Charitable Gift Giving

We surf the Web to find good products that help out a great cause.

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Cross your heart and help others live

February 2nd, 2014 · Uncategorized

razoo charity gift cardFebruary, appropriately enough, is National Heart Month, among other things. While we cover a lot of different causes on this site, heart disease is still the #1 killer in the United States, and as such it’s critically important to raise awareness.

I got an email from Razoo Giving Cards, a cool idea where you give a gift card to someone with funds (from $10-$500) that your recipient can donate to any cause he or she chooses. The balance on the card is good for a year, and the only fee is a 4.9% processing cost that pays for the expenses of the Razoo Foundation (which is itself a 501(c)(3) charity).

It’s a cool idea for a couple reasons. First, you get the tax deduction. Second, your recipient gets to choose a cause nearest and dearest to her or him.

Here are some of the heart-related charities that Razoo recommends this month:

  • Hearts for Cart – A fundraiser for Camp Odayin, a camp for kids with heart disease.
  • Global Heart Network Foundation – A contributive platform aimed at increasing access to cardiac care in low-middle income countries.
  • Wendy’s Run for Project Valentine – Project Valentine’s mission is to make life a “little sweeter” for individuals undergoing cancer treatment in the Denver metro area with loving care packages delivered on or around Valentine’s Day.

But the cool thing is that your recipient can choose from over 1 million other charities.

Just a tip for the guys out there–while Razoo’s email to me suggested that I say “instead of flowers or chocolate”, trust me, you’re going to want to give this IN ADDITION to flowersAND chocolate. :)

Giving Cards are redeemable online for one year from purchase date.

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The Best Gifts for Book Lovers are still at GoneReading

December 6th, 2013 · Uncategorized

Back in 2011 I first wrote about a great organization called GoneReading that was just starting up at the time.  The concept of GoneReading was (and is) a brilliant one: have an online store that sells high quality gifts specifically geared towards readers, and then take 100% of the after-tax profits to fund charities that are devoted to promoting reading and literacy.

It’s a model that has worked brilliantly; GoneReading’s founder Brad Wirz recently emailed me and shared the happy news that GoneReading recently funded its first new library in Ethiopia.

While there are a lot of charities that provide relief and aid to third world countries, there’s something particularly hopeful about the kind of help that GoneReading provides. It’s one thing to pay for a meal or a handout, but it’s a whole other thing to open up a world of knowledge that people in these countries can use to become educated and break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness.

As an online store, GoneReading has come a long way since I first posted about them two years ago. While they used to be mainly a shop that sold things like mugs and T-Shirts, today they’ve expanded to have a huge breadth of fantastic gifts for book lovers.

Some of my favorite gifts are actually some of the most affordable–they have a huge selection of high quality metal bookmarks with cute charms on the end (my sister is both a dog lover and a book lover, so this one will be perfect for her).

dog bookmark

 

In addition, since I last wrote about them, they’ve added an amazing number of new items. One of my favorite are literary action figures of Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde. Legend has it that Oscar Wilde once insulted Charles Dickens by saying about The Old Curiousity Shop, “One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears…of laughter”. If you buy these action figures, you can reenact what the inevitable deathmatch would have looked like.

There’s a huge number of other great gifts that are perfect for book lovers, from book ends to book holders to book lights to book journals to book plates. There’s even a bamboo bathtub caddy that lets you prop up a book in the bath

If you know any avid readers who like to show off their book knowledge (you know the type, the ones who will quote passages of Shakespeare or Jane Austen), they have a selection of games about books.

Speaking of Jane Austen, one of the coolest gifts (and affordable too) are “magnetic poetry kits”. These are clever sets of 200 magnets of words that you can arrange on the refrigerator. These have been around for a while, but GoneReading has the Edgar Allan Poe edition, the Jane Austin edition, and the Shakespeare edition.

jane austin kit

 

I tried out the Jane Austen set and in no time I was writing like ol’ Jane herself.

IMG_1555

 

GoneReading is a great example of three great American traditions: the entrepreneurial spirit, its generosity, and its love of books. If you love to read or know someone that does, there’s no better place on the Web to do your Christmas shopping.

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World Vision Gift Catalog and Thoughts on Giving

December 3rd, 2013 · World Vision

Young men in our society often get a bad rap, and sadly, there’s a reason for this. The young punks who go around committing crimes, assaulting people, bullying people, acting out in self-centered and selfish ways, and being general nuisances and burdens to society are the ones we and the news media notice.

But a recent survey from World Vision gave me hope–a lot of hope. Their survey revealed that 56% of men aged 18-34 have given a charitable gift. That’s a whopping 20% higher giving than older men aged 35 and up, and a surprising 19% higher than women of their same age range. This was the complete opposite of what most people assumed: that older people are more likely to give to charity or that today’s young people are less generous that previous generations.

Cheryl DeBruler, a Gift Catalog Specialist at World Vision, commented. “Based on what we’ve seen at World Vision, young men might be more aptly coined the ‘misunderstood generation. Young adults are a huge force in what we do – whether it’s advocacy, volunteering or fundraising. Historically they’ve even led some of our campaigns against global issues like AIDS and hunger. They’re a case study of compassion in action.”

There were some other interesting findings in the study, which was conducted by Harris Interactive. One of the most interesting: 3 in 5 adults (61 percent) think giving to charity is a good teaching tool for children, yet only about 2 in 5 parents* who donate money to charity do so in order to teach their children about generosity (43 percent). And 42 percent of people who give to charity says it makes them feel like a good person (I would have expected that number to be higher, but perhaps people were just being modest, which is one of the signs of a true giver, of course).

One great way to give this Christmas is with the World Vision Gift Catalog. Each year, the gifts they highlight get more and more impressive. I think a few years ago, I highlighted “Gertie the Goat”, which was one of the only gives you could get from World Vision. Today, they have things in their catalog that will please just about everyone on your list.

I had a chance to check out these amazing Christmas ornament set of three African animals. Appropriately enough, these particular ornaments are handcrafted in Kenya using recycled glass beads and wire.

Here’s a water buffalo:

water buffalo christmas ornament

And then an elephant:

elephant christmas ornament

And finally a giraffe:

giraffe christmas ornament

Click on the image to see a close-up of how beautiful and intricate the craftsmanship is and how they sparkle under the light. With all the mass-produced junk that big corporations order to be churned out of China, there’s something very unique and special about each of these ornaments.

 

Something else that’s special is that the proceeds from these ornaments don’t go to the GDP of mainland China, nor do they line the pockets of giant corporations. As the tag on each ornament says, purchasing this product directly supports over 60 rehabilitated young people at a Youth Employment project based in Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya.

Furthermore, purchases from the gift catalog help to fund World Vision’s mission to help children and their communities around the world reach their full potential by tackling poverty and its causes.

Browsing through the catalog, there are other amazing things, such as tote bags, bracelets and necklaces, scarves, and many more. Or, you can give a symbolic gift; the person in whose name the gift was given can receive a personalized card describing the gift and its impact. The most popular such gifts are “Goat a 2 Chickens”, “Hope for Sexually Exploited Girls”, “$350 Worth of Medicines”, “5 Ducks” and “Clothing for Children”.

World Vision was one of the leading charities on the scene in the Philippines a few weeks ago, and their work there continues. Every year I’m more and more impressed by their creativity in providing great gifts to give, as well as their leadership in helping the areas around the world that need it most. Whether you’re a young man, a young woman, or just young at heart, it’s a great opportunity to take some of the blessings you’ve been giving and pass them around on this #GivingTuesday.

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Free Tagalog Lessons from Pimsleur for Philippine Typhoon Volunteers

November 28th, 2013 · Uncategorized

tagalog-free-lessonsHere’s a really neat idea from the folks at Pimsleur Language Programs.

As just about everyone knows by now, the Philippines was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan two weeks ago. As I mentioned in my last post, what tends to happen is that the news media will focus a lot of attention on the suffering for a short period of time, but after they’ve gotten what they need out of the disaster they’ll go to something else. In the meantime, those who are suffering are suffering no less because they’re not on TV anymore.

But even as the public starts to forget, there are some amazing charities and aid agencies that have hundreds of volunteers who are going to the Philippines to help.

From now until the end of the year, Pimsleur is offering 15 introductory lessons, or about 7.5 hours of lessons of Tagalog  (pronounced tuh-GUH-logh) for free. Tagalog is the most widely-spoken language out of 170 languages spoken in the Philippines.

Given that 30 lessons normally cost $120, this is at least a $60 value. Pimsleur did a similar thing with Japanese and Haitian Creole in 2010 and 2011 when disasters struck those countries.

If you know a volunteer organization, or individual volunteer who’s going to help out in the Philippines, this would be a great resource for them, even on the plane ride out. While they won’t be fluent in the language, it’ll help them learn the basics.

For more details and to download the 7.5 hours of lessons for free, visit here:

http://pages.pimsleur.com/philippines-relief

 

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Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines – How You Can Help

November 17th, 2013 · Developing Areas

Typhoon Haiyan, which touched down Friday, November 8, is now being called the strongest storm ever to make landfall in history. It battered the Philippines with sustained winds of almost 200 miles an hour. Over 10,000 people are believed to have perished, and over 1.2 million Filipino residents are at risk.

In the years I’ve been running this blog, I’ve seen a sad but rather predictable pattern to natural disasters like the one we’ve seen most recently in the Philippines with Typhoon Haiyan. The news media will show photos of the devastation and have heart-wrenching stories of those whose lives have been destroyed or forever changed. That’ll trigger an outpouring of support. Sadly, often there will be unscrupulous people who set up fake charity hotlines and Web sites in an effort to make a profit off the suffering of others. And then, after a few weeks pass, once the next news story hits most people will forget about the devastated areas, even though those in those areas may still be years away from recovery and will be in even greater need of help.

The one point I’ve stressed before–and will stress again–is to do your home work when giving. Avoid giving donations by text or at a Web site you don’t recognize. Send cash to a recognized charity rather than things like used clothes or canned food, which in many cases only get in the way. And please remember that even after the nightly news stops showing the pictures, the suffering is still there, and so is the need for your prayer and support.

The one Web site I always turn to first in situations like this when I’m looking to donate is Charity Navigator. They do an amazing job of evaluating charities and giving them a star rating from 1 to 4. 4-star charities are the best of the best. When you give to one of these charities, you can pretty much rest assured that your donation has the best chance of going directly to helping someone in need, versus getting tied up in political or bureaucratic nonsense.

Specifically, these are the charities that Charity Navigator has identified as 4-star charities, and who have committed to promising that if you designate your donation to go to help Typhoon Haiyan victims, that it will be spent there and nowhere else.

Action Against Hunger
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Architecture for Humanity
Concern Worldwide US
Direct Relief
Feed My Starving Children
Forward Edge International
GlobalGiving
International Relief Teams
International Rescue Committee
Lutheran World Relief
MAP International
Matthew 25: Ministries
Medical Ministry International
Medical Teams International
MedShare International
Mercy Corps
Oxfam America
United States Fund for UNICEF
Water Missions International
World Food Program USA
World Vision

Each of these, of course, are 501 (c)(3) designated charities, so your donation will be cash-deductible.

 

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World of Children Award Key-Shaped Jewelry

November 4th, 2013 · Children's Charities

The World of Children Award is sometimes referred to as the “Nobel Prize for child advocates”. It recognizes and provides funding for some of those who make a big difference for children worldwide. This year’s Advocacy Award Recipient is someone we’re talked about in the past on this blog: Lauren Bush Lauren, the originator and founder of the FEED Bag that has helped so many children around the world. Past honorees have included amazing people around the world who have improved childrens’ medicine around the world; helped comfort and support children faced with illnesses, poverty, or violence; and otherwise helped the neediest and most innocent people in the world.

Their annual award event is this coming Thursday in New York City. In commemoration, they’re selling two beautiful pieces of jewelry.

The first is a sterling silver horseshoe key chain:

horseshoe keychain

 

This will sell for $250. It’s made of sterling silver and features the signature World of Children Award logo. It’s available for purchase here.

The second is a Sterling Silver Necklance, also inspired by the World of Children Award logo and created by jewelry designers Adam Shulman and Heidi Nahser Fink of James Banks Design.

 

key shaped necklace

It sells for $1000 and is available for purchase here.

100% of all contributions of both items will help World of Children Award to fund projects that exclusively support vulnerable children all around the world. For instance – purchasing silver horseshoe key ring could provide a full month of rice for 25 children in Cambodia, or self-defense training for more than 1,000 vulnerable young girls worldwide,  or go to help someone like honoree Triveni Acharya, who rescues victims of child trafficking, or honoree Mead Welles, who gives essential prosthetic devices to children in third-world countries with limb deformities.  In its 16-year history, World of Children Award has invested more than $5 million in programs led by 100 Honorees serving vulnerable children in 150 countries.

 

 

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The Best Ball Tossing Toy for Dogs – the Bamboo Wood Chuck from Planet Dog

October 28th, 2013 · Animal Causes

Ever since my sister adopted Clancy as a rescue puppy, you probably notice I’ve been taking every chance I get to highlight dog treats and dog toys. Part of the reason, of course, is that animal and pet charities are near and dear to my heart, and when I come across companies that make great products that contribute to them, I’m always eager to showcase them and let people know about them.

But another reason is that it’s just so darned fun to try out new products with Clancy. He’s still in that puppy mode where he just wants to play, play, play all the time. And as I’ve shown in previous posts, he’s turning into a very, very athletic dog with an energy that doesn’t quit.

Now my sister will readily admit that she’s the epitome of the phrase “throws like a girl”. And while my arm is a little better than hers, I don’t think if I were a centerfielder I could throw a baserunner out at home on the fly, or even after five bounces. But luckily for both of us, there’s the awesome ball tosser from Planet Dog called “Wood Chuck”.

best dog ball tosser

Like other ball tossing toys, this one uses the laws of physics to allow someone with girly or girly-man muscles to throw a ball like a major leaguer. I’m no physicist, but I believe it uses the concept of leverage to let someone who ordinarily couldn’t throw 10 feet to throw 100 feet. And for dogs that love to run, no doubt they’re saying “it’s about time”.

At first I wondered if they built it with wood just so they could name it with a silly pun. But after trying it out, I’m finding that it’s one of the best ball tossers I’ve ever used. Unlike plastic, which get dirty and icky and can break pretty quickly, the bamboo wood used in this product stays clean and beautiful looking and is very, very durable. One end of the toy is a “claw” that is perfectly sized to hold Planet Dog balls (in their catalog, they mark certain balls as being “Wood Chuck Friendly”), and can also hold tennis balls. One added benefit–for the inevitable point of play when your rubber ball becomes totally covered in drool, you can actually load up this toy without touching the call–just put the “claw” over the ball and press down on the wood with a little force. Voila–you’re loaded up for another long throw.

The other end of the tosser is the handle, which is made up of smooth, rounded, and solid cork. It’s extremely comfortable on the hands and is ergonimic–no matter what your tossing style or whether you toss with one hand or two hands, it feels great. On a side note, both the bamboo and the cork are natural, the wood is produced sustainably and the cork is made from reused scraps. It’s always fun to read the labels on Planet Dog products–they have the familar recycling logo with the three arrows, but the words read “Reduce, Reuse, Rewoof”.

Cleanup is a snap–just wipe it down after each use, and don’t leave it in the rain or out among the elements. And of course, keep it out of doggie’s reach if doggie thinks everything is a chew toy.

Planet Dog also makes the best dog balls around. My sister said that Clancy’s favorite ball by far was this Orbee-Tuff Glow For Good ball from Planet Dog. In fact, it was such a great dog that one day my sister came home after a session in the park, only to realize that one of Clancy’s pals in the dog park ran away with it. Happily, we have another one now to take its place.

best dog ball

This ball has a lot of great things going for it. First of all, it scores 5 of 5 chompers on the “chew-o-meter” scale, which is Planet Dog’s measure of how durable a toy is. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, there isn’t a dog toy yet that Clancy hasn’t totally destroyed and disemboweled, but even after hours with this ball, it’s good as new.

There are other great things about this ball. It’s got a minty flavor (when I opened the box, the whole thing smelled minty fresh); I’m not sure how much this really does towards freshening doggie’s breath, but on the positive side you don’t need to hold your breath as you might with an old tennis ball with weeks and weeks of slobber baked in. It’s also glow-in-the-dark (the kind where you hold it up to a light for a while), which is useful for late night sessions. And there’s a “treat hole” in it, like a Kong, so doggie will have hours of fun trying to get it out (my sister, who’s a vet, explained to me that it’s not mean and dogs don’t get frustrated like humans do, as this just encourages their natural instincts.

Here’s some video of Clancy and me at a house we rented over the weekend with a huge (and I mean huge) meadow. I figured, what better opportunity to put the Wood Chuck to the test? Here’s a video of me chucking the ball to Clancy.

As you can see, the Wood Chuck has a nice long handle, which means I can throw the ball really far–I was getting close to 80-100 yards at one point, which made me start feeling like Peyton Manning. It was about double what I could throw just with my hands. And as you can see, it took me a little while to figure it out, but once I got the hang of it I could grip and throw the ball without touching it, meaning that the none of Clancy’s dripping drool got on my hands.

You can see from the video that Clancy was having a ball (literally). This video only shows a few minutes, but we were out there about an hour, and he just didn’t seem to get tired–and then he wanted more that evening, the next morning, and the next afternoon; he just didn’t get tired; from start to end of our tossing sessions he’d run to fetch the ball at full speed and run back at full speed.

I was throwing the ball so far that there were times he’d lost track of it, but then his hunting instincts would kick in and he’d be able to use his nose to track the ball down, his tail tagging vigorously the whole time he was looking, and then he’d prance back to me proudly once he found it. Clancy’s a mutt, so we’re not sure what breeds he has in him, but clearly he’s got the athleticism, the nose, and the unbridled enthusiasm of a great hunting and sporting dog.

This weekend was one of the most fun weekends I’ve had in a while, and a lot of it is thanks to the Wood Chuck. While ordinarily my arm would get sore from all that throwing, this toy let me keep up with Clancy and really maximize his exercise. He was pretty conked out, sleeping like a puppy through the whole night.

And best thing about these products is that, 2% of all purchases at Planet Dog funds a great cause. Purchase of the Wood Chuck in particular goes to the training, placement, and support of service dogs that help people in need nationwide. And purchase of the Glow for Good ball, as the name suggests, goes even further. 100% (that’s right, 100%) of the proceeds of the ball support the Planet Dog Foundation and the various causes it supports.

For more information, visit the Planet Dog Foundation Web site. This great cause has supported over $1 million in amazing causes, thanks to the purchases and donations of dog lovers everywhere.

I have some more Planet Dog products to show you, but the Wood Chuck and a durable Planet Dog ball should be on the “must have” list of every pet owner out there. If you know a pet owner who doesn’t have one, there are few better “essential” gifts you can give.

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Get reward points for things you do every day

October 22nd, 2013 · American Red Cross, Ronald McDonald House

If you list out things that you do every day, there are bound to be a couple things on the list:

  1. Watch TV
  2. Use a search engine

What would you say if I told you that you could earn actual money by doing these things, and that this money could be donated to great charities?

All you have to do is sign up for these rewards programs. I’ll dedicate a separate post each week talking about each one.

There are tons of other programs out there that reward you for doing everyday things, but these are the ones I use every day. Here’s why:

viggle iconViggle is an app along the same lines as Shopkick, except instead of walking into stores you’re sitting on a couch watching TV. You can “check in” to any TV program you’re watching. and the Viggle App will use your phone microphone to listen to your TV and figure out what you’re watching. You’ll earn one point per minute.

For certain programs, you can earn bonus points (these are listed on the welcome screen each day). These are usually 100-2oo points.  There’s also cool “second screen” technology where for certain programs you can play a quiz and earn even more Viggle Points for correct answers. These can range from 100-200 points to the thousands of points. You can also earn bonus points for doing tasks such as watching commercials on their app or purchasing products and services.

As you might imagine, it takes a LOT of points to save up for a prize. It takes 25,000 points to earn a $10 Starbucks gift card, for example. and 62,500 points for a $25 CVS gift card. You can also use fewer points to enter sweepstakes.

From a charity perspective, you can spend 7,500 points to make a $5 donation to charities. The charities change from time to time, but this month they’re the American Red Cross and Rebuilding Together.

bing iconFinally, there’s Bing Rewards. In admittedly a little bit of desperation on their part to break the hegemony of Google, Bing launched a program where you can earn 1 point for every 2 searches you do on the Bing search engine.

You can redeem points for things like gift cards. For example, you can get a $5 Starbucks gift card for about 500 points, or about 1000 searches. If that seems like a lot to you, go into your browser history and see how many Google searches you’ve done in the past week.

Among their redemption options are some great options to help charities. Every 100 points will give a $1 donation to charities like Boys and Gifts Clubs of America, Kids in Need, and Teach for America. I would have liked to see Microsoft discount the charitable redemptions the same way that Shopkick and Viggle did, but just having them there as an option is a really good thing.

As for Bing’s quality, I have to say that while it used to be awful, over the years they’ve done a lot of good work and the quality is almost as good as Google in some areas, and even better than Google in other areas. Give them a try; while getting paid a half penny every time you search doesn’t seem like a lot, it does add up over time. And of course, Google isn’t giving you squat for all the times you use it!

And so, there’s my advice on rewards programs that reward you for doing everyday things and let you donate that “free money” to charity.

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Agraria Supports Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October 19th, 2013 · Breast Cancer

Agraria started life in 1970 as a boutique on Nob Hill in San Francisco, selling a mix of antiques, books, unique gifts, potpourri, candles, incense, sachets, and bath and body products. They specialized in home fragrance, launching with two signature aromas: Bitter Orange Potpourri and Balsam Perfume Candle, which together made an amazing combination.

Four years later, New York fashion landmark Henri Bendel put these Agraria scents at the front door of its flagship store, which got the attention of everyone from The New York Times to Vogue. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find Agraria scents everywhere from Bergdorf Goodman to InterContinental Hotels and Resorts to department stores and gift shops everywhere.

On their site, you’ll find bath, body, and candle products in eight signature aromas, including the original balsam and bitter orange, plus cedar rose, golden cassis, lavender and rosemary, lemon verbena, lime and orange blossoms, and Mediterranean jasmine.

I got a chance to try out a Cedar Rose crystal cane candle. It came packaged in a beautiful box, perfect for gifting.

IMG_0619

The candle itself is stunningly beautiful. It comes with a shiny silver plated lid. The candle holder is a beautiful crystal glass that you can use to hold tea lights once the candle is burned out; as the candle burns down, the candlelight twinkles through the crystal. Here’s a picture, but I’m afraid this picture doesn’t do it justice.

agraria candle burning

As the candle burns, the color of the premium soft wax (which is vegetable based) is a remarkable, shimmering dark pool of deep pink.

The cedar rose scent is also very unique exquisite, as all their different scents are. According to their Web site, a cedar rose is the top of a mature cedar pine cone that’s create when the cone dries out and the lower “petals” push off or disintegrate. So despite the pink color of their products and candles, they don’t smell strong and artificial like other rose-scented candles out there. Instead, they have a subtle scent that combines a deep cedar wood aroma with the Damask rose, a flower renowned for its fine fragrance, and commonly used to make rose oil or rose water.

While you can certainly get candles at lower prices, this is an example of a candle done right–that burns cleanly, has a fragrance that’s not artificial nor overpowering, looks as beautiful as it smells, and is made in the USA. If you’re in the market for the perfect present for someone who’s discerning about the highest quality, look here first before looking at your run of the mill Yankee candle.

During the month of October, 35% of all sales of Cedar Rose products from their Web site, fittingly enough due to its pink color, is being donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. In addition to this candle, they have bath bars and diffusers so that you and your home can smell nice too.

 

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The Best Radio to Have When the Power Goes Out – Eton's FRX3

October 16th, 2013 · American Red Cross

Last year during Hurricane Sandy, all of the power on Long Island went out for weeks. Now I thought I had been prepared, and had about 30 AA batteries charged, thinking that would be enough to allow me to charge my phone, power on a radio, and power my flashlights. All the batteries were drained within a day.

I’ll admit, my wife and I ended up having a pretty nice time. We played a full round of Monopoly by candlelight, and heated up food by the heat of the candle.

playing monopoly during hurricane sandy

That was fun for one night. But the next night, and the night after that, and the next few nights after that weren’t as fun as we began to realize how much we really rely on technology. It’s important to be able to have a radio to hear updates on the weather, especially if there are evacuation warnings or news of danger. And it’s really, really important to have a cell phone to keep our loved ones updated (and yes, to play the occasional game of Candy Crush Saga to help pass the time).

Now in our tiny apartment, we can’t buy a generator (not that we could have gotten any gas for it). And I’d purchased some solar powered battery chargers that didn’t seem to work (they need a full day of full sunlight to even have a hope of charging one AA battery).

the perfect radio for a power outageIf there’s one radio I wish I’d had, it’s the Eton FRX3 Radio. I had a chance to try this radio out, and my first impressions is that this is like the “Swiss Army Knife” of portable radios. It is truly the next best thing to having a generator. It won’t power your TV or your microwave, but it will do just about everything else, including:

  • Allow you to listen to AM or FM radio
  • Allow you to listen to NOAA weather radio
  • Charge your smartphone
  • Let you see in the dark with a bright white flashlight or signal for help with a flashing red light
  • Play audio from other sources using an AUX input
  • Let you listen in quiet with headphone output
  • Wake you up with an alarm clock

The unit lets you switch between two modes of power: battery mode and “dynamo mode”.

Battery mode will power the radio using AAA batteries under normal power conditions.

In Dynamo mode, when the AAA batteries are drained, you can continue to power the unit through an internal rechargeable Ni-MH battery that can be charged in one of three ways:

  • A solar panel on top of the unit (must be exposed to direct sunlight, not a lamp or through a window to work).
  • A hand-crank turbine.
  • A USB port with DC input (you can use this on normal days to quickly charge the internal battery using a USB source like your phone charger. If the power goes out, you can also charge it using another device that provides emergency power through a USB port like this one we’ve highlighted in the past). A USB-to-mini USB cable is included.

The explain how the dynamo feature works, think of The Professor’s bike on Gilligan’s Island. You’re basically taking your mechanical energy and converting it to electrical energy. The hand crank is as pleasant as it can be to use–it turns loosely with a slight “whirring” sound, and the handle itself rotates for efficiency and comfort. That said, you might want to take turns as a family cranking it, as it does get tiring.

attach the rechargeable battery to the eton radioWhen you get the unit, setup is easy. First, you open the battery compartment and make sure the Ni-MH battery is plugged in (I missed this step at first and tried to figure out for the longest time why all my hand cranking was doing nothing). Then, just charge the Ni-MH battery using USB until it’s full.

As with all rechargeable batteries, this battery pack has a limited number of charges it can hold, but the good news is you can buy additional packs from Eton for the really low price of $8.95; buy enough of them and you can ensure that you can power your smartphone all throughout the zombie apocalypse (and listen to some cool zombie tunes when they take over the FM radio).

From there, it’s just a matter of pushing the right buttons to listen to radio. Push the power button to power the device on. Turn the knob of the left for radio volume (clockwise for softer, counter-clockwise for louder), and turn the knob on the right for tuning. Use the clicking switches on top of the hand crank to switch between AM, FM, and one of seven weather bands, at least one of which should be broadcasting in your area (assuming there isn’t a government shutdown going on!). An LED panel tells you your band, frequency, and battery charge level.

To set the time and the alarm clock there are buttons on top, under the handle. To set the clock, make sure the radio power is off and then press the “Set” button and then adjust the hours by pressing the “Up” and “Down” buttons. Press the “Set” button again to adjust the minutes, and then 12/24 time format. You can do the same for the alarm by clicking “Alarm On/Off” follow by “Set”.

There’s also an “Alert” feature. To use it, set your radio volume to a comfortable one, move the dial to a working weatherband frequency, and press the Alert button on top. The word “alert” will start flashing on the screen. Now, in the case of a weather emergency, your radio will power on and you’ll get the news right away.

bright flashlight perfect for blackoutsUsing the Flashlight is a snap. Just press the button on the front of the unit to unleash a really powerful flashlight with two bright white LEDs (so powerful when I just accidentally looked into the light I still see spots). There’s also a single red flashing LED for emergencies, also really bright.

And now, for the most important feature IMO: charging a cell phone. To do this, you first make sure your Ni-MH battery pack is sufficiently charged–if it’s not, turn the crank, set the unit in sunlight, or charge it with a USB power source to get it there.

Then, you plug one end of your phone charger cable into the USB port…

charging a cell phone in a power outage

…and the other end into your phone. In my case, I used an iPhone 4S whose batteri I’d run down to nothing. Then, you press the “Cell” phone on the top right, under the handle. You’ll see the word “Cell” appear on the LCD panel.

eton radio charging iphoneVoila! I could see the battery indicator on the radio start to flash and the charge on my iPhone start to go. In a half hour, the iPhone battery charged to 23% before the Eton radio gave out. Not a full charge, of course, but more than enough if you’re desperate in a total power failure.

As for how long the unit works after charging it using these various approaches, here are some figures:

  • It’ll take about 2 hours to fully charge the Ni-MH battery with a USB adapter, or about 10 hours of direct sunlight. With a fully charged battery, the radio will run about 3 to 4 hours at low volume.
  • 90 seconds of hand cranking will charge the Ni-MH battery to a point where it can power the radio for about 5 to 7 minutes at low volume, or run the flashlight for about 20 minutes continuously. If you’ve got the strength, you can keep cranking to more fully charge the battery (the manuals says to continually crank at least 2 or more revolutions per second, and if you stop for any reason, to take a 5 second break before starting to crank again).

I can’t say enough good things about the usability of the radio. It’s not the prettiest radio in the world, but they’ve definitely made up for it in functionality. All the buttons are intuitive and easy to master, something I appreciate in an emergency.

And I haven’t gotten to the best part. For every radio it sell, Eton donates 57 cents of the sales price to support the American Red Cross. Moreover, Eton has been active in helping in areas ravaged by natural disasters, most recently during the Colorado floods. Eton was there, donating many of their products to help many of those affected by the storms.

Whether it’s hurricane season, tornado season, snowstorm season, a truck runs into a utility pole, or the zombie apocalypse, you never know when you’ll completely lose the power to your house. This is definitely the radio to get when it does.

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