Supporting Companies that do Good

We have just returned from a family vacation in the Seattle/San Juan Islands where I was unplugged for the better part of a week. It was wonderful to disconnect and enjoy the beauty of the great northwest with my family.

One of the best things about traveling is learning about new people and companies doing social action through their business. While shopping with my daughter, I saw a row of  small handmade ceramic vases in about a dozen colors. They initially caught my eye because they were in such a gorgeous array of colors but when I got closer and started reading the flyer next to them I was even more excited.  Lauren Burman, the founder of Material Good began her company as a project and a way to honor her grandmother who was battling cancer at the time. Lauren wanted to create something tangible in exchange for a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She loved to do pottery so she began creating small vases and sold them at a local florist. They sold quickly and she began to think about how these Little Shirleys (named in honor of her grandma Shirley) were more than just a simple vase. They were an opportunity for her to become a social entrepenuer. She has been inspired through this project and business and hopes to inspire others with her Little Shirley vases. Needless to say, I love being able to support companies like this and also spread the word so others will support them too. Lauren’s Little Shirley vases are sold all over Seattle and now also at New Season’s Markets in Portland (where I live) and online via her website. They are beautiful and offer a way to gift something to someone or buy a few for yourself and help benefit local organizations working to cure cancer.

Later that day, I bought my daughter a pair of shoes for school from Tom’s Shoes. Another very cool company providing a pair of shoes for an underserved child with every shoe purchased by a customer. I love supporting companies that see the value in giving back and doing good with each purchase. Certainly makes me want to become a loyal customer.

Finally, I had to share an opportunity I witnessed as my son engaged in a sweet mitzvah on our vacation.  While in Seattle we attended a Mariner’s game. My son had received  a grey Mariner’s jersey earlier this summer with his Ichiro’s name emblazed on the back. It was too small and he was disappointed. He’d saved his allowance and wanted to buy himself a shirt in the right size when we were at the game. When we perused the gift store we found the jersey and tried one on that fit perfectly. Since we didn’t have a receipt for the original shirt we couldn’t exchange it or get any credit. My son asked the saleslady if he could just give it to them and would they be able to find another child who they could gift it to instead. “Someone who couldn’t afford the shirt but might still be happy to have it.” I honestly don’t know if they will actually be able to do that but was quite proud of my son for his wanting to give someone else the opportunity to enjoy a team jersey as much as he does.

There are so many companies engaged in social entrepreneurship. Please let me know some of your favorites. When we learn of companies giving back as part of their mission we can not only support them by buying their goods, we can also let others know about them (word of mouth advertising is key for a company) and contact them personally to let them know how much we appreciate their company policies.


Identifying a worthy mitzvah project for a teenager

What motivates a teenager to take on a mitzvah project?

During the course of writing my book, I learned of many teenagers that started non profits as part of their bat mitzvah projects. Of course, it isn’t necessary to start your own non profit to learn the importance of giving and participate in a mitzvah, but I guess the bar was set pretty high and I was fairly naive when I first started talking to my own daughter about embarking on a meaningful mitzvah project as part of her Bat Mitzvah.

Intellectually, I understood that, of course, our children are not carbon copies of us but the push back I received while encouraging her to find a project was somewhat startling for me.

There were plenty of ideas suggested for meaningful mitzvah projects all of which she nixed or we couldn’t make happen for logistical reasons. We suggested volunteering at a local food pantry, collecting books for a children’s book bank, volunteering at a local recycling art center (which had to be nixed do to time restraints and location though this probably could have worked otherwise), volunteering at a senior center or with animals. Mostly she’d respond that all of these were too typical.

When I was feeling deflated and unsuccessful as a mitzvah role model, I’d remember that it isn’t like my daughter doesn’t ever think of others. In fact, recently when she was cleaning her room and found a pair of barely used jazz dance shoes she suggested we donate them to a local dance studio, so another child could benefit from them. It’s just that she’s 13 which means we needed to find something that speaks to her at this age.

So it is with utter relief that we have finally, found something she is eager to do — well that might be a bit of an exaggeration — but at least she thinks the project is worthy of some of her time and attention and she has given it both. And not a minute too soon, since we are just a couple of months away from her Bat Mitzvah.

Gabrielle is partnering with a group called Gift Card Giver that I have written about previously on the blog. They estimate that there are approximately $8 billion in gift cards that goes unused every year. Gabrielle will collect unused and partially used gift cards from any stores around the country and they will be turned into money for non profits in need. She has decided to give back to a local charity called CHAP that also fits her passion for the arts. CHAP (Children’s Healing Arts Project), brings the healing power of art to children in crisis with a mobile team of teaching artists who work in several Portland children’s hospitals. 

So hallelujah here we are at the home stretch before her Bat Mitzvah and she has finally embraced a project that has meaning to her and hopefully will teach her something about helping out others. I think we may even find some time to volunteer at this organization this summer after her actual Bat Mitzvah.

Want to help? We’d love to get your used or partially used gift cards. Particularly desirable ones include Micheal’s, Costco, Best Buy, Target or any other art related store, but whatever you send will definitely be donated to a worthy non profit through Gift Card Giver. So look into your wallet or your desk or wherever those gift cards live and see if you have any gift cards that you’d like to donate. The cards can have any left over balance. Email me at if you have cards to send Gabrielle and I’ll send you our address.

A Sunshine Pantry – Mitzvah reminder

I love how the world ebbs and flows. Often we are reminded of things in our lives and this weekend felt exactly like that. Two years ago, in March 2009, I was writing about my final mitzvah challenge as part of my  1,000th Mitzvah and encouraged others to give either money or food to their local food pantry or donate to The Sunshine Pantry in our community if they lived near me.

While I have been back to the pantry a few times to drop off some food since then, I haven’t done any volunteering or shelving and was reminded yesterday how much I enjoy this part too.

My daughter and I went with a local Jewish youth group to the Sunshine Pantry to volunteer for a few hours. When the founder, Sharon Strauss gave us a tour of her pantry, I realized again that even if we don’t know where our life will take us doing whatever we  can to make a difference can sometimes take on a life of it’s own. Sharon, who calls herself  “just a Beaverton mom”, started her pantry 29 years ago, as part of a Boy Scout project to feed six local families one December. Slowly and without the vision of what her pantry would eventually become she began to grow her project into a few shelves in her garage, then it took over her entire garage and today it’s housed in  a small warehouse pantry that houses a dozen regular refrigerators, plus a commercial sized walk-in and lots of great food to share with more than 500 families a month visiting her pantry. When she began she says that she had no idea where it would go, she just knew she was passionate about helping and feeding others and letting people know that when they were in trouble there were people there to help them so they shouldn’t feel so alone. She welcomes each child and family with open arms, “so the children should feel that they are going to Auntie Sharon’s house and not be embarrassed.” As she toured the youth group around the pantry, she explained how each of the refrigerators has a special name, like Willie Wonka – that houses the special chocolates and candy and Party Harty where she keeps the beautiful collection of birthday cakes for families with special occasions to celebrate. She has even assembled Sniffle Bags so if a family comes in with a sick child they can go home with a bag to help them get better, it includes, jello and soup, tissues and some special surprises for the children.

Sharon’s only requirements for families that visit her pantry is that they bring their own box, since she never has enough and a smile, beyond that she requires no other formal paperwork that families must fill out to receive food.

As the kids organized and shelved the day’s deliveries, I was reminded that a pantry like this requires lots of hands to make sure that the food is collected, organized and available for the needy families. This takes human power, so for every Sharon Strauss who founds a food pantry or another kind of non-profit, many, many other people are needed to help make it run. Never underestimate your effort. Making an effort to donate some of your time or money even if you can’t do it every week makes a difference.

Sharon invited the children to come back again, during their spring break or summer vacation to lend a hand, saying that she has to do this same kind of organizing we did each and every day of the week. Do you have an hour to give once a week or once a month in your community? Even if we aren’t the founders of a food bank, our efforts will be helping another mitzvah maker who needs us and our efforts will be gladly accepted. Two years after my own 1000 Mitzvah project was wrapping up, I think today’s Monday mitzvah is still relevant , so though it’s not a new idea, reminding ourselves never hurts – give to your local food pantry whether it’s your time, your money or your canned goods.

Mitzvahs aren’t fun?

Tuesday night, was the shiva minyan (service) for a friend of mine you had lost her father. After the funeral of a mother, father, brother, sister, child or spouse the mourner and their family return to their home and begin the period of shiva, the most intense period of mourning in Judaism. Shiva means seven, and this ritual is observed for seven days. Mourners are to remain in their homes and community members come to them, sitting with them and quietly lending an ear to let the mourner share, laugh, or cry. It is a mitzvah to visit a mourner during this time, and is one of the most important acts a community member can do. This is known as a shiva call. During the shiva period, the daily services are often moved to the house of the mourner so the community can come to the mourner and allow them to say the kaddish or mourner’s prayer. Since my friend’s father had lived out of town, which changes some of the shiva procedures, there was only going to me one night with a shiva minyan.

After school Tuesday, I asked my daughter if she could bake some cookies so that we could bring them to the minyan that night. It is customary to bring some food with you to the shiva house. My daughter was happy to do it, since she loves to bake. She was baking the cookies for the next hour and the recipe yielded more than enough to bring to the shiva house and keep a few for ourselves. I thanked my daughter for the mitzvah she had performed and she looked at me funny, she said, “I didn’t do a mitzvah, because it was fun and I got to eat some of the batter while I was baking.” I laughed and asked her if she thought mitzvahs weren’t fun. She said they weren’t.

I guess in time she will learn that sometimes, even while participating in doing a mitzvah you might still derive pleasure from what you are doing. Perhaps that is a lesson that takes time and maturity to realize.