There’s no denying that the holiday season provides plenty of opportunity for self-defeating habits and thoughts: We eat too much, sleep too little, plan more than could possibly be done and then feel bad about all of the above. Really, though, the holidays are meant to be a time to feel joy and happiness and sweet relief from the daily grind.
Fortunately, there is gift giving to help us correct the balance. There’s a particular thrill to getting just the right gift for a friend or family member you love—and we all know the simple trick of doubling your pleasure with a gift that “gives back” (with a portion of the proceeds supporting a cause you care about).
But let me propose a third dimension of uplift and awesome: By buying one of these gifts that give back, we are also funding the thriving American ecosystem of idealistic entrepreneurs, the believers and doers who literally can’t sleep at night because someone is hurting, hungry or in need.
Each of the below organizations is about helping Americans who have fallen on hard times to pick themselves back up, with jobs, training, support and, maybe the most important ingredient, goodwill. These organizations offer more than helping hands — they offer a seat at the table and a blueprint for success, dignity, humanity.
Dignity and humanity. Wow. Now those are seriously good holiday presents to be giving, aren’t they?
1. Dignity on the Streets, Two Ways
Entrepreneur Nicole Flowers had a noble mission in mind when she started her company Hiip: revive the style profile of the lowly and much-maligned fanny pack. I know, right? Fortunately, she has an eye for style and her Hiip bags are like cool wristlet bags for the waist — part clutch, part belt, all in cool patterned fabrics or lush-looking vegan leather. My favorite? The Bordeaux Vegan Leather with the gold zippers and hardware option (you can choose silver, too).
But really, the fanny pack revival wasn’t her profound motivating mission (though, again, bold). For every Hiip bag she sells, she or a volunteer team member hand-deliver a Hiip Kit to one of San Francisco’s homeless people (if you’re local, you can even help!). The kit is in a Hiip bag (of course) and contains essentials like shampoo, socks and sunscreen. As she says on the site, “We simply want to learn how to better look people in the eye…acknowledge someone we’ve not noticed before, and, if possible, change our communities, our cities and our world.” Now that’s a fashion statement we hope never goes out of style.
2. A Hill of Beans That Really Adds Up To Something
Mmmm, nothing sounds more comforting in the winter than sitting down to a big, steaming bowl of black bean chili with hot cornbread on the side. And imagine how much more (full)filling that meal will be knowing that it came from the Women’s Bean Project, a long-running organization that hires and then trains chronically unemployed and impoverished women in the Denver area at its headquarters. Many of these women are felons, abuse survivors, long-term homeless or recovering addicts (i.e. essentially unemployable). Women’s Bean Project not only gives them a job, but also gives them training, classes in necessary life skills and the vital ingredient: confidence in their ability to earn their own future. “We don’t hire women to make bean soup,” they say. “We make bean soup to hire more women.” Read the stories of some of these women on the website, and then add a few more bags of soup to your shopping cart.
Don’t like bean soup? They also sell salsa, spice mixes and other gourmet foods, as well as handcrafted jewelry. Surely you’ll find something there for your sister or sister-in-law — and you’ll be helping the larger sisterhood as well.
Starts at $3.95, womensbeanproject.com
3. Camo Chic To Support Those Who Wear Camo Unironically
Go big and bold and dress up your Dapper Dan with one of these snazzy-chic camouflage-patterned bowties. (Your guy can’t rock the of-the-moment bowtie? There’s a necktie, too. And there’s also a super-cool buffalo check and reflective brown tweed if your guy is of the hipster lumberdude ilk.) But the camp is more than a style statement: Bull and Moose is a veteran-owned company and also a supporter of GotYour6.org, an organization whose goal is to get veterans in the public eye, “normalize” their stories and empower them to become assets and leaders in their communities and country. Oh, and another thing? All the ties are super high-quality silks and wool at absolutely affordable prices. So go ahead: Get a bow for your beau and give thanks to the men and women who put themselves on the line for our freedom.
4. Candles That Make Struggling Moms Shine
With the purchase of one of these all-natural soy candles from Bright Endeavors, you’ll be lighting a flame of hope for young, struggling mothers in the Chicago area. Bright Endeavors is a social enterprise project started by New Moms, Inc., an aid organization that has been serving a startlingly vulnerable population for more than 30 years: young mothers between the ages of 13 to 24. These women may seem to have odds against them, but by providing stable employment, training services and emotional support, Bright Endeavors lifts up not only the woman but also her children and her community. There are two special holiday fragrances available now — Cardamom Neroli and Whitemark Pine (shown) — as well as their regular lineup of six inventive scents. And at unbelievably reasonable prices, for which 100 percent of the proceeds goes to supporting teen moms, these candles may be the brightest idea for lighting up the holiday season.
5. A Journal That Tells Other People’s Stories
Kristen Dickerson was always torn between the seemingly disparate worlds of style and global social justice. But she found a way to put them together in Raven and Lily by creating an array of original designs for home goods, jewelry, apparel and more — all made by women artisans from around the world, including Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Cambodia. Now Raven and Lily is bringing its model of sustainable business that supports economic empowerment to the U.S. as well. Check out the site for beautiful photography and stories of the work these women do and the products they make. And give this journal to a friend, knowing that you are helping women gain economic independence, and so begin to write their own stories.
6. The Key To Solving Someone Else’s Problem
In this era of hotel key cards, there’s something winsome about old, battered keys. Caitlin Crosby felt that and started stamping old keys she found with inspirational words like believe, courage and breathe and threading them onto necklaces and selling them. Then she bumped into inspiration on the street when she met a young couple who had found themselves homeless. The Giving Keys was born, as was its purpose: Buy the necklace with a word that speaks to you, then wear it every day until you meet someone who needs it more. Then give it to them. Caitlin gave that couple a job and continues to employ people transitioning out of homelessness in Los Angeles, where The Giving Keys is based. The best part? The company’s website encourages people to share the stories of the keys they bought and how they gave them away, launching dozens of tales of community and happenstance and goodness. Another great holiday-season boost — and this one, for free.
$39 (add $5 to have a custom word engraved), www.thegivingkeys.com