Charitable Gift Giving

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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Oprah’s Chai Tea from Teavana and Starbucks that Helps Charity

September 2nd, 2014 · Uncategorized

Remember when rocker Bret Michaels created Snapple Troparocka as part of the Celebrity Apprentice reality show?  It was hard to believe that someone who wasn’t a beverage professional could create something so delicious. In fact, I have a bottle sitting next to me right now.




Well, back in April of this year Oprah announced at a Starbucks shareholders’ meeting that she had collaborated with Starbucks and Teavana to create her own chai blend.

Chai tea, for those who don’t know, is actually a but of a redundancy (technically speaking a tautology). The word “chai”is the word for “tea” in many languages in Europe and Asia, derived from the Persian word “chay” which itself was derived from the Chinese word 茶. So when you say “Chai Tea”, you’re actually saying “Tea Tea”.

But “Chai Tea” has become synonymous in the US with a concoction of tea prepared with milk and spices. Just as regular coffee evolved into latte, a mixture of milk and extremely strongly brewed coffee (expresso), chai latte is a mixture of milk, tea, and spices.

Oprah’s Chai combines cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves, blended with loose-leaf black tea and rooibos. But let’s face it, this blend is wildly successful because of one ingredent: Oprah’s name. Just as 90% of coffee connoisseurs out there can’t tell the difference between good expresso and mediocre expresso, the folks who thought of this probably figured the same was true for Chai.

Oprah’s Chai is a decent Chai. It’s a bit too sweet for my wife’s taste and frankly I prefer my latte in coffee form vs. tea form. But overall it’s not bad. And the best thing about it is that a portion of every purchase of leaves from Teavana or drinks from Starbucks goes to benefit educational opportunities for young people through The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation.

This includes:

oprah chai tea set25 cents for each Teavana Oprah Chai prepared beverage at Starbucks

$1 USD per reusable storage tin like this Teavana Oprah Chai Tea Tin 16oz

$1 USD per 2 oz. of Teavana Oprah Chai Loose-Leaf Tea like this Teavana Oprah Chai Tea Loose Leaf Tea

$1 per small gift set like this Oprah Chai Tea Infuse Inspiration Set

$4 USD per large gift set like this Teavana Oprah Chai Tea Infuse Inspiration Set


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Sports Memorabilia for Auction That Helps United Way

August 23rd, 2014 · Uncategorized

Are you a big sports fan or do you know one? How would you like to own or experience some of the following:

  • A round of golf with Lee Westwood, former World Number One and UPS Golf Ambassador.
  • A UPS Racing fire suit worn by NASCAR driver Carl Edwards in the 2013 Kentucky Speedway: Quaker State 400.
  • An autographed football from former Chicago Bears All-Pro Linebacker Brian Urlacher.
  • An autographed basketball  from former Atlanta Hawks Dominique Wilkins; Wilkins is a retired nine-time NBA All-Star and one of the best dunkers in NBA history, earning the nickname The Human Highlight Film.
  • An autographed Udonis Haslem jersey from the 2006-07 season – a title year for the Miami Heat. Haslem played on all three championship teams for the Heat.

UPS is running these auctions on autographed football, basketball, racing and golf collectibles, including NASCAR, Formula 1, NFL, NBA, PGA and college team merchandise to benefit United Way. New auction items will post every week until the end of September. As of this post, there are three days left to big on a real Masters Pin Flag autographed by Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen and my personal favorite, a UPS Racing fire suit worn by driver, Carl Edwards. 

fire suit for auction

There don’t seem to be a lot of bids for these items, meaning that you can probably get something very cool for a very low price–and help a great charity along the way.

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An Easier Way of Donating to ALS Than #icebucketchallenge

August 16th, 2014 · Uncategorized

By now everyone has heard of the “Ice Bucket Challenge”. No doubt multiple people on your Facebook feed have done it, and of course there are celebrities all over from Justin Timberlake to Jimmy Fallon who have jumped on the bandwagon.

The story goes that the whole thing started on July 29, when former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates issued the “Ice Bucket Challenge” to his friends (including celebrities such as Tom Brady and Matt Ryan) to take the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease from which he suffers. Some media outlets have contradicted this, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who started it and when–the most important thing is that so far, $62.5 million and counting have been raised.

The one thing about viral phenomena like this is that they tend to come and go and then be long forgotten (remember #stopkony? Just barely, right?).

While ALS Association is reaping huge benefits, one thing to keep in mind is to remember them even after the hype has faded. One way to do this is to support ALS on eBay so purchases from specially marked products on eBay go to help them. But of course, an even better way is to donate directly to them at

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Nominate your charity to receive $10,000 from Toms of Maine #50statesforgood

August 9th, 2014 · Uncategorized

Toms of Maine is a great company based in, well, Maine that makes toothpaste, deodorants, and other products from all-natural ingredients. I’ve used their products and know first-hand how great they are–they don’t have artificial colors, flavors, fragrances, nor preservatives, and they don’t even use any products derived from animals. And yet their products work just as well or better than anything you’ll find out there.

Admittedly, sometimes when I use them I miss my radioactive-glowing-blue-shade of Aim Toothpaste, but my mouth and body feel so much better knowing I’m using natural products.

Toms is not only great for the planet in their business model, they also do amazing charity work. Right now they have a program called 50 States for Good going on. From now until September 30, you can nominate a charity in your state to receive a $10,000 grant from Tom’s. Just visit their Web site and click “Nominate a Nonprofit” and your favorite grassroots charity can be in the running to receive one of 50 grants, given to one non-profit in each state. So if you’re in a smaller state that doesn’t have a lot of not-for-profit activity, your chances of getting it are even better.

There’s also a cool featured called “Be a Virtual Volunteer” where just by Facebooking or Tweeting you can help a local grassroots organization.

Be sure to support this great effort from a great company.

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Buy a Subway Sandwich to Support Stand Up To Cancer

August 2nd, 2014 · Uncategorized

Feel like buying two $5 footlongs at Subway (okay, sorry for getting that song in your head). From now until September 15, pay with your Mastercard and you’ll not only get lunch out of it, Subway and Mastercard will donate to Stand Up to Cancer to accelerate innovative cancer research to get new therapies to patients quickly.

Since 2008, Stand Up To Cancer has raised more than $261 million, 3 of which (and counting) have been raised by this campaign. But hurry, you only have a few weeks left to help.

stand up to cancer

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