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Gifts that give back

Feel extra good while shopping for the holidays with this roundup of gifts that give back. Like Oprah’s Favorite Things on a much more local (and budget-friendly) scale, these useful gift suggestions are guaranteed to put a smile on your recipient’s face while also doing a little good for the community, too.

Coffee Connection

Community through consumables 

The ol’ fail-safe for gift giving—edibles. No, I’m not talking about the recently legalized variety, although that would make for a more enjoyable office holiday experience, if you ask me. Make your recipient’s day with these gifts that will fill their hearts (and bellies) with joy. 

Changing the world with chocolate: that’s the mantra behind Laughing Gull Chocolates, one of my go-tos for local gifting. Gift recipients are guaranteed to fall in love with Laughing Gull truffles, barks, sauces, spreads, and mission. Laughing Gull uses quality, ethically sourced ingredients, while also investing its time, resources, and power in and with its community. That desire to give back happens to be how I came to know founder and chief chocolatier Lindsay Tarnoff. Laughing Gull Chocolates designs delicious chocolates with specific causes in mind, including the signature “Inspired by Rochester” line, where it collaborates with Rochester small businesses to create local flavors that give back to organizations in Monroe County, including Action for Education Equity. While all the offerings are incredible (I’m looking at you, salted caramel truffles with dark chocolate ganache goodness), I am partial to Laughing Gull’s Orange Chai Bark, featuring rich spiced chai from The Chai Guy that is balanced beautifully with grated orange zest while benefitting Willow Domestic Violence Center.


In my opinion you can’t go wrong with a cup of joe! Not only is Coffee Connection a wholesale and retail coffee business (with locations on South Avenue and in Marketplace Mall) offering freshly roasted, fair trade, and organically grown beans (in addition to other café accouterments), but the nonprofit also provides vital job skills training, sustainable employment, and a supportive sober environment for women in recovery from addiction, trauma, and re-entry post-incarceration. With regular, decaf, and flavored options to choose from (Joyful Almond anyone?), recipients will think of you each time they brew.

Rtr Good Karma

The economic sustainability of a small business hinges upon the health and well being of its community, and thriving communities start with full plates. That’s Good Karma, a delicious Finger Lakes Riesling produced by the community-minded folks at Red Tail Ridge winery, who generously donate ten percent of gross profits from every bottle sold to Rochester’s Foodlink. As of January 2023, more than $49,000 has been raised to aid in the fight against food insecurity—providing more than 128,000 meals. Grab a case of Good Karma, a roll of ribbon (say goodbye to gift bags) and get giving!

Looking for a refreshingly smooth, one-of-a-kind gift? Brews for Builds to benefit Greater Rochester Habitat for Humanity has got your back! The Brews for Builds craft beverage tour passport is just $40, and entitles passholders to “buy one, get one” beers at each of the eighteen participating breweries. One hundred percent of pass proceeds will benefit Greater Rochester Habitat for Humanity and the programs that build homes, communities, and hope by working to eliminate substandard housing in Monroe, Ontario, and Wayne counties.

Corporate gifts for good 

Forget the branded merch—let corporate gift giving be a snore no more. Instead, make it meaningful by purchasing client thank-yous and holiday gifts from local small businesses instead of big-box chains and mail-order. By shopping small you’ll help to stimulate your local economy, as significantly more of that money stays in the community.

Not only do the Marsherall Partners help organizations make a bigger impact on the communities they serve, but founder and president Tricia Marsherall also incorporates this strategy into her everyday business as their commitment to community, holidays included. This looks like: purchasing gifts for clients from local small businesses, including FLX Popcorn, Laughing Gull Chocolates, and Jenn’s Cookie Creations, to name a few that I’ve personally received (and devoured), matching charitable gifts made by employees during the holidays to further support the causes they choose to champion and increase their impact, and by providing company microgrants and volunteerism as part of their “Force for Good” giving program. If this isn’t small business giving back goals, then I don’t know what is!

Dfs Bagtoolbag

Fashion meets philanthropy 

If the leading lady in your life hasn’t already purchased this must-have handbag for herself (ahem, mother!), then your gift to her is in the bag. The limited-edition I AM POWER tote, a collaboration between Dress for Success Rochester and Raquel Denise Handbags, isn’t just about fashion—it contributes to a much greater cause. With every bag purchased, a local woman will receive a Dress for Success Rochester tool bag, filled with one complete outfit and access to additional resources that will provide her the confidence to have a successful job interview. Proceeds from I AM POWER tote bag purchases support the Dress for Success Rochester mission: to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire, and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.

Kids & causes

I usually prefer to give experiences instead of stuff, especially when it comes to kids, who tend to have way too many plastic trinkets and toys. While memberships to nonprofit museums like the Strong National Museum of Play and Rochester Museum & Science Center make great gifts, so does Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and there’s a local Rochester chapter for that! A donation of twenty-five dollars puts a new, age-appropriate book in the hands of a child living within Rochester’s city limits every month for one year—an investment that will last a lifetime. Pair this gift of books to an anonymous child with copies of each title for the little in your life, and you’re making literacy magic happen.

Pets don’t necessarily make the greatest gifts (you know, with that whole keeping them alive component), but that doesn’t mean you have to throw out that concept completely. “Adopt” an owl (or falcon or hawk) through Wild Wings Inc.—a not-for-profit educational organization that cares for permanently injured and nonreleasable animals which are unable to survive on their own in the wild—and you’ll be sponsoring its Adopt-an-Animal program, which provides food, medicine, veterinary treatment, and more for its wildlife residents—no hands-on care required! Adoptions make unique gifts and include a photo card of your animal along with a personalized adoption certificate. Combine this gift with a stuffed animal version of the newly “adopted” pet. Holiday shopping is for the birds (literally)!

‘Tis the season for shopping, but this year make it a twofer and opt for gifts that give back. Cheers to making gift giving a little lighter this holiday season.

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