Dec. 7, 2016 10:52 am

Here’s your keep-it-local Philly gift guide

Want to make a difference in your city while making your loved ones smile this holiday season? These gifts give back.

Lansie Sylvia.

(Illustration by Hannah Agosta Illustration, based on a photo by Jessie Fox)

How to Give is a biweekly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, tweet @FancyLansie.


With all that’s going on in the world this year, I can’t stomach buying my friends and loved ones a bunch of commercial crap this holiday season. Are there gifts that give back to the local community, and if so, which ones would you recommend?

I hear you. There are tons of great things we could be doing with our money this time of year … and none of them include wandering through a mall before breaking down and getting your dad another Clive Cussler novel

If you’re busy Marie Kondo-ing your life and decluttering to the max, maybe forgo the buying altogether and consider the following:

  • Donate to a favorite cause in honor of your loved ones — or to Planned Parenthood in honor of Mike Pence!
  • Become a member of your favorite organization, providing them with a sustainable source of income throughout the year.
  • Subscribe to your favorite local theatre, giving them guaranteed revenue so they can keep producing fantastic entertainment all season long.
  • Buy beautiful things from local makers, as many independent artists also double as teaching artists at local nonprofits such as Fleisher Arts Memorial, Mural Arts and the Village of Arts and Humanities.
  • Shop online using Amazon Smile. Select a Philly-based charity from Amazon’s list of nearly one million charitable organizations, and Amazon will donate a portion of your purchases to the cause.

But for those of you who have friends and loved ones who relish the tearing of wrapping paper and the crinkling of tiny plastic bows (note: I include myself in that category), here are a few fun items that also benefit amazing Philly nonprofits.

From our Partners


(Photo via

For the Budding Architect: Build It! Disks, benefitting Tiny WPA

Look, we all love pillow forts. But let’s be honest, here — pillows are a limited medium. Enter, Build It! Disks: These sturdy, double-walled cardboard disks connect in tons of different ways, allowing you and your friends to build the cardboard ziggurat of your dreams. Proceeds benefit Tiny WPA, a Philly-based program that puts youth at the forefront of stimulating community engagement and civic innovation by empowering them to design and build improvements to our city’s public spaces. [$35 for a set of 20]



For the Animal Lover: Meet-and-Greet with Tony the Rhino, benefitting The Philadelphia Zoo

Three years ago, Andrew (my bf; he’s a dish) and I got a chance to meet Tony, the gigantic white rhino who lives at the Philly Zoo. He’s the size of a moderately-priced sedan. He has long, diaphanous eyelashes like Mr. Snuffleupagus. Take a look at the picture. Look at Andrew. He’s still that happy about it — in the throes of his naturalistic squee. It’s worth it, guys. Really. It’s magic. Proceeds benefit the Philadelphia Zoo, home to more than 1,300 animals, many of them rare and endangered. [$150 for two people for 20 minutes]


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For the Happy Hippie: Peace Candle, benefiting Project HOME

By purchasing this scrumptious smelling candle from HOME Shop, you’ll help Project HOME create jobs for its residents and further its mission of ending homelessness. These handmade, all-natural soy wax candles are available in apple spice, vanilla and unscented and burn for 40+ hours. [$12 each]


(Screenshot via

For the Goth Baker (or Grandma!): Conjoined Twin Cookie Cutter, benefiting the Mütter Museum

You’ll be sure to win every holiday cookie competition with this custom Conjoined Twin Cookie Cutter — or if you don’t win, you’ll be remembered. This little fella(s) is made exclusively for the Mütter Museum, our city’s premier collection of anatomical and medical specimens from The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Gingerbread recipe included! [Buy one for $5 and two for $10 since, frankly, buying two feels more appropriate]


(Photo via

For the Chocoholic with a Green Thumb: Urban Garden Chocolate Bar Set, benefitting urban gardens in Philadelphia, Chicago and D.C.

John & Kira’s collection of mint, chili and rosemary chocolate bars highlights produce from six gardens in Philadelphia, Chicago and D.C. These local chocolatiers then steep the herbs and veggies directly into the chocolate for amazing flavor. All three bars come beautifully packaged in a boutique box, and five percent of the sale price goes directly back to the gardens’ educational programs. [$22 for three bars]


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For the Aspiring Novelist: Hardbound Notebook, benefitting Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Still all broken up about the election? Process your feelings in this journal! (See what I did there?) Proceeds benefit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, the gem of South Street that preserves, interprets and provides access to Isaiah Zagar’s unique mosaic art environment and his public murals. [$20]


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For Anyone with th-ERMEGERDKITTENZBenefitting Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society

See this cat, which insists on veering to the left of this webpage? You can have this cat. Literally, this cat. So get it (or another more befitting your cat tastes) from PAWS. It’s $50 for adult cats and $100 for kittens. But when you adopt a pair of kittens together, the total adoption fee is only $150. WHAT A DEAL! IT’S A CHRISTMAS MEOWACLE!


(Photo via

For Your New Fancy-Ass Cat: Small Goldfish Plate, benefitting the Clay Studio

So, you have a cat now, and it’s going to need water and food. BUT ONLY THE FINEST FOR YOUR FUR-BEARING WEIRDO! Place the Trader Joe’s Cat Tuna on this beautiful plate, made by artist Yoko Sekino-Bove. Proceeds benefit the Clay Studio [$38 per plate]

Do you have other awesome gifts that give back this holiday season? Please add them to the comments!

See Part 2


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