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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nicholas Kristof: A Few of HIS Favorite Things


I annually look forward to learning about my favorite New York Times Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof's noteworthy charities and causes, and he released his latest article related to the same on December 3, 2011. The article can be found at this link.  Among other causes, Kristof highlights organizations that address blindness and disease around the world, literacy in the United States, combating Muslim fundamentalists in Pakistan through the support of secular schools, and aid to women who have been trafficked in the United States.

Want more Kristof?  Perhaps you have a friend or family member who cares deeply about humanitarian causes around the world? Likewise, do you know someone who is a nurse interested in using his or her skills to make a huge difference in Africa? If so, I cannot recommend enough Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, written by Pulitzer Prize winners Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn. The book offers vivid glimpses into the lives of women and girls abroad in Africa and Asia and provides practical ways to alleviate suffering and to provide hope for them. This book would make a perfect gift or stocking stuffer!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

EARTHTEC: Clothing with a Conscience AND Made from Recycled Water Bottles

Earthtec: Committed to Change
According to the Earthtec website, 150 billion water bottles are put into landfills every year.  If you are like me, you might say "Wow, that is an astonishing number!" and then think twice about throwing a water bottle in the trash rather than recycling it in the future.  The sporty clothing store Earthtec, however, does what seems to be the impossible:  it converts these landfill-bound bottles into extraordinary, high-performance fabrics made from post-consumer recycled polyethylene terephthalate plastics, or recycled PET.  In addition, Earthtec claims, "[w]e're working with organic cotton and wool. We're exploring innovative natural and earth-friendly fibers, and developing hybrid fabrics that blend recycled synthetics with renewable materials. And we're using a streamlined manufacturing model that builds value into our garments while taking carbon out of our footprint."  Everything piece of clothing produced by Earthtec is comprised of recycled or renewable material.

If you buy one jacket or hoodie from Earthtec, you are saving around 12 bottles from being in a landfill.  And some of the jackets seem like they would be awesome in the elements and, in general, look very well made.  For example, check out the Men's Tupelo Hooded Jacket in midnight ($119.95).  For children, a Wooly Fern Kid's & Toddler Vest, made of high loft recycled berber fleece, might make them the coolest (and greenest) kids on the playground ($48.00).  I could imagine myself throwing on a Silky Camellia Hoodie after a yoga class and wearing it into the night while watching movies by a fire ($44.00).  The chenille CHaD Eco-Comfort Socks, also made out of recycled bottles, would be stellar stocking stuffers ($10.00).  If you have a small child, you could also purchase the Cow & Frog Kid's Book ($5.00), which will take children through through daily eco- adventures on an organic farm and provide lessons about protecting the environment.  By purchasing Earthtec goods, you can engage in one of Earthtec's mottos: "inspiring trash talk."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

LUSH Charity Pot Body Lotion: Support Grassroots Charities

LUSH Charity Pot
Sometimes the simplest holiday gifts are the best.  With a sweltering summer and an early start to winter snowstorms across the country this year, skin is bound to be dried out and cracking.  Forget the spa -- why not surprise your girl with a LUSH Charity Pot ($21.95, 7.9 oz.) to soften and replenish her hands?  The lotion is made with fair trade organic cocoa butter, almond oil, and geranium essential oil to provide a delicate fragrance.   Hands will truly smell like rich chocolate when this buttery lotion is lathered on them.

Just as excitingly, every penny that you pay for a Charity Pot, excluding the tax, goes to grassroots charities all around the world.  Lush is committed to supporting "small, grassroots charities and projects working on behalf of the environment and conservation, animal protection, and for human rights."  From 2007 through 2010, Lush raised over $1.4 million, sold over 64,000 Charity Pots, partnered with 89 organizations, and funded 97 projects.  A few of the charities LUSH has supported are Made by Survivors (fights human trafficking), Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary (Sierra Leone, Africa), Lights for Life (provides LED lights for impoverished families in Africa), Operation Water for Haiti, Beauty's Haven Farm and Equine Rescue (Horse rescue and sanctuary in Florida), and the Rainforest Partnership.  You can buy LUSH products at its store online or in malls throughout the United States and beyond.  Another idea is to buy the 1.7 ounce Charity Pot ($5.00) for a sure-to-be-loved stocking stuffer!

*This product does not contain animal products of any kind.

Friday, November 18, 2011

TOMS: The Gift of Shoes and Sight

Charcoal Canvas Men's Desert Oxfords
Tom's Charcoal Canvas Men's Desert Oxfords
I love the fact that when you buy a pair of TOMS shoes, another pair of shoes will be donated to a child in need around the world.  In 2006, American traveler Blake Mycoskie befriended children in Argentina and found they had no shoes to protect their feet. Wanting to help, he created TOMS Shoes, a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need.  One for One.   As of September 2010, TOMS had given over 1,000,000 new shoes to children around the world.  In many countries, shoes can protect children from serious diseases, stunted physical and mental development, and even death resulting from hookworm, podoconiosis, jiggers, and tetanus. TOMS makes it easy to buy a pair of shoes you will love and to enable a child somewhere in the world to get perhaps their first pair of shoes ever!  Furthermore, all shoes produced for TOMS are made in fair wage factories that do not employ children.

For a man, this year I love TOMS Charcoal Canvas Men's Desert Oxfords ($65.00)   The Movember Grey Black Men's Classics are stylish as well ($58.00, raises awareness for cancers affecting men).  For a woman, I personally love the TOMS Navy Vegan Wrap Boots ($98.00).  I also am a fan of the TOMS Purple Houndstooth Women's Classics ($54.00). 

If shoes are not your thing, you can also buy a pair of TOMS eyeglasses.  For every pair purchased, TOMS will either donate funds for medical treatment, a pair of eyeglasses, or sight-saving surgery for a person in need around the world.

Finally, while you can find TOMS at many department stores, I suggest making sure your default browser is Goodsearch and then buying directly from the TOMS website;  an automatic 5% donation will be made from TOMS to your charity of choice on Goodsearch!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gifts That Give Hope Fairs: Malls With a Purpose

Gifts that Give Fairs
I cannot think of a better way to jump start your quest for meaningful holiday shopping than to attend a Gifts that Give Hope FairGifts That Give Hope fairs are typically held in public venues in the United States where shoppers meet and learn about non-profit organizations, make a donation to a cause of their choice in honor of a friend or loved one, and receive an attractive card with a description of their charitable donation. Gifts That Give Hope is a non-profit organization that assists service, civic, community and faith-based groups plan events to raise awareness of needs in a local or global area, secure donations and encourage volunteerism, while providing unique shopping and giving opportunities. 

As of today, there are Gifts that Give Fairs throughout Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  I am going to highlight the Lancaster, Pennsylvania fair today and hope some of you might be inspired by its success to the point of starting a fair in your city.  The Lancaster Alternative Gift Fair is made possible by a group of tireless volunteers and has 30 non-profit participants this year.  The Lancaster Alternative Gift Fair, only three years old, succeeded in raising $26,039.00 last year for non-profits! In addition to buying alternative gifts, you can also buy fair trade items at the fair such as  Delicious Peace coffee, Divine chocolate, Canaan Fair Trade olive oil, and Bead for Life jewelry. 

Whatever your passion is, you will find a cause that will pull at your heart at the Lancaster Alternative Gift Fair AND through its online link.  You can contribute for a water well to be built in an orphan village in Rwanda for  a mere $50 (4-More).  Through Central PA Animal Alliance, $10 provides treats for dogs at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, and $50 provides training for a rescued dog to become a service dog for a veteran in need.  $50 also provides for a one night stay in a shelter for a victim of domestic violence and her children (Domestic Violence Services of Lancaster County).  Want to be part of the abolition of child sex slavery and exploitation?  $20 pays for ONE MONTH of safe housing, therapy, nutrition, education and medical expenses for a rescued child in South East Asia (Love146)!  

Perhaps you are searching for the perfect gift for a chef? The Solar Cooker Project of Jewish World Watch seeks to protect refugee women and girls from rape and other forms of violence. Women and girls who have fled the genocide in Darfur, Sudan are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence while performing the critical task of collecting firewood for cooking. For $20.00, you can provide a family with a solar cooker and training, which negates the need to collect firewood and thus protects the women from needless exposure to rape!  

There are too many amazing projects to list here, but please check them out on the Lancaster Alternative Gift Fair link.   Perhaps you will be inspired to start a new gift fair in your city and thus enable dozens of non-profits to obtain the funding they need to further transform the United States and beyond.  As one of the Lancaster Alternative Gift Fair co-chairs pointed out to me, one of the best parts of participating in an alternative gift fair is not the act of buying or selling alternative gifts, but rather "getting to see people make connections and build relationships in the community." Use an alternative gift fair to identify new (and old) great causes that you can support and join today!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Salvation Army: Beyond The Ringing Of The Bell

The Salvation Army Bell
 The ringing of The Salvation Army bell is a staple of Christmas shopping in malls across America.  The millions of dollars raised annually through donations given to The Salvation Army during the holiday season is used to aid needy families, seniors, and the homeless.  Donations provide Christmas dinners, clothing, and toys for families experiencing financial difficulty, including families of prisoners.  Two common ways to support The Salvation Army are to volunteer to ring the bell during the holiday season and to donate spare change to the little red kettle (which you can also do virtually from The Salvation Army website).

The Salvation Army, however, offers additional fabulous ways to assist others during the holiday season.  One great thing you can do with your family is to adopt another family needing holiday assistance.  You can call some of the Salvation Army offices and ask to be given a family to help out over Christmas.  Then, you are able to shop for all of the family members and to deliver the gifts to their home.  It is easy to forget that some families cannot even afford a Christmas tree during the holiday season, but you have the ability to be the instrument of help they need!  It is also possible to shop the Angel Living Tree online, presented by JCPenny, and adopt an angel that way, or simply donate financially online through that link.   

Also consider donating your clothes to a local shelter (coats and sweaters can be a great gift during the winter!), or an old car.  Furthermore, The Salvation Army needs volunteers during the holiday season to distribute gifts to shut-ins in hospitals and nursing homes and to assist with sit-down dinners at The Salvation Army shelters.  The Salvation Army, in addition to providing shelter, food, and presents to those who are experiencing financial difficulties during the holiday season, also "endeavors to bring spiritual light and love to those it serves at Christmas so that the real meaning of the season is not forgotten."  Volunteering and giving through The Salvation Army is a great way to ensure the "spiritual light" and "real meaning of the season" prevails in your own life and those around you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hope International: The Gift of Microfinance (And Hope!)

HOPE International | Christian Microfinance Network

HOPE International is a network of microfinance institutions operating in 16 countries around the world. Hope empowers men, women, and families to break the cycles of physical and spiritual poverty through the provision of loans, savings services, basic business training, mentoring, and discipleship. By incorporating a strong witness for Jesus Christ and by employing a variety of approaches to microfinance, HOPE is an innovator in the field of microenterprise development.

I might be a little partial to HOPE because my husband works there, but as an observer I have really been impressed with the impact HOPE has around the world and how the organization manages money.  For example, it is HOPE's policy that whenever staff members travel and can stay at someone's home rather than pay for a hotel, they do so.  Furthermore, even more impressive, HOPE purposefully seeks out opportunities to provide loans in countries where other micro-finance organizations will not go due to political instability and corruption.  Among other places, HOPE works directly or through partners in Burundi, the Democratic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Haiti, Moldova, Rwanda, Romania, China, India, Afghanistan, and the Ukraine.  Despite the inherent risk of providing micro-loans, HOPE's loan repayment rate is 96%!

For the Holiday season, please consider giving an end of the year donation to HOPE.  As HOPE states on its website, "an injection of capital [] could change the course of a family’s future." In addition, you can also shop HOPE's Gift Catalog.  Check out the catalog because there are so many wonderful options relating to HOPE's micro-finance ministry, but here is a list of a few of my favorites: an ice chest ($50, Carribean), vegetable seeds ($20, Africa), a bicycle ($100, Africa), a sewing machine ($50, Africa), and plastic sheeting to protect farmers' crops ($200, Eastern Europe).  Another really awesome gift would be to sponsor a Tomorrow Club for 30 orphans for a month ($40, Russia).  In Russia, Tomorrow Clubs work with orphans, ministering to their physical and spiritual brokenness by providing food, Bible lessons, hobby classes, and materials.

I am highlighting HOPE because I have seen first hand how the organization integrates prayer and worship daily into everything it does, including here in the states and with its partners abroad, which results in a holistic approach to microfinance.  There are many wonderful microfinance organizations out there though, including Kiva and World Vision.  The microfinance movement, when built on the motivation to partner with and to ENABLE others to rise above poverty and support themselves, is one of the best ways to address poverty abroad.  Don't you want to be part of this movement?!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Goodsearch: Shop and Dine For your Favorite Cause!

 GoodSearch logo

I cannot emphasize enough how much I love Goodsearch and the impact it can have on a plethora of charities.  And your power to raise money for charities becomes exponentially higher during the holiday season, as you can earn money while searching for holiday gifts, buying holiday gifts, buying holiday plane flights, and eating out at your favorite restaurants.   Extraordinarily, raising money for your favorite charity through Goodsearch costs you nothing!

It is so easy to start raising money for your favorite cause.  Just download the Yahoo! powered as your default search engine and they'll donate about a penny to your favorite cause every time you do a search.  In addition, do all of your shopping through their online shopping mall,, where you can shop at more than 2,400 top online retailers and a percentage of your purchases will go to the charity or school of your choice. You pay the same price as you normally would, but a donation goes to your cause!

Finally, you can also enroll in the GoodDining program. Eat at over 10,000 participating restaurants nationwide and you can earn up to 6% of every dollar spent on the meal as a donation for your charity or school.  As a Dallas native, I checked out the list for dining options there, and most of my favorite restaurants are listed as part of the GoodDining program!  If you're a Dallasite, how awesome is it that you can eat at staples like Jorge's, Three Sheets, La Duni, and Villa-O to raise money for your favorite charity.

As of today, 102,676 charities are registered with Goodsearch.  As an animal lover, I have been raising money through Goodsearch for  Animal Rescue Corps.  Whether you want to raise money for animal welfare, poverty in Africa, the arts, or welfare in the USA, there is a cause out there that you can be supporting merely by downloading the Goodsearch toolbar and shopping/dining for a cause.  The key to maximizing your impact is to make sure that Goodsearch is your default browser (instructions are on the Goodsearch website). Signing up for Goodsearch is so easy and, when used collectively by like-minded individuals, its effects can be significant and far-reaching.

Here's the web site — You can also read about GoodSearch in the NY Times, Oprah Magazine, CNN, ABC News and the Wall Street Journal.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

(Product) Red: Fighting Disease in Africa

Product Red logo.

Bono + Africa = Greatness.  As a longtime U2 fan, I was instantly a fan of the Product Red campaign when it was launched in 2006.  Product Red is a brand licensed to partner companies such as Nike, American Express (UK), Apple Inc., Starbucks, Converse, Bugaboo, Penguin Classics, Gap, Emporio Armani, Hallmark (US) and Dell. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is the recipient of (RED) monies.

So we know that Product Red is a great brand.  But which Product Red merchandise stand out as top gift contenders this season?  Well, as a huge coffee drinker, I have found the Starbucks (Red) Card to be a perfect gift for a co-worker or friend, as part of the proceeds go to the Global Fund, as well as a percentage of all purchases on the card if the recipient reloads it.  Plus, the card serves as a reminder to me of the poverty and illness prevalent throughout Africa every time I order a drink.   In addition, Hallmark has introduced some really cute (Product) Red greeting cards, and gives 8% of the proceeds to the Global Fund.  For the tech lover on your list, check out the Product (Red) iPad 2 Smart Cover from Apple ($69.00), as well as the (Product) Red iPod Nano, currently $129.00.  Finally, the gift of  Nike (Red) laces, only $4.00, allows the athlete to make a bold statement in the gym or on the court that he or she is standing up to poverty and disease in Africa. 

Sari Bari: Sustainable Products Handmade by Sex Trade Survivors

Maya Bag, $32.99

I just love the products that the artisan women of Sari Bari create.  Sari Bari offers freedom to women who were trapped in the Calcutta sex trade industry and provides opportunity to women who are vulnerable to trafficking.  Sari Bari does this by providing employment in a safe, loving environment, where women are trained as artisans. The women create beautiful, sustainable, handmade products, while transforming their lives.  When you buy an item, there is a label on it that names the woman who made it, and you can look up her story on the Sari Bari website.  Some of my favorite items include colorful scarves, quilted blankets (they are so soft and can be used as prayer blankets), jewelry rolls (super cute for the traveling woman), baby blankets (a perfect gift for a baby shower), and table runners.  Sari Bari offers affordable, chic products while simultaneously providing a means for women in India to claim a new life.