Holiday Guide: Gifts that give back
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.
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, www.sffoodbank.org 
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, www.sfbike.org 
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). It also has a kickin' gift section if you need a quick one-off. One of my favorite holiday-ready items? Rainbow's line of screenprinted bags from Jaguar Moon ($5.99$15.99), a refugee artists' collective that produces organic sacks from recycled material.
What's crazy about San Francisco is that in this epicenter of art, culture, music, food, and all kinds of urbanity at its finest, given 20 minutes and a functional vehicle, you can find yourself in the heart of America's most gorgeous natural hang-outs. We have Golden Gate National Park Conservancy to thank for the continued awesomeness of places like Tennessee Valley and Muir Woods and thank them you can by doing your holiday shopping at the Warming Hut Park Store and Cafe, the little shop/shack tucked away by the Golden Gate Bridge. The store sells gorgeous posters glorifying the day trips all around us ($9.95$190), as well as bits of SF park history, like the Conservancy's own We Hold The Rock, a book detailing the badass Native American Alcatraz occupation 30-some years back. In other words, perfect gifts for the radical nature lover on your list, and for the Conservancy too.
Presidio Building, 983 Marin Dr., SF. (415) 561-3040, www.store.parksconservancy.org/store 
Helping the developmentally disabled find their voice through art since 1983, Creativity Explored's annual art sale is an amazing opportunity to buy sensational pieces by undiscovered artists. Prices are friendly for those with financial disabilities as well.
3245 16th St, SF. (415) 863-2108, www.creativityexplored.org 
Supporting the right of women to take charge of their lives and finances, La Cocina easily surpasses its neighboring yuppie eateries and corner taquerias for the title of the Mission's coolest kitchen. The space rents to budding food entrepreneurs and hosts delicious classes on subjects from tamale making to the exhilaration of home canning. This year buy your beloved eater one of La Cocina's much lauded gift boxes, which range from $20$100 and feature pear butter and fruit drinks from the new local food businesses that call La Cocina home.
2948 Folsom, SF. (415) 824-2729, www.lacocinasf.org 
C'mon people, we've got to support our local independent pirate store. Whether it's lard, eye patches ($4$5), or posters emblazoned with truisms for surviving life in this scurvy-filled world ($20 for such design gems as "Cannons don't sink ships: Pirates with cannons sink ships"), 826 Valencia has got you covered. Better still, the shopfront's proceeds go directly to the booty within the building's hull: Dave Eggers' writing workshop for San Francisco youngsters that has spawned sister programs the country over. Pirate flags and punctuation pointers? A match destined to take the high seas.
826 Valencia, SF. (415) 642-5905, www.826valencia.org/store 
Know someone who's dragging their feet on the farmers market craze? Support your local small agriculturist and the culinary trend that's turning our city into a locavore fantasyland by getting them a bag of wooden gift coins for fruit and veggie buying, tucked into a reusuable produce bag and available at the Ferry Plaza market on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, or at the CUESA office inside the Ferry Building.
1 Ferry Building, SF. (415) 291-3276 x103, www.cuesa.org 
OK fine, sometimes it's OK to go to the mall. But I'm lifting my moratorium on the sole condition that you use it on Under One Roof's holiday store at Westfield Centre. The shop, which is mainly staffed by volunteers and has a year-round location at 518A Castro, has been benefiting San Francisco's HIV/AIDS community since 1990 with its sales. Brave the melee at Westfield for the shop's killer selection of Christmas tree ornaments (starting at $8.95), SF/Castro-themed clothes, and a heap of toys for the shorter set.
Westfield San Francisco Centre, 865 Market, SF. (415) 978-9877, www.underoneroof.org