12 Meaningful Ways to Support Generous Businesses This Holiday Season

Fundraising. Ugh. It seems like a four-letter word to me – even though it has way more letters than that! Asking people for donations is pretty high on the list of things I LEAST like to do.

But the reality is that very few important get done without fundraising. That’s why, despite my distaste for it, I find myself doing it more than I want. If that has annoyed you, I’m sorry . . . But not really. ūüôā

Most recently, I collected donations for a charitable auction to support the Activity Club at my kids’ high school. The Activity Club sponsors many meaningful programs, such as providing food and toiletries for high schoolers in need, connecting high school and elementary students through a mentoring program, providing scholarship opportunities for seniors, and coordinating an after-prom party and a Baccalaureate celebration in the spring.

Soliciting donations is never a fun pastime, but soliciting donations from businesses DURING A PANDEMIC is especially difficult. Many small businesses have struggled to stay afloat since Covid drastically altered shoppers’ budgets and routines. I expected that donations would be hard to get – and for good reason. But I was wrong! The generosity of the companies listed below was mind boggling, and most of them are small businesses. I can’t overstate my appreciation for their generosity, as well as my gratitude for the individuals who contributed, as well.

I don’t know about you, but I feel better about spending my money (and I probably spend a little extra) when I know the business profiting from my purchases has a spirit of generosity and a love of community. As you are Christmas shopping this season, please consider the ideas below and support these business owners, who have been generous even during a time of economic struggle. In addition, I hope these ideas motivate you to investigate more local businesses needing support in your own community!

ONLINE OR IN-STORE SHOPPING

1. Birch Bear Co.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you already know I’m a superfan of this company that started as a little t-shirt shop on Etsy and has now expanded to print t-shirts, sweatshirts, blankets, and more. I wear Birch Bear shirts often and have gifted them to my mom, my SIL, and my friends. The owner, Kayla, has become a friend, even though we have never met and we live a state apart. Most importantly, Kayla’s creations are THE BOMB. (I know that my slang is outdated, but if you were a teen in the 90’s, you still appreciate it. Don’t lie. ) Long story short: shop at Birch Bear Co. You won’t regret it. Customer service is top notch, and Birch Bear will even help you design what you need this holiday season.

Here are a few of the faves that I wear or have gifted, including the Still Chasing Fireflies design <3:

2. Just a Jar Design Press

You guys, Just a Jar Design Press is a quiet little shop in my hometown of Marietta, Ohio, and let me just say two things about this business. First, the owners Sara and Bobby Rosenstock are personable and kind. Second, this business has been flying under the radar for too many people for too long! Just a Jar Design Press produces woodcut and letter press posters, t-shirts, and greeting cards. Their prints are absolutely beautiful, and you can buy their greeting cards individually or in bulk. If you are buying mass-printed cards at the store, trust me – you need to STOP. ūüôā These cards are hand-pressed, and the artwork is beautiful. The cards themselves are a gift! This Marietta, Ohio shop is a gem, and, fortunately for all of us, Just a Jar’s talent is available online. I know from experience that their customer service is excellent and quick, as well. Check out these pictures from the Just a Jar Design Press website showing how one of my favorite cards is produced:

3. Patterson’s Farm

Patterson’s Farm is a successful small business owned by the ultimate “girl boss,” soap-artisan, and goat mama – Kathy Patterson. I will let Kathy speak for herself with this description from her website: “I milk my dairy goats every morning, and use that raw, fresh goats milk to make luxurious skin care products. The addition of goats milk to soap creates a bar that is truly a treat for your skin. Then, the art begins. Roses, swirls, hand piping, pour techniques, clays, micas, embedding, scent blending…this isn‚Äôt grandma‚Äôs soap!”  Patterson’s Farm is in Marietta, Ohio, but the products are available for online orders. In full disclosure, I put my Christmas order in on Saturday, and it was hard to stop putting things into my cart. Kathy is a Star Seller on Etsy with over a thousand five-star reviews and quick customer service. I can’t recommend one product because I have tried many and enjoyed them all! Her products make wonderful gifts, from a stocking stuffer to a beautifully packaged box of products!

4. Wit & Whimsy

Wit & Whimsy is another Marietta, Ohio, business with an online shop, AND it is one of my favorite shops on Front Street near the river. Wit & Whimsy sells “unique gifts and uncommon goods for your personal lifestyle.” Owner Laura Pytlik has such a kind and generous spirit; when I spoke to her, she was quick to talk about the artisans she works with rather than focusing on her own creations (like a skeleton-key necklace my mom bought me for Christmas) or her own lovely shop! Wit & Whimsy is the ultimate one-stop gift shop – clothing, jewelry, keychains, artwork, and so much more. Products are made in the United States, with many made by artists in Ohio and West Virginia (including Kathy Patterson above). You MUST check out what she is offering online, but please stop by the shop to see even more products when you have a chance to visit! Here are some of my favorites from the Wit & Whimsy website and blog:

5. Dad’s Primitive Workbench

Dad’s Primitive Workbench is another of my favorite shops in downtown Marietta. When I visited Dad’s Primitive Workbench recently, I was delighted to discover that it is owned by one of my former students, Charlie Clay! (I will share that fun story with you later!) Charlie’s business has expanded to include online shopping, with many pieces of boutique clothing available in his online store. Please check it out, but I truly hope you get to visit his store. Charlie’s brick-and-mortar location is packed with products – from clothing to jewelry to stickers to rustic decor to seasonal decorations to candles – all displayed just beautifully. I shared this store with some friends in August, and we left with a bag filled with boutique jeans, a bracelet, a fall wall hanging, and a pumpkin and floral accent. There is a lot of variety in this eclectic small business! I think this picture from the website illustrates just how cozy Dad’s Primitive Workbench is. Marietta peeps, GO TO THIS STORE before Christmas!

Photo from Dad’s Primitive Workbench website

UNIQUE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING IDEAS

6. Home Improvement Gift Card

If you live in northern Columbus, check out Holmes Lumber (a division of Carter Lumber) in Sunbury, but if you live somewhere else, consider buying a gift card from a home improvement store near you. During Covid quarantine, most of us grew tired of the painted walls we were staring at, but prices for home improvement have increased, and many people have been forced to tighten their budgets. A home improvement gift card may not seem like an exciting gift to give, but I’m betting that most of the adults in your life wouldn’t mind an excuse to make a trip to a home improvement store near you! Just make sure that the business you choose carries the types of products you think the recipient may want or need.

7. A Yard Card Greeting

Let’s be honest: Some people on your Christmas shopping list aren’t easy to buy for. Maybe they are grandparents who don’t want or need any more “stuff.” Or maybe they are kids who already seem to have ALL the things advertised on television. Why not think outside the box for loved ones who might appreciate something different? One unexpected option that will definitely bring a smile to their faces is a yard card, sometimes called a yard greeting! If you live in the northern Columbus, Ohio area, I recommend renting your greeting from Cardinal Yard Cards, a small business run by some student entrepreneurs. If you live elsewhere, know that yard sign businesses became especially popular during quarantine, so there is likely a yard sign business near you! We have both bought and received yard cards, and they have created special memories and neighborhood chatter, so consider sending a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year” greeting. As Cardinal Yard Cards shares on their website, “We believe when you really want to say it, the best way is to display it!”

Photo from Cardinal Yard Cards website

8. A Cooking Lesson or A New Kitchen Gadget

Since my son is a senior in high school and I am a hot mess thinking about it, I’ve been intentional in planning an activity for us to enjoy together each month until his graduation. The time we have spent together each month has been priceless. I highly recommend considering gifts that are investments in your relationships rather than gifts that are investments in the things that will eventually decompose in a garbage dump. (Sorry, but I’m a realist!) For example, create a gift basket of ingredients, recipes, and kitchen gadgets, and plan a time to cook the meal together. Or sign up for a local cooking class to learn something new AND spend time with one another. In Marietta, I highly recommend visiting The Cook’s Shop.

A note about The Cook’s Shop . . . When I was soliciting donations, I expected small businesses to decline, especially during this period of financial recovery, but I was disheartened by businesses that wouldn’t respond to messages at all. The shining exception was Dagmar Kupsche from The Cook’s Shop, who sent a kind reply expressing regret that she could not help, while also mentioning that Covid had negatively impacted the business. I was impressed by her. If you live in Marietta, check out The Cook’s Shop’s unique kitchen items and please support them this Christmas!**

9. A Life Coaching Session

Adjusting to life during a pandemic has been difficult. The personal losses and increased isolation motivated many of us to evaluate the pace and the priorities of our lives. If you know someone who is interested in self-improvement, who wants to hit the “reset” button after the past 18 months, or who generally wants to live with more intention, a session with a life coach may be a perfect option. Why not contact a life coach in your area and pay for a session for your loved one as a gift? In northern Columbus, I recommend Lesley Cross at Bridges Counseling of Ohio. While Lesley is a licensed counselor, she is also a certified life coach who can offer coaching services to help someone reach a personal or professional goal. If you can help someone reach their full potential, there is truly no better gift than that!

10. Tickets to a Local Attraction

I’m not a gambler, but I’m willing to bet that your local community hosts interesting events that you haven’t even explored yet. We humans tend to overlook the engaging opportunities that are right under our noses while we wistfully fantasize about the excitement of someplace else. Do some research and discover what is available right around the corner. For example, does someone on your list love history? Consider buying them tickets to tour a local historical home or a museum. Many towns have quirky tours and landmarks to visit if you really explore. In my hometown of Marietta, Ohio, Ghost Tours are available through Hidden Marietta. That sounds like a fun evening to me! The Washington County Historical Society is also a generous source of local history in southeastern Ohio, but you can check out your own local historical society and your local visitor’s bureau to find more ideas tailored to wherever you live.

Photo from Hidden Marietta website

11. A Gift Card OR a Meal Delivered from a Local Restaurant

Some of the best local eats are found in small, family-owned establishments. Before you buy a gift card to a chain restaurant that catches your eye in the grocery checkout line, consider stopping by a local small business and buying a gift card there instead. Even better, tell a mom or dad you love not to cook dinner one night during the busy holiday season and have dinner delivered to them, or pick it up and deliver it yourself. You are not only giving the gift of delicious food, but also the precious gift of TIME. In Marietta, Ohio, I recommend a gift card to Austyn’s, a long-time favorite that serves mouth-watering meals and is owned by a high school friend of mine. If you live in central Ohio, The Whitney House is always a special treat and is also owned by local friends. Last year, the boys and I started a new tradition of ordering from The Whitney House two nights before Christmas, and we are already looking forward to doing it again. Both Austyn’s and The Whitney House are beloved and generous within their local communities, and when you support one of them, you are supporting a local family and their local employees!

12. An Invitation to Get Coffee at a Local Coffee Shop

Instead of buying a gift card to the most famous coffee shop on the planet, buy a gift card to the local coffee shop down the street. Tuck it into a mug or an insulated cup with a note that says, “Let’s meet for coffee!” And THEN get a date on the calendar as soon as the gift is opened. Now you have gifted a friend some time away from home, free coffee or tea, and an opportunity to become even closer friends. Voila! It’s so simple! If you live in Marietta, Ohio, you can swing through the drive-thru at Stoked and then drink your coffee by the river or in your breakfast nook with a friend. Alternatively, the two of you could shop downtown and then enjoy the ambiance created by the old brick walls at Jeremiah’s Coffee Shop on Front Street. Both are local businesses that are managed with a spirit of generosity!

Christmas shopping is not only a way to show your love to friends and family, but also an opportunity to support small businesses all over the country, invest in family-owned businesses at the heart of your local community, and reward businesses big and small that are generous in giving back. Hopefully these ideas will spark your own creativity and inspire you to explore new ways to shop this Christmas season!

Happy holidays!

~Mary Ann

Friday Favorites: What We Loved This Christmas

image1You did it!¬† You survived the holiday madness once again!¬† I truly hope that your Christmas was everything that you wanted or needed it to be.¬† If this year was wonderful for you, I am so happy for you.¬† I celebrate your happiness with you!¬† If this year was one for the history books, please trust that next Christmas may look completely different, that it may be much¬†better even if your life has changed,¬†even if you can’t begin to imagine what “better” might look like yet.¬†¬†Keep on keeping on, and soon you will¬†be¬†an encouragement to someone else who is right where you are now, and what an incredible¬†gift you will be!

Speaking of gifts, every year I tell my kids that Santa will be cutting back at our house, and every year Santa fails to follow through with this plan.¬† This year was no exception.¬† When I pointed out to my children that baby Jesus himself received only three gifts, my¬†quick-witted oldest son responded, “Yes, Mom, but one of those was GOLD!!!”¬† (Seriously, though, my kids aren’t the problem.¬† The problem is ME!)

I think we can all agree that Christmas has become far too entangled in¬†American commercialism and materialism, but, even so, it’s fair to say that the gifts that we give one another, at Christmas or at any time,¬†do matter.¬† Yes, we spend too much money and, yes,¬†we spoil our kids with too many presents, but the perfect gift, even if it is very inexpensive, is a powerful way to say I know you and I love you.¬† And these words are coming from someone whose LEAST¬†appreciated¬†love language is gift giving.

When you give a particularly meaningful gift, it’s not about the gift at all.¬† It’s about the thought, the time, the generosity of spirit.

There is no way that I could highlight every gift my kids and I got or bought this Christmas, but please know that we thought carefully about each gift that we purchased and truly enjoyed each present we received!  My hope is that by sharing some new ideas with you, maybe this will give you some gifting inspiration for the coming year.  Or for Christmas next year.

Seriously.¬† It’s only 361 days away!

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Yes, one of my favorite gifts in 2017 was a thermometer . . . Oh, wow.¬† I’m feeling super old in this moment . . .¬† I actually received this gift at a favorite things gift exchange hosted by my friend Jennifer, and then I loved it so much that I bought one for my brother and his wife, so I both got it and bought it!¬† To sum it up, you load the Kinsa app onto your smart phone and then the thermometer¬†pictured above plugs¬†right into your phone.¬† Here’s what I love: Each person in the family can have a profile on Kinsa where you can record their temperature readings as well as their symptoms.¬† This way, when the doctor asks questions like, “How long has your child been having these symptoms?” you don’t have to bumble around, looking confused and wondering if you just failed parenting because you can’t remember.¬† You can buy this on Amazon for around $14.

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This might be my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE gift that I bought this year!¬† What do you buy for¬†a three-year-old who doesn’t need any toys because he already has all of the ones you bought his older brother for Christmas for the past¬†nine years?¬† You make him a customized memory game on Shutterfly!¬† You choose which pictures to load, and you can create a theme if you want.¬†¬†In our case, I used photos from our¬†family vacation to Florida last summer.¬† We had fun playing the game AND enjoying the memories at the same time.¬†¬†Note: The cards are bigger than the¬†other¬†memory games you may have at home.¬† I also ordered two sets to expand the game.¬† Shutterfly offers¬†LOTS of discounts and promos, so watch for those before ordering.¬†

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If your name is Renee and you are my sister-in-law, you need to stop reading right now because your kids have not received this gift yet!¬† This is another fun, unique gift that I am so excited to share with my niece and my nephew.¬† You can find these mermaid tail blankets by visiting Blankie Tails, and they come in a variety of sizes¬†and colors.¬† (Photo from the Blankie Tails website)¬† They also have different styles, such as a shark and a rocket ship, to appeal to different kids.¬† I ordered directly from Blankie Tails because they carry toddler sizes. (Seriously, a toddler mermaid.¬† It’s too much.)¬† However, you can also find some of their styles on Amazon, and I REALLY love that you can buy them and add the child’s name (if you don’t need toddler sizes – BOO!) at the¬†Personal Creations website.

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Alex and Ani bracelets are trendy and fun, but there are¬†three reasons¬†why I like them more than any other bracelets I own.¬† First, they are extremely light weight and thin, which means that I can forget that I am wearing them, even when I am working.¬† Second, they are adjustable, which is very helpful for those of us who have tiny wrists and those of us who don’t.¬† Finally, each bracelet has a special meaning, so you can gift a loved one in a meaningful way.¬† My parents gave me this bracelet to add to a few others I already have, and it is lovely!¬† You can buy these at some jewelry stores, department stores, and boutiques or at Alex and Ani online.¬† Here is a pro shopper tip: If you live near a Nordstrom Rack, they often carry some of these bracelets at nearly half the usual cost, making them a much more affordable gift!

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My parents don’t really need or want any more things around the house.¬† There isn’t room for a lot of extras in their small home, and they have everything arranged just the way they like it.¬† This year, my brother and I bought them these kits to trace their ancestry.¬† The results will be¬†fascinating for our entire family!¬† We bought these on Amazon when they were on sale, so look for discounts.¬† This is a great idea for people who don’t really want any more things, and I expect the results to spark many interesting conversations!

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My boys became somewhat obsessed with the game of croquet last summer, so much so that my brother and sister-in-law bought them this desktop croquet set, kind of as a joke.  It turns out that this little set with each ball about the size of a dime provided hours of holiday fun.  Who would have thought?  You will need a tablecloth to create some friction, but this game is a win!  You can buy it at World Market.

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You know how some people are naturally really good at finding JUST the right gifts?¬† Yeah.¬† Those people are my brother and my sister-in-law.¬† They bought me this print from RunawayPrints on Etsy and then framed it from IKEA.¬† This gift is so personal and so encouraging!¬† It doesn’t get better than that!¬† I love it.

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And . . . they also got me this super soft t-shirt from one of my favorite Etsy shops, Birch Bear Co., which you may remember me blogging about here.  I bought my sister-in-law a Christmas gift from this shop, as well.  There are so many cute options, and the business owner is incredibly kind.  I highly recommend Birch Bear!

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This year, the boys and I spent a little more time visiting with extended family, which was so nice.  We had more time to sit and talk, and we were able to make a couple of extra stops.  When I visited my aunt and uncle, not only was the company enjoyable, but they also let me raid the pantry!  Oh, my goodness, you guys . . . that is homemade apple pie filling.  HOMEMADE APPLE PIE FILLING!!!  And it was lovingly prepared by two people who are very special to me.  Best.  Gifts.  Ever.  Give the gift of your own skills and talents!

All of these are risk-free, no-fail gifts!¬† We love ornaments at our house because each one represents a special interest, event, or person, so an ornament that has some personal significance is the perfect gift any time of the year.¬† Don’t forget to look for them when you are on vacation, or consider making them yourself, as my friends Kelli and Jamison did for me!¬† Retro gifts are becoming more and more appealing to me and friends in my age group (you know, around 29), maybe because they¬†transport¬†us to a time when¬†our greatest worries were how far the telephone cord would stretch¬†and when a¬†favorite song would play on the radio¬†so that we could¬†add it to a mix tape.¬† Anything that looks like the 80s, if you lived in the 80s, is fun.¬† Board games are favorites at our house because, really, they are the gift of time with one another; my awesome kiddos bought me Trivial Pursuit this year . . . maybe just a little harder than they thought!¬† And, of course, CHOCOLATE never fails to please, especially if you know your mom L-O-V-E-S dark chocolate with raspberry filling but thinks it costs too much . . . YUM.

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This last one is a gift that I bought for a dog-loving friend, and I also bought one for myself.  (Yes, that happens . . . )  My mother-in-law had given me a similar dish towel several years ago, and the statement makes me happy.  This is a very inexpensive gift that I found at Home Goods, which is a great place to find steals and deals that can still be meaningful gifts, any time of the year!

I hope that this post gives you some great gifting ideas for the coming year!  Thank you to everyone who so generously gave to my family this Christmas; we appreciated everything, especially all of the love!  Goodbye 2017!

~Mary Ann