Gifts That Give Back 2019

It’s that time of the year. Whether you like it or not, you have to give gifts to your loved ones, friends and colleagues. Why not make it more meaningful and purchase something that also helps the community at large?

We have put together our list of holiday gifts that are worth giving, but also gives back to someone in need.

Each Food for Thoughts greeting card gives a PB&J sandwich to the hungry.

Food For Thoughts Greeting Cards $22 (8-pack)

Instead of picking up a random holiday card from the drugstore, get a cute sandwich shaped Food for Thoughts Card that feeds the hungry. With the purchase of each card, the cash equivalent of one PB&J is donated to an organization that feeds the hungry, such as food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens. Besides holiday cards, they also have birthday, thank-you and new address cards. They make wonderful teacher and office gifts!

According to Feeding America, 1 in 8 Americans does not have access to enough food.

Environment friendly candles that smell good too!

TLD Candles $25

Two Little Dumplings are not your ordinary candles. These are made in New York, using all-natural coconut soy wax, low smoke hemp/cotton wicks, essential oils and nontoxic adhesive. The products reduce CO2 emissions by using reusable containers and all-natural candle materials, and recyclable packaging. They are also long lasting and smell great! A portion of all proceeds go to NYC Material for the Arts.

Handmade wood sculpture benefits handicraft worker in Bali.

Cat Praying Wood Sculpture $49.95

These meditating cat statues carved in wood is sure to make any animal lover smile. NOVICA empowers artists and provides them a platform have a broad reach. Browse for hundreds of handmade items from all over the world on their website or Amazon.com. We personally met with one of NOVICA’s 100-year old flute makers in Bali.

Every purchase is gift wrapped and comes with a handwritten postcard from the artist – in this case Nengah Sudarsana from Bali. He also says on the website, “Novica has created a much better life for me and my family. Before, I could hardly afford to live in a single room home. Now I live in a house with three rooms, and have my own car. Most importantly, I now support many other artisans who work with me.”

For each pair of sock purchased, a pair is donated to charity.

Society Socks subscription $57 & above

Instead of stuffing the stocking with a pair of socks, you can gift someone a sock subscription, where they will receive two stylish pairs of cotton socks each month. For every pair sold, Society Socks donates a pair to charity. Chose from 3, 6 or 12 months subscription and include a hand written note in your gift. If you love the idea, you can also get them personalized or subscribe to yourself!

Socks are one of the most needed, but least donated clothing items in homeless shelters.

Proceeds support number of dog rescue programs throughout the US.

Wicked Dog Hoodie $60

Here is a cool gift for animal lovers. Wicked Dog Apparel is a Boston based clothing brand that brings together the love of Boston, dogs, and clothing, that includes t-shirts, hats, dog leashes, hoodies and more. 

Wicked Dog Apparel sponsors a number of dog and animal related charities such as BarkHappy and International Doodle Day, as well as Christopher’s Haven‘s fashion show, and The Longest Day – 48 Peaks, a hike to fight Alzheimer’s. You can sport a nice look while reuniting lost and found dogs with their families, and saving abandoned, neglected, and abused dogs from high-kill shelters throughout the United States. 

Proceeds from beachwear go to sea turtle conservation.

Lazy Turtle Save Our Shells Tee $38

Lazy Turtle’s hoodies, tanks and t-shirts make a great gift for someone who cares about oceans, sea life, and the environment, or to teach young ones about marine conservation. The Florida family-owned company sells sun-safe beachwear (SPF 50), proceeds of which go to the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), the world’s oldest and most respected sea turtle conservation group. Get one each for mom, dad and the kids before heading out on your next beach vacation!

NYC Taxi themed scarf provides skill training in Michigan.

NOSOFA CLUB Scarf and Pocket Square $49

The city focused accessories make a fashion statement and perfect gift for a pair – newly weds, mom and dad, young couple! The NYC taxi cab scarf for women and pocket square for men is made of Poly Chamuese (that feels like silk) in a beautiful grey-yellow pattern. NOFOSA Club provides employment, life skills, and confidence to women and men at the St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center, located in Flint, Michigan. They teach people how to sew, giving them a professional skill as well as employment.



Earrings that empower women in Peru.

Fair Anita Earrings $16

Fair Anita employs 8,000 survivors of sexual/domestic violence around the world to create sustainable, fair trade jewelry and accessories. The women are paid 2-3 times more than the minimum wage, plus provided with health insurance and educational scholarships. Most items retail under $22 and are made from recycled materials, sourced locally from the communities where they are created. You can shop by country and learn about the artisans on Fair Anita’s website.

Chocolate covered toys facilitate ecological conversations.

Yowie Chocolate Covered Toys $24.95

Yowie empowers kids and parents to make a difference in ecological conservation by eating one of their favorite things – chocolate! Every chocolate is shaped as a lovable Yowie character and comes with a limited-edition collectible animal. There’s a leaflet that features a picture of the real-life animal, its profile and level of endangerment, to encourage parents to start conversations about ecological conservation with their kids. Makes for delicious stocking stuffers and party favors. Available at retail stores, including Walmart.

Children’s book that educates kids in Bali.

Beato Goes To Indonesia Children’s Book $14.95

This fun children’s picture book teaches kids about travel, diverse culture and protecting the habitats of endangered animals, through the eyes of a traveling cat. Authored by Go Eat Give founder, Sucheta Rawal, the book is based on real life characters and photographs. A portion of profits benefit Bali Children’s Project, a nonprofit that keeps kids off the street and gives them education (including books, uniforms, food and tuition), so they have a better chance in life.

Go Eat Give takes travelers to Bali for culinary, yoga and volunteer journeys.

Give a charcoal soap and one woman in Kenya or Tanzania will receive a new charcoal-efficient stove.

Apotheke Charcoal Soap +Candle Gift Set $45

This charcoal soap does not only prevent breakouts and keeps your skin hydrated, it support women in Tanzania and Kenya who are running charcoal-efficient stove businesses. Cooking over open fires is one of the world’s leading killers in developing countries. Each soap provides a woman in East Africa with a stove; and each candle provides a family with a solar light.

Snacks that employ incarcerated women.

Women’s Bean Project Snacks $5.75

Grab a Women’s Bean Project delicious and organic snack for all your coworkers. The project hires women with histories of incarceration, women who are ex-gang members or former addicts with multiple felonies, and puts them to work manufacturing gourmet food items. Assortment of sweet and spicy flavors include Greek Yogurt Covered Blueberries, Ginger Zing Trail Mix, Ginger Zing Trail Mix, Ginger Zing Trail Mix, Chili Spiced Mango, and Thai Curry Cashews.

Honey made products that save the bees.

Catskill Pollinator Artisanal Food Basket $70

Artisanal food products are always popular among coworkers, hostess gifts and foodies. The New York based farm-to-table food and spirits brand with honey at its core offers gift baskets filled with organic honey, maple syrup, waffle mix, chocolate honey truffles and more. During the crafting of their New York Rye Whiskey, spent mash is given to local farmers three miles away to feed their pigs; and a percent of every sale is donated to environmental causes devoted to saving bees and other pollinators including Friends of the Earth and The Sierra Club. 

Relaxation kits prepared by single moms.

H.E.A.L’s Stress Reliever Kit $19.99

With family, shopping, cooking and traveling, holidays can be a stressful time. Pamper someone during the holidays with H.E.A.L’s Sleepy Time Kit and H.E.A.L’s Stress Reliever Kit. Created by Dr. Harmony, the kits contain magnesium bath flakes, relaxation oils and body lotions. It is the perfect way to say “thank you” to the chefs, caretakers, and party hosts, while also giving back. These two gifts contain handcrafted items by single moms, people with disabilities, homeschool families. H.E.A.L’s products are available through their website, Amazon.com, and in Walmart stores.

Read 2018 Gifts That Give Back

The Antiquity of Modernity

The minute I step out of my hostel, I’m engulfed in a tightly packed crowd lining the sidewalk. I push my way through, passing parents hoisting their kids up on their shoulders and volunteers passing out food. Bewildered, I crane my neck to peer through the crowd and see the procession passing. Flashes of multi colored saris, metallic shrines and bundles of flowers make up the parade. A loud splitting crack sets off thunderous cheers and I look up to see fireworks illuminating the night sky. It was midnight and the celebrations of the Thaipusam Festival had begun as the devotees begin their pilgrimage on foot to the Batu Caves, eight miles north of Kuala Lumpur.

Thaipusam Festival devotees at Batu caves in Malaysia
Thousands of devotees ascend the 280 steps leading to the Batu Caves

Thaipusam Fesitval is a Hindu celebration that is held each year during the full moon in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. Primarily held in the Tamil-speaking communities, the festival in Kuala Lumpur is one of the largest ones outside of India, with over 1.5 million attendees. I wake at dawn the next morning and catch a train to the caves to witness the arrival of the pilgrims. As the train pulls into the station, a gate blocks hundreds of people waiting the arrival of their friends and relatives. Many hold baskets of food and water with bright jewels on their foreheads keeping an eye on their children who run around with their faces covered in paint. I weave through the crowd finding the base of the mountain where a carnival has been set up, featuring loud music and stalls selling everything from saris to fruit juice to souvenirs. Arriving at the path entrance, I stop and peer up at the steep, 280 steps leading up to the caves. Watching over the thick crowd is a golden statue, measuring 47 yards in height, of the god Subramaniam. The festival is dedicated to this god and marks a day of penance and thanksgiving.

public sacrifices at Thaipusam Festival in Malaysia

As a form of penance or sacrifice, many carry “kavadis” which literally mean “burden”. These burdens range from jugs, coconuts, oranges and even floats. The objects are attached to the bare backs of the devotees through metal hooks and piercings. Others carry floats above their heads and the stilts dig into their sides. Some have hooks with strings attached that pull on the skin on their back. Women carry jugs on their heads or pierce their mouths shuts with a spear going through each cheek and out the other side. They sacrifice their bodies to piercings and metal hooks, carrying these burdens on the eight-mile journey from Kuala Lumpur to the base of the mountain, then up the 280 stairs to the caves. In return, they are hoping for favors from their gods. Both men and women ascend the mountain, carrying these burdens, in the scorching heat, chanting prayers as they go.

pilgrims insert hooks into their backs during the Thaipusam Festival in Malaysia
The kavadis, or “burdens” are metal hooks that pierce into the skin on the pilgrims backs

 On my way up I pass people of all ages who have stepped to the side to take a break. The humidity paired with the steep stairs make the climb treacherous. I finally reach the mouth of the caves that opens up into a large entrance hall. As I press through the crowd I pass shaman-type healers who are performing a ritual of removing the spears and piercings from the body of the sacrificees. They are chanting and pouring white powder as they slap their backs after each removal. Not a drop of blood is spilt during the festival.

devotees gather to celebrate Thaipusam Festival at Batu Caves in Malaysia

In the back is a temple with several alters where pilgrims of all ages stop to pray. The caves are packed to the brim with the devotees, pilgrims, friends and families, which would be a fire hazard in any other country. However, no one worries about that. In fact, this day perfectly shows how Malaysia has held on to its history and culture while stepping into the modern world.  It’s this thousand of years old ancient Hindu ritual that takes place in a cave, on a mountain overlooking the skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur’s financial district. And it’s this very fusion of cultures and ethnicities; religions and rituals, antiquity and modernity that best represent Malaysia.

~ By Teresa Murphy of Tess Travels. Murphy visited the Thaipsum Festival, a Hindu ritual that takes place every year in the Batu Caves outside of Kuala Lumpur.

Variations of the Thanksgiving Turkey

What started as a traditional North American holiday is now also celebrated by millions of immigrants and ethnic groups who call the United States home. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists (English) and Wampanoag Indians (Native Americans) shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

Given that the United States has become a melting pot of different races, ethnicities and nationalities over the last two centuries, it is only reasonable to expect that preparation of the Thanksgiving turkey is somewhat influenced by cultural palates.

Most households prepare a whole roasted turkey rubbed with butter and herbs, but here are some other variations of the Thanksgiving turkey reflecting the cultural diversity of the country.

Chinese Glaze Turkey – The American-Chinese substituted turkey in their popular duck recipe. This delicious creation has a glaze of soy sauce, honey, sesame and ginger. We recommend a side of steamed dumplings, sautéed green beans and fried rice.

Asian Thanksgiving Turkey. Photo courtesy Food and Wine
Asian Thanksgiving Turkey. Photo courtesy Food and Wine

Tandoori Turkey – Indians love grilled meats (usually chicken, goat, fish) basted with tandoori marinade (a sauce blend of coriander, cumin, cloves, chili, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, fenugreek, salt and pepper). Whole turkey can be cooked on an open grill or slow broiled in the oven. Serve with mint chutney, yogurt relish and rice pilaf.

Tandoori Turkey. Photo courtesy gearpatrol.com
Tandoori Turkey. Photo courtesy gearpatrol.com

Raw Vegetarian Turkey – Non meat eaters enjoy a raw turkey look-alike spread made entirely of vegetables. Lettuce, celery, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers layered in a creative display also makes a good starter for a Thanksgiving party. Show up at a potluck party with this and wow your coworkers!

Turkey of raw vegetables . Photo from Pintrest
Turkey of raw vegetables. Photo from Pinterest

Extreme Mexican Turkey – Mexican cook and writer Pati Jinich, of Pati’s Mexican Table uses citrus and achiote paste in her turkey recipe, then wraps it in banana leaves and bakes it in aluminum foil to emulate the ancient technique of cooking food in underground pits. Melissa Trimmer of Le Cordon Bleu Chicago also suggests a Turkey mole served with rice and beans, and flan for dessert.

Mexican Turkey. Photo by Penny De Los Santos
Mexican Turkey. Photo by Penny De Los Santos

Peruvian Turkey – The slow cooked Peruvian spice rubbed turkey is a close cousin of popular Peruvian grilled chicken dish. Chef John of Food Wishes serves it with chile verde instead of brown gravy.

Peruvian rubbed turkey. Photo by FoodWishes
Peruvian rubbed turkey. Photo by FoodWishes

Italian Thanksgiving Turkey – Many Americans are Italian decedents so its only natural to have Italian inspired dishes at the Thanksgiving table. Nonna Carolina Marino, originally from Calabria, stuffs her turkey with layers of delicious Italian sausage, Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs and Porcini Risotto. Watch the full recipe on YouTube.

African Roast Turkey – African Birdseye Chillies paired with brown sugar give the turkey is sweet and spicy flavor. Another good option is to rub Nigerian Suya (grilled meat) spice on the turkey for some smokiness and stuff it with Jollof rice.

If you have an ethnic inspired turkey recipe to share, please feel free to share it in the comments box below. Happy Thanksgiving!

Italian Thanksgiving Turkey. Photo from Cooking with Nonna
Italian Thanksgiving Turkey. Photo from Cooking with Nonna