Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gifts That Give Back

     "He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore.  Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.  Maybe Christmas he thought...doesn't come from a store.  Maybe Christmas, perhaps...means a little bit more!"

     It's only two days after Thanksgiving and I've already watched "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" twice!  Usually I sing along with Whoville and feel sorry for Max the dog, but just returning from Haiti, the quote above really jumped out at me this time. Now I'm more of a Cindy Lou Who than a Grinch, so I'm not thinking of boycotting Christmas or gifts.  I've decided, however, that I need to concentrate on the "little bit more."

     And one way to do that is by vowing to make sure that I'm buying gifts that also give back (to the artist, a community, or charity).  If you want to join me and focus on the "little bit more,"  here are a few suggestions:

Fairtrade gifts help support artisans, farmers and crafts people.  They provide fair living wages to people in developing countries.  Often times, they use renewable resources so they can be eco-friendly too.

Divine Chocolate ( is the only fairtrade chocolate company that is partly owned by the farmers.  This gives the farmers fare wages and a voice in the cocoa industry, and children are not used to work/harvest the cocoa as other companies do.  Also, the chocolate is AMAZING, especially hazelnut milk chocolate and white chocolate with strawberries!  If you have a Wegmans nearby, you can buy Divine Chocolate there :)

Serrv ( is a fairtrade site with a gazillion (more or less) gifts from around the world.  Good prices too.

Fairtrade Winds ( has stores in Fairfax, VA and Seattle as well as a good website.  A variety of interesting fairtrade gifts from around the world.

Ten Thousand Villages ( sells an assortment of fairtrade gifts from around the world at a reasonable price.

One World Projects ( ) has unique fairtrade gifts, including a good selection from Haiti.  It also some good gifts for kids too.

It's Cactus ( carries lots of amazing fairtrade crafts and folk art from the Americas.  They have some gorgeous Haitian pieces made from old metal oil barrels too!

Hungersite ( has gazillions of fairtrade and ecofriendly gifts, and the prices are ridiculously good.  You can also click on a button each day to donate food for free.

There are also some great shopping websites that use the proceeds of their sales to benefit a good cause:

Betterworld Books ( ) stocks over 9 million new and used books....I've found some pretty obscure titles here!  For every book purchased, the company donates a book to a child in need.  It's over 5 million so far.  They accept donations of used books, as well, and have saved over 40,000 tons of books from ending up in a landfill.  And shipping is free all the time.  One of my favorites!!

TOMS ( was founded on a simple premise:  for every pair of shoes you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of shoes to a child in need (more than a million pairs so far).  My tentmate had a pair in Haiti and raved about them...I'm obsessed now!

Punjammies ( are my other latest obsession.  The organization, based in India, takes in women who were forced into prostitution and teaches them new skills while they make fairtrade wages by producing colorful Indian print pajamas.  Love them!

Thistle Farms (  ) is a nonprofit based in Tennessee that helps provide workskills for women recovering from abuse, drug addiction and life on the streets.  They sell an amazing pomegranate lip smoothie along with bath and body care items, candles and spa kits.

Women's Bean Project ( is a nonprofit organization in Denver that teaches job readiness skills for entry level jobs to women who are unemployed, homeless or recently released from prisons.  They make and sell jewelry and food products.  I just ordered some Malaysian spice rub!

NPR ( has a great online store that sells unique gifts like fun radios and tons of audio programs (such as David Sedaris :)  Who doesn't enjoy a good story told on NPR??

And if you are looking for a gift for someone who already has everything, donations in his/her name are perfect!  A few of my favorite organizations include:

Habitat for Humanity ( ).  Around the world, 2 billion people live in slum housing and 100 million are homeless.  HFH is a good place to start!

Modest Needs ( ) Their goal is to stop the cycle of poverty before it starts for low-income workers in the U.S. who are often forgotten.  A donation as small as $5 will help someone with a short term emergency (eg. unexpected car repair or doctor's bill) that might otherwise send them reeling financially.

Partners in Health ( was started in Haiti by an American doctor, Paul Farmer, to develop community based health care for the poor to fight diseases such as TB and cholera.  PIH now works in 12 other countries as well.  An amazing book was written about Farmer:  Mountains Beyond Mountains....Another Christmas gift idea :)

Heifer International ( ) aims to end hunger and poverty around the world by giving families livestock and training to improve their general income and nutrition.  It is called a "living loan" as the family must give one of the animal's offspring to another family down the line.

CharityWater ( ) uses 100% of its donations to directly fund water projects around the world.  Important since a billion people don't have access to clean water each day.

Kiva ( ) is a nonprofit organization that makes microloans to people who don't have access to traditional banking systems (including the U.S.)  These loans are made to start businesses, pay for education or farm.  When the loan is repaid, you can reloan it to another person or collect your money.

Central Asia Institute ( was started by Greg Mortenson to empower girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan through education and literacy, building schools in remote regions.  CAI's story is told in the book "Three Cups of Tea"  (which would make an excellent Christmas gift itself!)

Free Wheelchair Mission ( provides wheelchairs for impoverished disabled individuals in developing nations.  They're made to be rugged but use parts already being produced (steel frame, mountain bike tires, resin lawn chair). They can be produced at a low cost in high quantity this way which is important since 100,000,000 people need a wheelchair but can't afford one.

Doctors Without Borders ( provides healthcare to people in countries facing war, violence, neglect and catastrophe.  Their courage is amazing!

Women for Women ( is a nonprofit group that provides women survivors of war and conflict with tools and resources to move from crisis to stability.  They offer job training and education to women around the world.

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