste company, explains on behalf of his fellow garbage collectors and himself. “It’s just nice to know that people appreciate the work you do for them.”

Vos was especially moved by one memorable gift from a customer. “The gift that stands out to me the most was from a little old man who had painstakingly wrapped a stack of quarters in a dollar bill and handed it to me like he was giving me the keys to a new Cadillac,” he says.

For Erinn Hecht, owner of a marketing, graphic and web design company in Northwest Indiana, the holidays are all about relationships. “I love getting Christmas cards because they say, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about you’ in that the people who sent them took the time to send you a card. A handwritten note is especially nice.”

“It’s just nice to be acknowledged as a teacher,” Krug points out. “Sometimes ‘specials’ teachers, like those who teach music, art and P.E., are seen as babysitters, but I know all of my students by name. They’re all my babies.” She points out that teachers are well aware of the tight finances many families face, especially in November, so simply being remembered with a Christmas card is appreciated.

Buikema recalls that the most memorable presents are the ones that reflect special thought and attention, like the bag she received one Christmas that had specially decorated thumbprints of all of the students in her class, which was arranged by the mother of one of her students. Yet she says that, especially since holiday gift-giving can be overwhelming for parents, receiving handwritten letters, from parents and students, thanking teachers for what they do is the best kind of present. “We go into teaching because of the kids, so hearing the kids and parents say thank you—and being able to reach into your files to re-read those thank you letters—that’s the stuff we really love.”