Homes for the holidays

What does home mean to you? Is it simply the roof over your head? Your life’s savings or investment? Where you raised your children and where your family gathers for the holidays?

Having a place to call home is the pillar of the American Dream and the center of our childhood memories. As the weather turns cold and plans center around festive gatherings, our homes become more precious than ever. And we think of those who are have no place to call home during our iciest and most challenging time of year.

Despite growing up in a fairly affluent county in Northern California, my family is no stranger to homelessness. When there’s expensive rent, five mouths to feed, credit card bills, and trying to keep up with the Jones’ (or Kardashian’s for a younger reader) – everything can get turned upside down quickly when the primary breadwinner loses his job. For a short time while I was in high school, my sisters and I stayed with friends so our parents could get back on their feet when we lost our home.

With “president” and “vice-president” of software companies to his professional credit, time and time again my father was denied positions for being over-qualified. He stayed in a shelter for months so that the money he earned working a retail job could contribute to a small apartment for my sisters, mother and me. Every weekend, we would open the door to groceries left on our stoop, a symbol of the indignity he felt as well as his desperate attempt to care for us in one of the only ways he could.

We were fortunate enough to have family and friends to lean on, beds to sleep in, food in our bellies, and to remain in school. But my story isn’t uncommon nor is it the worst case scenario. With the state of the economy, fewer job openings and more layoffs, families across the country are at risk of losing everything.

Between five and six hundred thousand people are considered homeless at any given timewithout a “permanent, safe, affordable place to live.” Families constitute about one third of all homeless and are the fastest-growing group. The homeless elderly are also an important group as America ages in the next decades.Preventing Homelessness in America

What difference can one person make?

If you’re wondering how you can give back during this season, consider the following organizations and gift options that are close to my heart. You can make life better for individuals and families in need.

  • Homeward Bound of Marin: The Mill Street Center is the county’s only emergency shelter for homeless men and women. Half of the center’s beds are for night-to-night stays, while the other half are for those who are determined to end homelessness in their lives and are working on a personal action plan to accomplish it. >>Give Now
  • Raphael House: As the first shelter for children and families experiencing homelessness in Northern California, they provide an environment of loving support where families can find stable housing and achieve financial independence, while strengthening family bonds and personal dignity. >>Give Now
  • JustGive’s Homes & Jobs Charity Collection: Provide jobs, training, shelter, and homes through four organizations that reverse homelessness and joblessness. >>Buy Collection
  • Search for other organizations helping to end homelessness in your community, nationally and worldwide. Make your gift recurring, something you can be proud of all year long. >>Search Guide

This holiday, as you cozy up to the fire, light the menorah, hang twinkle lights on your roof, and sit down to your dinner table with loved ones… pause and think about ways to share your warmth and light with others. And give what you can to help the homeless find an affordable, safe and secure place to call home.

Do you support a charity that does a great job of helping the homeless? Like us on Facebook and let others know.   

– Michelle Koffler, Marketing Coordinator

Last minute holiday gifts? No problem…

It’s the last few days before the Christmas holiday and I’m in countdown mode. Given the traffic, craziness in grocery store and mall parking lots, I know I’m not alone. How does the holiday always seem to sneak up on us?

What I really want this Christmas is to make time stop and enjoy the season more. Pausing to take in all the wonder and joy. Having time to wander around and see lights. Talking with friends I haven’t caught up with in a while. Singing at a local convalescent center. And finding time to bake and fill the house with cinnamon and chocolate aromas.

Charity’s my choice

When it comes to gifts, I think less really can be more in some cases—For me, less shopping and less time in retail shops frees up time to do more of the things that make the season special.

It’s not a magic formula, but I’ll let you in on how I make that happen, even at the last minute: Charity gifts. Gifts I don’t have to leave home to buy, and that make me and the person I give them to feel good. Gifts that do so much more than anything I pick up in a store. Giving happiness and help while banishing holiday frenzy!


To thank a client of mine, I’m sending a GiveNow charity gift card. She can use it to donate to any charity she wants (JustGive has 1.8 million of them in the database). I like the online poinsettia thank you card, and sending it via email makes it easy for me to get this gift to her before the holiday.

  • A charity Gift Collection is perfect to honor my future mother-in-law’s love of animals. And giving to four charities in the “gift basket” that protect and prevent cruelty to animals helps me spread the giving around to nonprofits whose work I know she appreciates.
  • For a good friend who’s passionate about helping stop the spread of Aids, I’ll make a donation in her name to the Palo Alto Face Aids charity, which is engaging youth from around the world to help fight HIV/Aids.


    With only days to go before Christmas, I can take a few minutes tonight and get these gifts without driving anywhere. Wrapping up my giving before I start baking….

    Do you still have gift to buy? Follow my lead and choose charity. These gifts are truly in the spirit of the season and will generate smiles, joy and hope. Taking away stress and frantic last minute shopping—with gifts that matter more and leave you more time to enjoy special once-a-year activities and time with family and dear friends.  Making sure you have a very Merry one.

    Pass it on!


    Creating New Traditions

    Celebrating my daughter’s first Christmas makes this holiday extra special for me. I’m reminded of memories from childhood, and traditions shared with my family. We baked cookies with Grandma and decorated the tree with sparkling lights. We watched movies like Rudolph and A Christmas Story in our pajamas until the fire in the fireplace burned out.

    Family traditions create the magic of Christmas. With this in mind, I’m creating my own magic and starting a new tradition that my daughter will remember for years to come–a tradition of giving. While there are many ways for me to show her this, here are a few ideas I wanted to share with you!

    Redefine Christmas

    Redefine Christmas is a movement to change the way we give gifts. Instead of giving in to the pressure of buying a tangible gift with little meaning (another scented candle, bath product or belt?), it suggests you redirect your spending to charity. The thinking is that small changes in the way we give during the holidays – made by many, many caring people – can have a big impact in our world. Helping us all recapture the joy of the holiday season. (JustGive is proud to partner with this movement to spread the message of charity.)

    Check out the public display of the Redefine Christmas message on Black Friday at a Connecticut shopping mall.


    Just 51 Bucks

    The Just 51 Bucks Challenge issued by JustGive and several competitors asks you to invest $51 — 10 percent of what the average consumer will spend this holiday — on a Charity Gift Card instead of the conventional “stuff.” With Just 51 Bucks, everyone wins.

    Your holiday gifts make a lasting difference while your shopping is easier. GiveNow Charity Gift Cards only take a few minutes to personalize and send to your recipient. It’s a meaningful gift for friends, family, co-workers, and more. Happiness doubled: you give and they select the charity to support.

    At a time when so many non-profit organizations are struggling to survive, giving charity gift cards can certainly help them—and, at the same time, give you a new holiday tradition.


    Join me in creating your own new tradition! Redefine your Christmas, join the Just 51 Bucks Challenge, and make gift giving matter for more this year.

    Share your charitable ideas with us on Facebook, follow the conversation on Twitter, or help us spread the word and pass this idea on to a friend.

    Gifting Outside The Box

    Do I already have plenty of stuff? Yes. Do I care deeply about a cause and want to make a difference? Yes. Am I looking forward to opening brightly colored boxes with my name on them? Absolutely.

    This year, since money is tight – I’m approaching the holidays in a different way. Many of my friends and family members like opening tangible gifts so I’m putting together “packages” they’ll enjoy and including charity too!


    Charitable gifts don’t have to be all or nothing.

    I care about making charitable giving a part of everyday life. (That’s why I choose to work at JustGive.) During the holidays, I know people want to wrap (and unwrap) presents. And I know we really want to give gifts that make our recipients’ faces light up.

    Whether we participate or not, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, 24 hour deals, and last minute doorbusters are here to stay — through financial highs and lows. And I appreciate good deals just as much as the next person. But I also think there are clever ways to embrace both ways of giving, with gift thoughtful, personal gift packages. Giving smiles and making the world better at the same time:

    – Have a foodie friend? A box of gourmet treats, or dinner at a new restaurant is made meaningful when paired with a donation to the recipient’s local food bank (find local charities here).

    – Shopping for the handyman in the family? When you wrap up the power tools and fix-it gadgets, include a donation to Habitat for Humanity.

    – If you buy a Christmas tree this year, consider giving to the Arbor Day Foundation. $10 is all it takes to plant 10 trees in a National forest.

    – Pay it forward and donate some the money you saved shopping for the best deals. Buy a GiveNow Charity Gift Card and your recipient can easily choose from more than 1.8 million charities to support their favorite cause. For as little as $15*, you can give a great stocking stuffer, hostess or teacher gift that makes a big impact.


    Do you plan on giving to charity in combination with a traditional gift?

    We’d love to hear about it! Share your ideas with us on Facebook or Twitter.



    * GiveNow charity gift cards never expire and are available in any quantity. Minimum fees apply.

    Rethinking holiday gifts

    Tonight, I’ll tell my one-month-old baby that I’m giving him a baseball stadium for Christmas. I figured this out at 3:30 in the morning when his cries made me appreciate the small conveniences of life. Take our bottle warmer: The process to heat a baby’s bottle is not really difficult, but in the early hours of sleepless nights, a bottle warmer can give a new father some semblance of ease.

    Convenience is something we often take for granted: easy access to food, shelter, and, at this time of year, presents. I recently saw a commercial for Burger King, touting its “Dollar Holidays” card promotion–sending a holiday gift card containing a dollar bill to “casual friends.” According to BrandWeek, more than 8,000 of these gift cards were sold on the program’s first day alone. There’s something in the magnitude of that number that disturbs me. Perhaps it’s the new baby making me ask questions, but is this really what the season of giving has become?

    Don’t get me wrong. I like presents. I like giving. I like getting. Some of my fondest memories are of avoiding creaking floorboards on Christmas morning to see our tree lit up, presents arranged underneath, the cookies and milk left for Santa Claus gone. When it comes to Christmas presents this year, Gallup’s first look at 2009 spending found that Americans plan to spend an average of $740 on gifts this year. That’s starkly down from two years ago – and 65 percent of Americans return holiday gifts every holiday season. We are a country that likes to give and get, and return.

    Starting a giving tradition that generates many happy returns . . .

    As a recent addition to the JustGive family, I’ve decided to start a new tradition this year and give a gift that that keeps on giving: A donation to a cause I believe in.

    Imagine if the 8,000 people who jumped at the chance to give their friends a BK cheeseburger did the same and gave to the Capital Area Food Bank For that same $1, the food bank can provide three meals to someone in need. But what personally interests me is the Capital Area Food Bank is leading the DC-area Farms to School movement: remaking school lunches into nutritious and delicious meals while supporting local farmers. In a culture beset with Dollar Holidays, that’s something a whole lot better I’d choose to support.

    Convenient, meaningful gifts

    JustGive makes it easy to give back – the type of convenience I appreciate. Three thoughtful e-gifts they offer can make a difference, starting with as little as $10:

      • Donate to charity in your friend, family member or colleague’s name.

        Make the gift personal and donate online, in a few short minutes. You don’t even need to know the name of a charity. Use convenient search tools to quickly find one that supports the cause your recipient cares about.

            This holiday season, you can select from a wider variety of charity gift cards. More than 12 available images make it easy to find one that expresses your sentiment best. Designed for every need, the cards fit Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Years, and represent many charitable causes, including education, children, and peace on Earth.  It’s the perfect gift of choice for your recipient, who redeems the card to support their favorite charity.

            A few of the gift card images available

              • Give a Gift Collection—A “gift basket” of four charities supporting a specific cause.

                A dozen already-packaged gift collections focus on feeding the hungry, creating homes and jobs, mentoring children, protecting animals, respecting elders, planting trees, saving the earth, promoting human rights, pursuing peace . . . and more. Gift Collections start at $40 and are available for any amount.

                My choice

                A small donation to a grassroots organization like City Green, an organization that promotes environmental equality through inner city gardens and education, can make a big impact in the life of a community. City Green supports the Cougars Go Green student club, which is now in its second year. These young students – with the help of donors such as my family – are working to restore the crumbling Hinchcliffe Stadium in their backyard to the thriving city asset it once was when the New York Black Yankees played the Philadelphia Stars in 1933.

                That means that tonight, during my next 3:30 a.m. feeding, I’ll have more than a warm bottle to give my son. I’ll be able to share the joy of giving back.

                Now there’s an idea to share with your friends!

                – Grant La Rouche

                Rushing to find a perfect last minute gift?

                JustGive has plenty of meaningful gifts that are perfect choices for every last person on your list . . . even on a tight budget! No need to run to the drugstore for a bland box of chocolates or a “seen on TV” gadget. With JustGive, there’s a quick, easy and affordable way to finish your last minute shopping and give gifts that mean so much more—for your recipient and for the world.

                Need a last minute gift for a difficult-to-buy-for family member or friend?

                For as little as $10, you can make a donation in their name to a charity that supports a cause they care about most. Is he or she concerned about:

                · Education? A $25 gift to First Book puts 10 books in the hands of first-time readers, introducing children to the joy of reading.

                · Poverty and Hunger? For every dollar donated to Feeding America, a hungry family receives 20 pounds of food.

                · Homelessness? A $50 gift to Habitat for Humanity buys supplies to build new homes.

                If you’re stumped for the name of a charity, use the JustGive Guide to help you find what you need. Search the 19 categories of 1,000 charities to narrow your search quickly. Or find local charities with a zip code in an Acting Locally search. Or simply type a cause or charity name into Advanced Search for a world of charitable options.

                We’ll send a gift notification with your personal message through email to your recipient, or you can print it to include in your holiday card.

                Need a hostess gift at the last minute for a holiday party?

                Bring a unique and personal gift that gives twice. A GiveNow card allows your host to give to cause that is meaningful to them—choosing from nearly 1.5 million charities working locally and throughout the world. Send a GiveNow card online to arrive the same day, or print it from home just before you go and include it in your card.

                Need a “Secret Santa” gift idea for your eco-friendly co-worker?

                Avoid the plastic wrapping and other wasted resources. Donate on their behalf to American Forests: a $10 donation plants 10 trees. Or give a Gift Collection that will help four charities dedicated to protecting the environment. Make a donation in their name and you can email or print out their gift notice that day.

                Even at the last minute, you can give hope and help to those in need for as little as $10. No stress. No travel. No shipping. For a very Happy Holiday to all!

                Tell a friend where to get a great last minute gift!

                Celebrate the spirit of the season

                The Holidays are here!

                The holiday season bring the challenge of finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list.  We’ve all known the stress of running around the mall with crowded stores and empty shelves. We buy scented candles, and power tools, and this year’s latest toy, wondering if it really expresses what we want to say.

                What if you could easily find a gift that perfectly reflected your friends’ and family members’ passions and helped make the world a better place?

                Now you can: Redefine Christmas!

                Redefine Christmas is a simple idea with an amazing impact.  What if we replace just a few of the less meaningful gifts we give with donations to charities?  The effect would be extraordinary.

                JustGive makes it easy to celebrate the spirit of the season

                Create a new holiday tradition among friends and family this year. Instead of another meaningless stocking stuffer or trinket for the office party, you can give hope to those in need for as little as $10.

                • GiveNow cards Instead of a Gift Card from the mall, how about a Gift Card for the world? Choose from several festive e-card designs featuring Christmas and Chanukah. Or select a traditional card that can be mailed to your recipient. GiveNow cards include your personal message and can be redeemed for any of nearly 1.5 charities working throughout the world.
                • Gift Donations Do you know someone who volunteers for or regularly contributes to a specific charity? Make a donation through JustGive, and we will send them an email with your personal message saying a donation was made in their honor and name. Have a loved one that doesn’t have email? That’s okay, you can print their gift message and give it to them.
                • Gift Collections Is your aunt passionate about environmental causes, while your dad leans toward hunger issues? Does your officemate love children? A Gift Collection (“basket”) of four charities is a perfect way to introduce them to more charities that work in the areas they care about most.
                • Gift Registries Give the gift of charity to those you love and ask them to do the same for you. Gift Registries list your favorite charities, and can be personalized with a picture and special message.

                Redefine what this holiday means to you. Practice compassion and care with your gifts of charity—putting the giving spirit into meaningful action this holiday.

                Want to spread the word and Redefine Christmas? Tell a friend.