Presents of mind

Holiday Guide: Gifts that give back
Illustration by Leah Lin

Gang, put away those Halloween costumes 'cause it's that time of year again: gift list time. And oh lordy, do we Americans love us some holiday season! It's gotten to the point that the annual orgy of consumerism, though somewhat abated this year (the National Retail Federation says projected per-person spending will fall to a piddling $682.74), has become an important crutch for our gimpy economy. Basically your ducats make a difference. With that in mind, the question becomes: what kind of difference are they making? May I hereby propose that this year we work through our list of the naughty and nice not at the big box corporate megaliths but with the groups that work to make our community more socially just, culturally rich, and environmentally friendly? Here's some ideas for gifts that give back.


One of the most life-changing gifts you could give this year would be that of a furry new life partner. No, I'm not suggesting a gift certificate for Lone Star Saloon, I'm talkin' 'bout shelter cats. But if your loved one's not quite prepared for litter boxes and wet food, perhaps she's ready for wine glasses and corkscrews. Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue teams up this year with urban winery Crushpad to offer choice pours like Meow Merlot and Calico Cabernet (bottles from $22-$28), meaning the commitment-shy animal lover can support kitty cats without actually owning one. Bonus: they can get sauced at the same time.

(415) 297-4301,,


With more families' finances dancing the recession stutter-step, the Food Bank has had to step up its game and provide even more for less. Help them help the 150,000 San Franciscans at risk of going hungry this holiday season by buying your favorite foodie into the SF Food Bank Chef-for-a-Day program. For just $150 ($65 of which goes straight to the Bank), food-minded philanthropists get the chance to help and hang out with chef Bob Helstrom during the lunch shift at Kuleto's Italian Kitchen. The day includes a souvenir cookbook and a special lunch for two prepared by Helstrom himself.

900 Pennsylvania, SF. (415) 282-1900,


The hundreds of tourists who blaze their bike saddles over the Golden Gate Bridge everyday probably don't know the debt they owe to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. These activists are the folks behind winning two-wheel access to the bridge and carfree days in Golden Gate Park, not to mention the 201 miles of bike lanes in our city. The coalition also provides free urban cycling classes and hooks up underserved communities with bike safety gear. Totally rad, right? Want an equally rad gift idea? Buy your biker buddy a Coalition membership ($35-$100), which gets them discounts at a ton of bike shops in town, free bike trailer rentals, and 10 percent off at Rainbow Grocery when they ride there — all while supporting SF cyclist's favorite organization.

995 Market, Suite 1550, SF. (415) 431-2453,


Started as an ashram in 1975, Rainbow Grocery isn't a nonprofit in the strict sense — but the lack of 501(c)(3) designation belies the fact that Rainbow makes San Francisco a better place. The workers' cooperative hawks the wares of small local farmers and sells naught but the healthiest, most socially equitable edibles. To support Rainbow's efforts, I highly suggest do-it-youselfing a food basket from here for your friend on the healthy living tip (or your friend who's gotta get on the healthy living tip).

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