HOLIDAY GUIDE 2011: Sure they're perfect for your pals -- but these presents also give back to the community
HOLIDAY GUIDE 2011 It's the gift-giving season, and each foil-wrapped bauble tells a tale. There's the love-you-this-much of a parent's infamous peach cobbler pie, the damn-I-just-took-your-breath-away of a winter getaway to the Bahamas. There is the who-are-you-again? of Aunt Shirley's yearly package of black dress socks. But then there are the let's-change-the-world gifts, the ones that are not just about the recipient but that nonetheless land in the giftee's hands with a heft that speaks of their worth to the community. Toasty as a chestnut roasting on an open fire, no? Giving that warmth can be as simple as copping a T-shirt, book, or card from one of the do-gooder nonprofits and shops listed below. And remember, even if you're not the thin sock-loafer type, you can always improve your own karma by snail-mailing a heartfelt thank you note to Shirley.
Everyone seems to make the same tired New Year's resolution: lose weight, live healthier, blah blah blah. At the Niroga Center, however, you can spring for a yoga package for that uncreative loved one that will not just help brighten their inner light, but will go to stoke the spark of others who are struggling to make ends meet. The center offers affordable, high-quality yoga instruction, and puts particular focus on at-risk and underserved individuals, teaching yoga to incarcerated youth, high school children, and cancer survivors. For the holidays, you can donate any amount of money to the center, which will fund their donation-based classes and classes that teach yoga to the underprivileged. You can also purchase yoga classes to start someone's year anew for as low as $10.
1808 University, Berk. (510) 704-1330, www.nirogacenter.org 
With a salesfloor awash in papel picado and other crafts from Chiapas, Casa Bonampak believes in preserving Mexican traditions, and that reconnecting with culture can transform and heal. All in all, it's a feel-good (and community-building) place to do your holiday shopping. The shop's all-woman staff works directly with Mexican and Latin American artists to sell unique jewelry, luchador masks, and handmade cards, with most items ranging from $4 to $13. The store has also been dedicated to promoting local Latin artists in the Bay Area for 15 years. With so many gorgeous handicrafts crammed into the Valencia Street storefront, Casa Bonampark is a great place to support culture on either sides of the border.
1051 Valencia, SF. (415) 642-4079, www.casabonampak.com 
The Guardsmen, a group of Bay Area men who work together to help at-risk children and organize educational and outdoor activities for inner-city youth have organized this forest of fir every year since 1947. Now as way back then, the proceeds from the lot support the organization's doing-good year-round. Post-Thanksgiving, a corner of Fort Mason is transformed into a winter wonderland with trees as tall as 15 feet decorated with ornaments and wreaths. The all-volunteer guardsmen staff can assist you in picking the perfect holiday tree with which to surprise your apartmentmates — you can even arrange to have one delivered to your home. Coupled with events like crab feeds, wine tastings, and opportunities to take photos with Santa, picking up some beautiful boughs for the family never felt so good.
Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, 38 Fort Mason, SF. www.guardsmentreelot.com 
Do you have a friend who has been dying for a "Brown and Proud" T-shirt ($24)? Perhaps they're jonesing for an organic tote with a picture of Assata Shakur ($16)? Liberation Ink, an all-volunteer, worker-owned apparel printing and design collective, believes in a sustainable movement for social justice that is funded from within. It prints revolutionary faces and sayings on shirts made organically and/or without the use of sweatshop labor. All profits go directly to support grassroots social justice organizations like the May 1st Alliance for Land, Work and Power, and the Deporten a la Migra Coalition. The brand's comfy, stylin' T-shirts will have your lucky giftee looking fly and spreading the word of social equality in one fell swoop.
A nonprofit secondhand store, Community Thrift relies entirely upon donations of clothes, knick-knacks, kitchen supplies, and furniture to keep its doors open. And they stay open, too: the Mission District shop is open to browsing and donations from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Shopping here — and if your boyfriend's been searching for that perfect yet affordable leather bomber jacket or snazzy armchair, this should be your first stop — supports local non-profits like the San Francisco LGBT Center and the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center, just two of almost 200 organizations that benefit from Community Thrift's largess.
623 Valencia, SF. (415) 861-4910, www.communitythriftsf.org 
Has the kid you nanny been yapping about adopting a Magellanic penguin? Maybe your friend has always admired Chilean flamingos? You can sponsor their love of the wild by donating $50 in their name to the Adopt-an-Animal program at the San Francisco Zoo. The donation will help to provide veterinary care for the furred and feathered, not to mention support educational programs for tomorrow's wildlife champions. Once you've dropped the dough your loved one will receive a certificate of adoption — very official! — as well as a fact sheet and photo of the critter they're sponsoring. Feeling flush? Your other option is the zoo's Guardian program, which for a minimum annual contribution of $1000 will help provide further support to the zoo. It supports high-quality animal care, and all kinds of incidentals that keep the family destination open to the public. Give the gift of Guardianship and your buddy will receive free admission, carousel rides, and free parking near their furry for an entire year.
San Francisco Zoo, 1 Zoo Road, SF. (415) 753-7080, www.sfzoo.org 
Sure, the money from your holiday purchase here will go to a good cause — but it's also the perfect place to browse and spend your lunch hour while you shop down your holiday list. The Bookmark is a non-profit that's run by the Friends of the Oakland Public Library. It houses everything from science fiction to cooking to non-fiction, an inexpensive place where you don't have to scour shelves to find those hard-to-find, out-of-print books your favorite bibliophile will flip to receive. Plus, all proceeds from your sale will keep libraries in Oakland with their pages open to the public.
721 Washington, Oakl. (510) 444-0473, www.thebookmarkstore.org