Charitable Gift Giving

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

Charitable Gift Giving header image 1

Going 100% Paperless with Evernote

January 29th, 2015 · Causes

(If this article piques your interest and you’d like to try out Evernote Premium yourself, click here and you’ll have a free month of Premium to try it out!)

evernote-logoAs someone who came all the way back from the 20th Century, I have boxes and boxes of papers. I mean literally I have credit card statements, banking statements, invoices, utility bills, and receipts. Lots and lots of receipts of every size and shape.

I downloaded the Evernote app years ago but it pretty much sat on my phone without any use at all. I thought it might replace the Notes app since I could access my notes from anywhere (my phone, my laptop, my work computer). But at the end of the day, I realized I really didn’t need to access my Notes in so many places, and the Notes app was just so much quicker and more convenient.

Just this past month, Evernote released a new app called Scannable. And this app completely opened my eyes. It’s a smartphone app where you can simply hold your phone camera over a receipt of any size and shape and it’ll click it and let you upload it to Evernote in one fell swoop.

Suddenly I realized that Evernote could be used as an archival tool. Not long after that I was clicking and storing all my receipts. Out of about 10 boxes filled with papers, I ended up clearing and tossing about 4 of them so far–and counting.

They have a 60 MB limit a month, which is probably fine for normal use, but in order to accomplish my goal of digitizing all 10 boxes of papers I had to upgrade to the Premium account ($5 a month) which lets you upload up to 4 GB a month. And they do have unlimited storage, meaning that it’ll hold 10 or 100 or 1000 boxes of your scanned papers.

Just to give a short review of the Scannable app–I love it. It’s fast and it does a great job of taking the document you’ve snapped, optimizing the focus and resolution, and automatically sending it to Evernote. You can snap one receipt by itself and send it off to Evernote, or if you have a multi-page document you can combine all the pages and send it to Evernote at once. The optimization is impressive: you’ll see a grey-scale image get converted to black-and-white (which saves storage space) and if you’ve taken your picture at an angle it’ll even straighten out the picture for you. And another cool thing about it–once it’s in Evernote, it’ll do OCR so that you can do a text search (it’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing).

My next goal is going to be to start digitizing all my bank and credit card statements. I’ve admittedly been hesitant to sign up for electronic statements because most financial companies will store only up to 24 months. One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that sometimes I do need stuff from years ago, and by that time it’ll have disappeared from their Web site. And most of those financial companies have such horrible interfaces that it’s a pain in the neck to save the PDF month after month. So I’ve opted to receive paper, which is tangible and feels more “real”. I’ll keep it for a while, and then when I’m reasonably sure I won’t need it anymore, that’s when I’ll scan it into the cloud.

Now that Evernote got me hooked on them and the Scannable app, I decided to bite the bullet and get a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner for PC and Mac (PA03656-B005). From reviews, this is THE scanner to get if you have lots of papers to scan. (Note that there is a similar model called the “Evernote” model, in a clever bit of cross-promotion, but you want to get this original model as it has more features and is more flexible).

So between Evernote, Scannable, and the Fujitsu scanner I’m finally going paperless. If you’re interested, click here to sign up and if you can get a free month of Premium yourself (enough to upload probably all the papers you have lying around and then some).

Even cooler, if you’re a charity or 501(c)(3) non-profit, you can get 75% off if you have 5 users or more, according to this post from Evernote. They’ve always offered this discount for schools, but according to their post, they’ll apply the discount to any 501(c)(3).

→ No CommentsTags:

Accurate Digital Bathroom Scale from Weight Gurus on Sale at Groupon

January 24th, 2015 · Children's Charities

So I’ve been in the market for a scale since New Year’s. No, I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution this year. But my wife, who’s generally underweight, needs to gain weight, I of course perennially need to lose weight, and the one scale we have today is rickety, falling apart, and gives wildly inaccurate readings (which on certain days I welcome wholeheartedly).

I did research on the best bathroom scales to buy, and happily, one of the best reviewed ones happens to be from a company that also does good, called Greater Good. Specifically, they have a line of scales called Weight Guru that reviewers on Amazon love.

It happens this week that Groupon has a Weight Gurus scale on sale for the great price of $25.99.

Or if you miss the Groupon sale, Amazon has essentially the same model for $39.99.

The scales are largely the same. They both measure your weight, but break down your body composition into fat, lean mass, water weight, and bone mass. The scales both contain four weight sensors for extremely precise measurement, exact to within 0.1 pound. They uncannily are smart enough to know who (up to 8 people) is standing on the scale. Both have large, easily readable LCDs. And both can sync up to your Android or iPhone by displaying a QR code that you can scan into their free Weight Gurus app.

If the breakdown into fat isn’t that important to you, Amazon also has a more basic model that’s only $24.99.

There are few minor differences between these scales. Amazon’s has a blue backlight for low-light conditions. In addition, Amazon’s has a near little feature where it’ll say the amount of weight you gained or lost since the last time as opposed to the actual weight. And with Amazon, you’ll have a few more color options.

Aside from producing this scale that everyone seems to love, Greater Goods is a supporter of Love146, a charity that works to end child trafficking and exploitation; The Global Orphan Project, which works with local churches to provide care for orphaned and abandoned children in their communities; and Now Adopt, which assists families in covering the high cost of domestic and international adoptions.

→ No CommentsTags:

iTunes Store Apps that help the fight against AIDS and the RED Global Fund

November 26th, 2014 · Uncategorized

For years, Apple has worked with PRODUCT(RED) to support efforts to fight AIDS in Africa–we’ve covered some of these products in the past on this blog.

This year, Apple has extended this to Apps and Games in the iTunes Store. Some of the most popular games and apps have special red icons which means that buying the app or make an in-app purchase from November 24 to December 7, a portion of proceeds will go to the Global Fund to fight AIDS.

The selection of games are excellent, and include old favorites like Angry Birds, Rayman Fiesta Run, Frozen Free Fall, and Cut the Rope 2.


apps for red

There are also a number of excellent apps, including Clear – Tasks, Reminders & To-Do Lists (a great To-Do list app), GarageBand, and Star Walk™ 2 – Guide to the Sky Day and Night (an excellent night sky viewer).


→ No CommentsTags:

Heavily Discounted Designer Clothes that Help Charity, from Fashion Project

November 22nd, 2014 · Uncategorized

Fashion Project is an organization that calls themselves “the leading charitable online consignment retailer”. Now usually when you think of consignment, you probably think of those dirty collection boxes overflowing with old moth-eaten clothes or thrift stores with ugly castaways.

Fashion Project has a different take on things. First of all, they only accept items that are new or in great condition from selected brands. Second, they only take women’s clothes, shoes, bags, and accessories. When you think about it, this is a fantastic idea–unlike other “fill up the bag” charities where charities get pennies on the dollar because the consignment company reimburses by weight, here you’re reasonably sure that your donation will be sold at a fair market value price. In fact, 55% of the proceeds will go to support a charity that you choose among over 100 of the charity partners they list on their site.

And if you’re buying and not donating, you can get a staggering selection of high end designer goods for a fraction of their retail price. And visit on Black Friday or Cyber Monday and you can save even more on top of the normal heavily discounted prices.

Black Friday steals and deals include:

  • Black Boutique (all black products)
  • Tops Under $39
  • Dresses Under $39
  • Bottoms Under $25
  • Shoes Under $49
  • Handbags Under $59
  • Accessories Under $39

Cyber Monday – The more you spend, the more you save:

  • 10% off orders $100+ with code CYBER10
  • 15% off $200+ with code CYBER15
  • 20% $300+ with code CYBER20


→ No CommentsTags:

Great Gift for Music and Animal Lovers from Morrison Hotel Gallery

November 17th, 2014 · Uncategorized

The Morrison Hotel Gallery is the leader in fine art music photography, representing 90 of the world’s top music photographers and their archives. If you visit their Web site at, you’ll find official photo collections featuring an amazing array of iconic photos of the greatest musicians in history.

Here’s a great gift idea for someone in your life who loves music and loves animals. This collection of Artists with Animals Mini-Print Notecards features fine photography of John Lennon, Bridget Bardot, Neil Young, David Bowie, Robert Plant, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Nelly and The Beatles with their pets.

musicians and their pets

The set costs $20, with the photographers who own these photos generously donating all proceeds to benefit Rational Animal, a New York-based non-profit organization that increases awareness and encourages kindness towards at-risk animals. They have a number of innovative projects like their Mother’s Comfort Project, which has provided thousands of homemade sewed beds for homeless animals at New York City shelters.

→ No CommentsTags:

Gift Box made of Cinnamon that contains Cinnamon!

October 27th, 2014 · Developing Areas, World Vision

Here’s a fantastic gift for the cook in your life.

World Vision has this wonderful round wood box that measures about 3 inches by 3.5 inches. It’s a solid wood box carved out of the bark of the Cassia tree. It’s round and comes with a lid (also made of Cassia bark) that you can pop on and off. The lid also has the word “fu” carved into the top, which is the Chinese word for “fortune” or “prosperity”. The side of the box is carved with a figure that resembles a dragon.

cinnamon carved gift box

If you’re not familiar with the Cassia tree, it happens to also be the tree that produces Cassia cinnamon. Not only does this box smell wonderful, it also comes with a cinnamon stick and a pamphlet that explains how buying this gift helps a great cause.

cinnamon box gift

These cinnamon boxes are crafted in a home-based workshop in the town of Tra Bong located in Quang Ngai province of central Vietnam. Quam Ngai is the shared homeland cohabited by the Kihn people and three other fraternal ethnic groups: Hore, Kor, and Kadong, who always stand side by side for the sake of mutual interest and progress. Quang Ngai is south of the DMZ and also was the scene of heavy combat during the Vietnam War. 

Cinnamon has long been an important resource for these communities. Its high oil content and powerful flavor make Vietnamese cinnamon arguably some of the finest cinnamon in the world and an important export commodity. Unique to Vietnam is the traditional craft of using the bark of cinnamon trees to create beautiful and aromatic gifts. 

The fair wages they receive allow them to feed and educate their children, and improve their working conditions; all of which contribute to their hope for lasting peace.

What’s even cooler about this gift is that it comes with actual cinnamon in a bag for you to pour and store in the box.

cinnamon in a cinnamon box


As I mentioned in the last post, I’ll be using my Neilsen-Massey Vanilla and my World Vision Vietnamese Cinnamon in a recipe shortly and will update this post to show you how these two great gifts can work together.

World Vision outdoes itself more and more each year. While they have some gifts that are symbolic, their Web site also allows you to choose actual handcrafted gifts from African soapstone boxes to Kenyan wooden serving spoons to Indian silver cuff bracelets to Vietnamese scarves and much more. When you purchase these, World Vision is helped, but you also help craftspeople are artisans in local communities in developing areas earn a living.

The World Vision gift catalog started in Christmas 1996, making this the 19th annual edition. It raised over $33.7 million in 2013, helping more than 844,000 people around the world. There aren’t many other gift choices that gives three times: once to your recipient, once to World Vision’s vital efforts to help the world’s most needy, and once to help people in those needy areas make an honest and respected living.

→ No CommentsTags:

Nielsen-Massey Vanillas – Top Notch Extracts just in time for the holidays #NMVHolidays

October 22nd, 2014 · Uncategorized

A few years ago, I happened to purchase a bottle of Nielsen-Massey Almond Extract at a Williams Sonoma. I was blown away by the quality. No offense to that other company that makes Almond Extract (you know, the one in the red box), but when I opened that bottle, the scent was amazing.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Neilsen-Massey that highlighted their Vanilla Extract. This family-run company has been in business for over 100 years, and it shows in the different kinds of Vanilla Extracts they sell. There’s Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract, Mexican Pure Vanilla Extract, Tahitian Pure Vanilla Extract, and Pure Vanilla Extract. Even though all are extracts from the vanilla bean, each variation has a slightly different nuance to it.

Their most popular product is the Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract. Contrary to what you might think, the word “Bourbon” in the product name doesn’t mean there’s actual bourbon in it–the name comes from the Bourbon Island of Madagascar where the vanilla beans are cultivated from. This is their best selling product because it’s a great “all purpose” vanilla that has sweet, creamy, and mellow flavor that you can use for cooking and baking.

The vanilla from Mexico, on the other hand, is sweet and creamy with a spicy character that’s good with spicy food, dark chocolate, and sauces, while the Tahitian tends to have a more fruity anise-like flavor that’s best with “cold” dishes and fruits.

I tried the Madagascar Bourbon, and just as with the Almond Extract, when I opened the bottle and smelled it, it was heavenly.

best vanilla extract

Coincidentally, I’ll be reviewing a cinnamon gift box from World Vision in my next post, so once I open that up I’ll be coming back here to post something I’ll be cooking with cinnamon and vanilla, two of the best spices for the holiday season.

One thing I never knew about Nielsen-Massey is that they’ve been family owned and operated for over 100 years. Chatfield Nielsen was a partner with Richard Massey in the early 1900s and today his grandchildren, Craig, Beth and Matt Nielsen, continue to run the company and continue to produce the best product you’ll find anywhere.

Something else that’s wonderful about this family is that along with their mother, Camilla Nielsen, they started The Nielsen-Massey Foundation, a foundation that exists to help disadvantaged youth and adults with education and leadership development. Because the family is especially passionate about the culinary arts, supported charities include:

Anixter Center
Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP)
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate Association
Common Threads
Icing Smiles
French Pastry School

10% of all profits go toward helping these amazing causes.

If you’re like me, you’ll often purchase extract but let it sit in the cabinet for years. This isn’t a bad thing–according to this site, as long as you keep pure vanilla extract tightly sealed in a dark and cool place, it’ll last indefinitely.

Nielsen-Massey also has a bunch of recipes on their site that’ll help you use your vanilla while it’s at its freshest. While there were plenty of recipes for everything from sauces to desserts to drinks, one particular recipe caught my eye, as it wasn’t for food at all. Specifically, there’s this recipe for Vanilla Body Scrub:

Vanilla Body Scrub

  • 1 cup Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Sugar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 or 2 drops of an essential oil such as lavender, eucalyptus, etc.
  • Decorative, waterproof container
  • Mix ingredients together in a bowl.
  • Spoon into a decorative, waterproof container.
  • Wrap in decorative paper.

I actually got a kick out of this, because I’ll sometimes pay top dollar for body scrubs without really understanding what’s in them. Turns out, it’s really just natural ingredients sugar (preferably , olive oil, and essential oil or extracts to give it scent (at least the best ones are).

If you’re looking for a high-end, high-quality gift that also happens to be economical, this can make a great gift.

If you’re looking to buy Neilsen-Massey extracts, you can find their products on Amazon, at Williams-Sonoma, or another store identified at their Web site. Speaking of their Web site, more great information about the product and more recipes can be found there.

→ No CommentsTags:

Wonderbag – Works like a Crock Pot with no Electricity!

October 15th, 2014 · Amazon, Developing Areas

I love my Crock Pot. Granted, I lug it out almost as often as I lug out my ice cream maker or Ronco Rotisserie (meaning almost never other than the first two weeks I owned them when I used them constantly). But whenever I do have a slow cooked meal it’s always heavenly. I can’t go back to cooking beef stew any other way.

The Wonderbag is an ingenious product that’s a slow cooker just like your Crock Pot, except that it doesn’t use any electricity. No plugs, no cords, nothing. You basically bring your dish to a boil on the stove in a pot, place it (pot and all) in the bag, and then just plop it down on a counter or anywhere else. For the next 4-12 hours your food will continue to cook, thanks to the clever way the bag is insulated. Any pot from two to nine quarts will work; cast-iron pots like ones from Le Creuset will work the best.

Unlike with the Crock Pot, you’re not running electricity all day, so it’s friendlier to the environment. And you’ll be amazed that just like with the Crock Pot, your food will come out steaming and ready to eat.

the amazing wonderbag slow cookerThere are a ton of uses for these. If you’re entertaining during the holidays and only have one Crock Pot, why not use this Wonderbag as its “understudy” to cook larger quantities (you can even do a “taste test” between the two). Or, take one camping with you and instead of cooking pork and beans on the fire, upscale it to butternut squash soup (it comes with some great recipes). You can also steam rice in an hour.

While they’re cleverly pivoting the marketing of Wonderbag to sell as a kitchen appliance for us with first-world problems like wanting to save money on our electricity bills or wanting the novelty of cooking without electricity, Wonderbag actually got its start in the third world to solve much more important problems. Specifically, in many areas of Africa and the Middle East, there is no access at all to energy. Charcoal is expensive, so many people have to cut down trees, resulting in deforestation. Both charcoal and wood cause smoke inhalation. And women usually are the ones who are left to forage for wood and cook, meaning that girls who could otherwise be in school can’t be. And worse, often when women and girls have to wander farther and farther away to forage, they are open to attacks.

South African entrepreneur Sarah Collins and poverty activist Moshy Mathe designed Wonderbag to help societies like these. Hundreds of thousands of Wonderbags have been distributed to countries like South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Syria, and Jordan. It’s saved poor families upwards of 30% of their household income, provided for healthier air to breathe, and reduces time cooking which opens up more time to raise kids and get educated. A side benefit is that because the Wonderbag “locks” moisture in, which means less water (another precious commodity) is wasted. Another side benefit is that because food is simmered and not cooked on an open fire, less food gets burned and wasted.

They’re still distributing Wonderbags to the poor, and that’s another reason you should buy one: for every one you buy, one will be donated to a poor household. So what we might see as a relatively inexpensive novelty could be a life-changing gift for someone on the other side of the globe.

The Wonderbag comes in three colors and costs under $55. It’ll make a great gift for the cook in your life who already have everything else. You can get yours here.

→ No CommentsTags:

Agraria Helps Out for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Again

October 9th, 2014 · Breast Cancer

Once again, Agraria is donating 35% of all online sales of their Cedar Rose fragrance of products to breast cancer research, benefiting the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Agraria is a producer of products of exquisite fragrances. Their history dates back to 1970 when they started as a boutique on Nob Hill, introducing two products with unique fragrances (“Bitter Orange” Potpourri and “Balsam” perfume candles.) The Henri Bendel store on New York’s Park Avenue and later Bergdoff Goodman put Agraria potpourri in the entryways of their stores. If you’ve stayed at an InterContinental Hotel and Resort, chances are you’ve had a chance to sample some of their “Lemon Verbena” bath products.

Today, Agraria is found in the top department stores and gift shops in the world. But thanks to e-commerce, you don’t need to go past your bedroom to order it. You can find diffusers, bath bars, soap, shower gel, lotion, candles, cologne, incense sticks, and even “TasselAire” tassels to hang on your door in eight fragrances Balsam, Bitter Orange, Cedar Rose, Golden Cassis, Lavender & Rosemary, Lemon Verbena, Lime & Orange Blossoms, and Mediterranian Jasmine.

I had an opportunity to try out the bath bar. The first thing to know about it is that like all other Agraria products, this one comes packaged beautifully. All their products make impeccable gifts.

cedar rose soap

The second thing to know is that it’s HUGE. It’ll last for weeks and weeks and it feels AMAZING. While some might scoff at the idea of a $20 bar of soap, at 8.2 bounces it will last forever and it contains top quality Olive Oil, Vitamin E, Shea Butter, Yucca Oil, Kukui Oil, and Sea Fennel. This is not your typical Dial soap–you’ll be doing your skin a favor by using this.

great soap

Finally, the smell is amazing. It’s not heavy with artificial-smelling perfume, but a subtle scent that really does put you in the mind of a field of roses.

great soap

While Agraria products make great gifts any time of the year, October is an especially nice time to buy something and know that a good chunk of your price is going to help a critically important cause. Visit Agraria Home for more details or to make a purchase.


→ No CommentsTags:

Devon Still Jerseys to help Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

October 1st, 2014 · Uncategorized

devon still jerseyThe NFL has gotten a lot of flak lately. Seems that every time you read about football in the media, they’re not talking about the game, but about distractions like why a team name is supposedly offensive or how the criminal behavior of certain players supposedly represent the entire league.

Here’s a nice story to come out of the NFL.

On June 2, defensive tackle Devon Still learned his four year old daughter had Stage 4 pediatric cancer and given a 50% chance of survival. Soon after, he was cut from the roster of the Bengals, a devastating blow for any aspiring football player. That’s a lot of trauma for a 25 year-old man to go through. And of course, little 4 year-old Leah had to go through surgery to remove her tumor, her lymph nodes, and her right adrenal gland.

The Bengals decided to put Still’s jerseys on sale for $100 each, with 100% of the proceeds (not just the profits) of the jerseys, up to the first 10,000 going to Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center, meaning that the team would absorb about $500,000 in the cost of the jersey itself. Any sales over 10,000 jerseys and the profits would continue to go to the hospital. They’ll be continuing this sale until Monday, October 20.

On November 6 during Thursday Night Football, the Bengals will present the check, which will likely exceed $1 million, to the hospital.

Want to get in on the action? You can visit the Bengal’s Pro Shop to order your own jersey. While Still will probably never be an NFL star on the order of a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, let’s hope his jersey sells more than any of them for the next few weeks.

→ No CommentsTags: