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G&G For the Holidays: Gifts That Give Back

1 Dec

This post is part of the second annual NYC Bloggers Do the Holidays, where a group of New York’s top bloggers join forces to bring you the best that this city has to offer for the holiday season! Check out the list of participating bloggers below. Read them all, and you’ll have no problem navigating this city and taking it for all it’s worth…After the jump, check out my contribution: Gifts that Give Back.

‘the improvised life’: Design (or Hack) Your Own Holiday E-Cards

Manhattan User’s Guide: The Gift Guide: 21 Over $21

Markets of New York: Festive Food at New York’s Holiday Markets

Patell and Waterman’s History of New York: Christmas with Andy Warhol

We Heart Astoria: The Best Places To Shop Local – WHA Holiday Gift Guide


Last year I gave you some tips on where to volunteer all month long (I’ve gone back and updated what I could, so be sure to check it out, and volunteer!). This year, Give and Get will be your guide to shopping for a cause-places to buy gifts while also giving back to your favorite NYC charities. Anyone who receives emails from major retailers is aware of the growing trend of incorporating charitable giving into everyday shopping, especially during this time of year. I’ve tried to compile a list of those who are making contributions to local, New York-based charities, in addition to non-profits who are offering online catalogs that benefit their own organization directly. I’ve also thrown in a few alternative gift ideas that are great for that rich relative who has everything…Read on, my friends, and get ready to knock out your gift list and good deed for the day at the same time.

For people who love kids…

– Retailers owned by participating Friends of Baby Buggy will donate 10% of proceeds to Baby Buggy, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing New York City’s families in need with essential equipment, clothing, and products for their infants and young children. You’ll need a special code at checkout to make sure the donation is made-listed below:

  • Gift Hero: Carries gifts for age 0-10. Code: BUGGY2010
  • Kirna Zabete: Soho shop that carries designers such as Lanvin, Givenchy, Celine, Proenza Schouler and more. Code: KZLOVESBABYBUGGY
  • Baby CZ: A luxury line of cashmere, cotton and silk clothes & accessories for babies, children and women. Code: BUGGY
  • Felix Rey: An ultra-feiminine luxury accessories brand. Code: BUGGY10

For food-loving NYC locals…

God’s Love We Deliver, a popular non-profit organization that delivers food daily to home-bound New Yorkers, delivers more than just meals during the holiday season. Clients receive gift baskets full of delicious treats (and meals), all delivered in shopping bags decorated by school children. You can purchase gifts from their holiday catalog, including GLWD aprons and oven mitts, wine glasses and more, with proceeds benefiting the organization. With demand for their services up 21% in just the first three months of the current fiscal year, a purchase from here will be more important than ever before.


Going once, going twice…

Bidding For Good is an online auction platform that allows non-profit organizations to set up fundraising auctions for themselves that maximize their reach and potential to raise more money. You can search by cause and/or state, or just by auction items, which range from restaurant gift certificates to all-inclusive vacations, all benefiting a specific charity! This is a great site to use if you’re a fan of Ebay, or want to find a specific cause to give to while you shop..The auctions run for a few weeks, so be sure to check back for new causes and items throughout the month. Currently running is an auction to benefit the West Side YMCA Teen Center; it’s running until December 10th at 9pm- bid now!


For your tchotchke-loving friend or coworkers…

Exit 9 has been called a cross between a museum gift shop and a kitschy toy store. After passing by last weekend, I can confirm that it is in fact, just that. You’ll be able to find gag gifts, iPod accessories, children’s craft kits and everything in between. My favorite were the bandaids that look like strips of bacon (which I got for my 6-yr old nephew). More importantly, they’re encouraging people to shop locally while supporting local charities. During their ’12 Days of Charity’ promotion (December 1st-12th) you’ll be able to choose which of the eight local non-profit organizations they’ve listed will receive 10% of profits. Organizations include: BARC Brooklyn Animal Rescue Coalition, GenerationOn, God’s Love We Deliver, LES Girls Club, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, Public School 58Public School 261, Transportation Alternatives. You can shop online, or find even more merchandise at one of their two retail locations (in Brooklyn and on the LES)


For the person who has everything and enough money to buy it if they don’t…

– Let’s call this person Charlie. Charlie is the hardest person to get gifts for. Unless it’s perishable, you’re likely getting him something he already has, or doesn’t want. In the past few years, I’ve taken a departure from the traditional gifts and began to give donations in other people’s names. It’s a really personal gesture that will (hopefully) make them much more appreciative of your gift than last year’s wine stopper or coaster set. More specific ideas for your Charlie:

  • Does your Charlie love the outdoors? Make a donation to MillionTreesNYC or Fresh Air Fund. An avid gardner? Help fund a project on ioby (‘in our backyards’). Whatever you choose, just be sure to Charlie that you’ve made a donation in his honor. Check out ‘the improvised life‘ blog for more tips on double-duty gifts and cards, and Cards That Give, a great source for charity greeting cards.
  • If you want to get a little more sentimental, you can request/pick up a letter to Santa (depending on your budget-gifts requested are usually under $40-maybe more than one). You can fulfill a child’s wish by sending them their gift from Santa on Charlie’s behalf. Give the child’s letter to Charlie with a note that says something along the lines of “In lieu of a gift, I’ve given this little girl the Barbie she always wanted and couldn’t afford, on your behalf..” You can get these letters from the James A Farley Building in midtown. (New York Cares runs a similar program but registration has closed)
  • If your Charlie is a little more global-minded, you can gift something even bigger, with long-lasting effects. Heifer International allows you to donate sheep, llamas, goats and more, to impoverished children and families around the world, and help them receive training and animal gifts that help them become self-reliant. After your donation, you’ll have the opportunity to create a printable gift card or e-card to tell Charlie that you’ve honored him with a Heifer gift. (Update: It’s been brought to my attention that there are differing opinions regarding HI’s practices and their ethical merit. Read here about another point of view. Charity Navigator is one place to check on how donations are distributed by NPOs- know who you’re donating to before you donate, always)


So there you have it.. some different places to cross people off your list while giving back to some NYC non-profits. Did I miss something? It’s likely! If you’ve got something to add, please comment below or email to


Back to School Party Recap

20 Aug

On August 11th, Give and Get NYC hosted it’s second event to benefit a New York City non-profit. Homes for the Homeless was chosen for its child-centered, education-focused approach to all its programs and services. The turnout was great, with about 50 guests in attendance, and the donations were overwhelming. Literally- they took over half my office until the HfH Field team came to pick everything up the following Monday. The final tally came to 81 bookbags, 77 notebooks, over 150 pencils and pens, hundreds of crayons and markers, thousands of sheets of loose-leaf paper, and a lot of other back-to-school necessities.

Thanks to all who came out and congratulations to those who won show tickets to STOMP and La Cage Aux Folles. A special thank you to Wolfe Trahan & Co. for their generous donations.

If you took pictures at the event, feel free to send them to and they will be added to this site!

Stay tuned for updates about the next event, set for Fall 2010…

Back to School Party at The Wharf

19 Jul
UPDATE: Anyone who donates supplies will be entered into a raffle to win two tickets to STOMP! Anyone who donates a backpack will be entered into a raffle to win tickets to LA CAGE Aux Folles on Broadway!!!!

Head to the outdoor deck at The Wharf on August 11th for G&G’s “Back to School Party” to benefit Homes for the Homeless. Bring a donation of school supplies and you’ll get drink specials all night long, including $4 Absolut Drinks! Below is a bit more information about Homes for the Homeless:

“At Homes for the Homeless, our mission is to provide homeless families with the opportunities and support necessary to move out of shelter and live independently. With the knowledge that Family Homelessness is first and foremost a poverty issue that disproportionately affects children, Homes for the Homeless has adopted a family-based, child-centered, education-focused approach to all its programs and services.

School supplies can be very costly to our families, and we try to provide them with as many things as possible. The biggest thing we can use are backpacks, but as we have over 350 school aged children between our four American Family Inns, any school supplies would be of use, from notebooks to crayons, from safety scissors to index cards.”

SUGGESTED DONATIONS: Backpacks*, Color Pencils, Index Cards, Calculators*, Safety Scissors, Glue, Pencils, Composition Notebooks, Folders, Pens, Spiral Notebooks, Pencil Cases, Crayons, Binders, Pencil Sharpeners, Markers, Lined Loose Leaf Paper, Tape, Highlighters, Rulers, Erasers

DRINK SPECIALS:$4 Absolut Drinks (until 9:30)
$3 Miller Lite bottles
$3.50 for 2 select drafts
$5 Orange Crushes (a summer drink specialty of The Wharf)
$1 Tacos

You can RSVP on Facebook or email !

(click flyer for larger, ‘fridge-worthy version)

Organizing at Materials for the Arts

5 Jun

What: Organizing supplies and general ‘housecleaning’

Where: Materials for the Arts, Long Island City

When: 6-8pm, 1st Wednesday of every month through  New York Cares

Inside of this very unassuming building lies the Materials for the Arts warehouse; a treasure trove of paints, office supplies, fabrics, paper, zippers, and more. For over 30 years this program -part of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and funded by DCLA, the DSNY (Dept of Sanitation and the DOE (Dept of Education)- has provided thousands of New York City’s arts and cultural organizations, public schools and community arts programs with the supplies they need to run and expand their programs. In doing this, they are also reducing waste by promoting the reuse of these materials, keeping these supplies out of landfills and putting them into hands that need them.

When I got off the subway in Long Island City, it took a second for me to figure out where I was and which direction to walk. And by ‘second’, I mean I was 15 minutes late due to my complete lack of directional sense. So when I finally arrived on the third floor, where MFTA is located, no one was there to great me except for a sign that read “New York Cares Volunteers—>”. I followed the sign around the corner, through a doorway or two, and found myself entering a very large space that felt like the back storage of a Target or other large superstore. Tall shelving units filled with bins of donations organized by category (Office Supplies, Crafts, etc.). I found my group by the Trim and Notion section, and was happy to know I wasn’t alone.

There was an assembly line of sorts happening, with 4 volunteers washing, rinsing and drying the yellow bins that store the various wares available. The warehouse gathers a LOT of dust and grime, so the bins could use a good cleaning, and that’s what we were there for. I started out drying bins, but then got moved to the ‘organization’ group. There was a row of bins that had not yet been completely sorted; it was also in the craft section, where things are hard to identify and probably get moved around a lot when people are picking through for what they want. I was told to pick a  bin and find a place for everything in it. Easier said than done, for me at least.

Word of advice: If you have any obsessive compulsive tendencies, you may want to avoid volunteering here, or bring a sleeping bag because you’ll be in for a long night. For artists and creative people who can see beauty and art in many things and find use for these items in future projects, this warehouse is a dream come true. A place to go for anything, even stuff you may not know you need or normally can’t afford, and that’s the whole point of this place. However, I found myself perpetually distracted by the disorganization I saw and had a hard time not being able to fix it. I would pick out a few buttons from my bin, and set out to the ‘Trim and Notion’ section to find their place. When I found a bin of miscellaneous buttons, I thought that it would be nice if all of THOSE buttons were organized by color. When I found some Christmas cards and went to put them in a ‘paper’ bin, I really wished I had time to empty the bin on the floor, and re-sort into ‘holiday and non-holiday’ paper. But alas, Rome wasn’t built in a day and I surely wasn’t going to reorganize an entire warehouse in two hours. After I got over that, things went much smoother; if I found a polaroid of a stuffed animal sitting with a plate of cookies (which I did), I found it a home. When I found a few model airplane kits for small children, I found a bin with similar items and tossed them in. By the end of the night, we had managed to put a dent in the bins, emptying out and condensing about 10-15 of them and reorganizing others. A few minutes before 8, we took the clean bins and swapped them with dirty ones, which will get washed next time the volunteers come to help.

For a creative mind, this is a goldmine of inspiration waiting to be picked apart and sifted for gems, which can be different for each person that walks in. I can imagine it being a great source of supplies for the teachers and organizations that take advantage of this service. It allows them to provide their clients, students, what have you, with more than they could have previously. Since a lot of the donations come from corporations or large organizations, it isnt uncommon to find a large amount of items lumped together, for example, there were two bins of burnt umber concentrated paint in the section I was working in. That could easily be used to complete a huge project or a lot of smaller projects. Basically, this place is awesome for people who can plan ahead and see a purpose for a variety of items.

If you can’t make it to the New York Cares volunteer project, don’t fret: you can volunteer directly with MFTA for a few hours based on your availability, helping to sort and fold fabric, label paint cans, straighten up framing supplies or make small repairs on furniture. Contact their volunteer coordinator at for more information. Other things to know:

  • Projects vary, but expect to be bending over, picking things up or just moving things in general. Dress for this, and keep in mind that there are paints and dust and other things that may get on your clothes.
  • I wasn’t kidding about the OCD. If you’re the type of person that lines up soda cans in the fridge so the labels are all facing the same way, or you organize your book collection by color and size, this may not be the best place to volunteer. There won’t be enough time to organize everything, and it may frustrate you. OR, maybe you SHOULD volunteer here… I don’t know. I’m not a psychologist.
  • I found some great stuff that gave me a chuckle or made me wonder where it came from. For example, who got this Autobiography of Terry the dog from the Wizard of Oz, and why in the world did they give it away? I’ll never know. This intrigues me. There are a lot of intriguing things here and if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy finding these little treasures and imagining the person who owned it last (In this case, my vision was an old theater matron ala The Producers who drank martinis and wore lots of fur).

  • Do you qualify to shop here? Possibly, if you are a not-for-profit arts and cultural group; NYC Department of Education art teacher; Social service, health, and environmental organization with an ongoing art program; or government agency, you might. Click here to find out more about becoming a recipient.

Creative Arts Workshops for Kids

24 Feb

What: work on educational art projects with kids, through New York Cares

Where: El Faro Beacon School, East Harlem

When: Saturdays, 11:30am-3:30pm

When you first get to the Beacon School, you’ll sign in and head downstairs to the basement cafeteria. Besides that one detail, I’m pretty sure what awaits you will be different every time you volunteer with the Creative Arts Workshop Saturday Art Works program. The project we had for the day I was volunteering was to make a giant-sized puppet of an iconic African-American, in honor of Black History Month. The volunteers spent the first 45 minutes or so sorting through scraps of fabric, markers, crayons, and putting together the wood bases that would serve as a skeleton of sorts for the puppet. We then got a brief introduction to the program and some guidelines on working with children (don’t go anywhere alone with a child, ask for help from a program staffer if a child is being difficult, etc.). While this was going on, about 30 kids filed in and waiting for the program to begin.

Averaging about 8 years old, the kids gathered in a circle to hear about the project for the day. We then broke into groups to read about 10 different historical figures from Black History. After this, each group had to pick one person to turn into a giant puppet; our group chose Frederick Douglass and got to work making the best-dressed puppet in the place, thanks an imaginative 7 year old with fashion sense beyond his years. At around 2:30, everyone gathered again in a circle to present their characters and put on a brief play using the knowledge they learned from the books we read earlier in the day.

According to their website, “CAW is a nonprofit organization that utilizes the visual and performing arts to teach life skills to children and teens while enriching communities.” Though I volunteered through New York Cares, you can volunteer directly with CAW, who offer the workshops three Saturdays out of every month in East Harlem and Washington Heights. The workshops use the arts to promote creativity through a variety of mediums, including painting, drawing, montage, sculpture, dance, singing/rap, theater, music, reading, writing, gardening and any other practices that allow for creation and self-expression. They also have a number of other programs that serve the community and it’s children: Summer Art Works, After School Art Works, and the Giraffe Path, which is an annual arts project taking place this June. For more information about the Creative Arts Workshops for Kids, visit their website.

When the day started, I was slightly nervous about being able to mentor a child and display a certain level of intelligence. For some reason, I find the honesty of children extremely intimidating; the disapproval or ridicule of a 9 year old I’ve never met has almost the same affect on me as the disapproval of my own parents.  I know its probably an unwarranted, ridiculous fear, but one I have none the less. And I’ve got to be honest: Black History is not a topic I’m an expert on. How do I teach kids about something I know nothing about? The books we read to them had some popular names of course, whose history I’m well aware of, but I wasn’t going to pretend that I knew where Frederick Douglass was born. If there was a quiz at the beginning of the day I would have undoubtedly failed with flying colors. But i digress…. As with every other time I volunteer with kids, it only takes about 5 minutes for me to realize that they are there to learn and have fun, and anything you do can only help them achieve that. They’re not nearly as judgmental as adults, which is a nice departure from reality if only for a few hours. One of the great things about mentoring kids is that you can both pick up a book and learn along side each other. Some other things to know:

  • Eat a big breakfast. You’ll be here for a while, and although you’re given the option of taking a juice-box and small snack,  6 mini pretzel sticks won’t cut it as a lunch for me personally, since I’m no longer 3 feet tall and 30 lbs.
  • The projects vary, but there’s a good chance markers, glue and/or paint will be involved. You’ll also be sitting on the floor and moving around a lot. Dress appropriately.
  • The Creative Arts Workshops students and volunteers have painted some pretty cool murals around Harlem in the past few years. After the project, take a stroll down 124th Street and see if you can find some; if you don’t  have time, check out the pictures I took above or head to the their online gallery.
  • This project seems to attract a lot of artistic volunteers; including myself, the group of volunteers I worked with were all employed in graphic design. It’s not a surprising fact- the project is called Creative Arts Workshop. I’m just saying…this is a good activity for artsy-fartsy volunteers like myself.
  • For those now wondering, Frederick Douglass was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland.