Gifts that Give Back: 2014’s Social Enterprise Holiday Shopping Guide

By David T. Applegate, Research and Policy Assistant, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity
and Caitlin C. Schnur, Coordinator, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

See bottom of page for photo credits.

See bottom of post for photo credits.

It’s the height of the holiday season, and we’re excited to release our second annual social enterprise holiday shopping guide! As we did last year, we once again encourage you to give gifts that give back by shopping at social enterprises that help chronically unemployed Americans get back to work.  We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to work and support themselves and their families—and so do the social enterprises featured in this shopping guide.  While these innovative and diverse social enterprises sell products ranging from gourmet pet treats to original works of art to urban honey (we guarantee you can find something for everyone with this list!), they all use their sales revenue to fund their job training programs for people with barriers to employment. Take a look, share this list with friends, and find fabulous gifts while helping to open doors to work this holiday season!

Lindy & Company, Dayton, OH
Lindy & Company is a gourmet pet treat bakery that employs and trains youth experiencing homelessness. A social enterprise of Daybreak, which provides housing and other supportive services to youth experiencing homelessness in Ohio’s Miami Valley, Lindy’s offers Daybreak’s youth an opportunity to gain employment skills in a real-world context that prepares them for future jobs. Youth are paid wages and get to experience and participate in all parts of the bakery’s operations, from recipe testing to baking to customer service and sales. Lindy’s sells delicious treats for cats and dogs via their online store and their local retail partners, and with flavors ranging from Peanut Butter and Bacon to Cheddar Chompers you’re sure to find something to please your pet!

What they sell: Gourmet treats for the dog or cat lover in your life or your own furry friend.

Bright Endeavors
, Chicago, IL
A social enterprise of New Moms, Inc., Bright Endeavors offers adolescent mothers experiencing or at risk of homelessness transitional jobs to help them prepare for employment and move toward economic independence. At Bright Endeavors, young women develop critical skills such as teamwork, leadership, and conflict management while they design, manufacture, and sell wonderful and eco-friendly products including bath tea, soy candles, and soaking salts. Bright Endeavors also provides event lighting services to restaurants, caterers, and other venues looking to brighten up their holiday celebrations. This year’s Limited Edition Holiday Scent Suite features a candle, soaking salts, and bath tea scented with cardamom and Italian citrus – and if you order by December 18, you’ll get it by Christmas!

What they sell: Bath tea, scented candles, holiday gift collections, and soaking salts.

FRESH Food, Winooski, Vermont
If you’re based in the Burlington, VT area and hosting a holiday party this month, consider having FRESH Food cater your event! A social enterprise of Vermont Works for Women, FRESH Food’s training program provides women with barriers to employment the skills needed to work in professional kitchens and the food service industry. While a large portion of FRESH Food’s flavorful offerings go toward nutritious meals for children at local childcare centers, their superb catering services are sure to be a hit at your next event (maple ginger pulled pork sandwiches and apple butternut squash soup are on the menu!). If you’re not Vermont-based, consider ordering FRESH Food’s Peanut Butter Bars, available in a variety of tasty flavors. They’re the perfect stocking stuffer!

What they sell:  A full array of catered foods including soups, salads, sandwiches, and desserts along with Peanut Butter Bars in coconut, chocolate chip, or cranberry flavors.

ArtLifting, Boston, MA
Founded just last year, ArtLifting is a Boston-based social enterprise working to empower homeless, disabled, and disadvantaged artists by offering them a professional gallery through which to celebrate and sell their artwork. Artists who partner with ArtLifting receive the majority of their artwork’s sales proceeds—which serves as an avenue for financial empowerment—, while the social enterprise invests the rest of the earnings in maintaining and growing the business. ArtLifting sells beautiful and original works of art to adorn your home, in addition to greeting cards, iPhone cases, and candles. These visually-pleasing gifts are sure to “UpLift” anyone’s day!

What they sell: Original artwork and prints, greeting cards, iPhone cases, candles, and gift cards.

Sweet Beginnings
, Chicago, IL
A subsidiary of the North Lawndale Employment Network, Sweet Beginnings offers transitional jobs to formerly incarcerated individuals and people with significant barriers to employment, helping to prepare workers for jobs with other employers. With honey extracted from its Chicago-based apiary, Sweet Beginnings sells raw, natural honey and value-added beelove body care products including lip balm, shower gel, and body lotion. Buying these sweet gifts for the folks on your shopping list also offers a sweet social return on investment—the recidivism rate for former Sweet Beginnings employees is below 4%, compared to the national average of 65% and the Illinois average of 55%!

What they sell: Honey-based skin care products from lip balm and body cream to shower gel and moisturizer, along with delicious, urban honey.

Homeboy Industries, Los Angeles, CA
Nationally recognized as one of the most effective intervention and reentry programs for formerly gang-involved individuals, Homeboy Industries serves as a model for similar programs across the country. Homeboy Industries offers high-risk men, women, and youth extensive wraparound services that include education, mental health care, legal services, and job training via several different social enterprises. With so many different products available, you’re sure to find something for everyone on your holiday gift giving list! The fashionista or gym rat in your life might enjoy one of Homeboy’s bags, and your favorite foodie probably can’t say no to Homeboy’s cookies and pies. For the holiday season, Homeboy is also selling special gift packages to fit any budget, so go ahead and indulge in Homeboy’s “products with a purpose.”

What they sell: Shirts and clothing for kids, guys, and girls, delicious baked goods, books, and more.

Homeless Garden Project, Santa Cruz, CA
At their organic farm and through their other social enterprises, the Homeless Garden Project (HGP) offers job training, transitional employment, and supportive services to people experiencing homelessness. HGP’s participants grow organic fruit, vegetables, herbs, and flowers—you can find out how to join their 2015 Community Supported Agriculture program here—and produce an array of gifts including hand-dipped beeswax candles, dried flower wreaths, and lavender shortbread mix. You can check out their online shop (the All Lavender Gift Box looks especially lovely!) or check out their holiday store if you’re in the Santa Cruz area this holiday season.

What they sell: Candles, wreaths, soaps, bath salts, and more

Connections to Success
, Kansas City, KS; Kansas City, MO; St. Louis, MO
With three different social enterprises, Connections to Success is sure to have something for you or your loved ones. For those looking to purchase something fashionable, check out the handcrafted jewelry from Successful Jewelry Designs—or, if you’re in the St. Louis area, be on the lookout for the Mystique Boutique, where you can get upscale resale clothing, handbags, shoes, and accessories. Finally, if you‘re craving something sweet, Sweet Success’ delicious, freshly-baked cookies, breads, and pastries are for you!  All of these social enterprises help people with barriers to employment gain job skills and work experience, so a purchase from any of Connections’ shops also helps end the cycle of poverty.

What they sell: Baked goods, jewelry, and upscale resale clothing.

Rags of Honor
, Chicago, IL
Based in Chicago, Rags of Honor (ROH) is a custom silk screen and apparel company operated by veterans experiencing homelessness and chronic unemployment. ROH gives veterans the opportunity to get back on their feet by offering them a job paying a living wage combined with educational and training opportunities so that they can build skills and provide for their basic needs. ROH uses top-of-the-line screen-printing technology to produce and sell a large collection of men’s and women’s apparel.

What they sell: In addition to the good available on their online store, ROH produces custom-made apparel for men and women—and they’re able to ship special orders across the country!

Women’s Bean Project, Denver, CO
This Colorado-based social enterprise offers transitional jobs to chronically unemployed women to help them earn immediate income, prepare for employment, and achieve greater economic stability. Whether it’s their gluten-free food products, dog biscuits, coffee mugs, or handcrafted jewelry, the Women’s Bean Project has an abundance of holiday gift options on their online store. Best of all? Every purchase helps women break the cycle of poverty and chronic unemployment, so go ahead and give “a gift that changes lives.”

What they sell: Handcrafted jewelry, gourmet food and beverages, books, dog biscuits, and gluten-free gourmet food items.

Blue Sky Bakery, Chicago, IL
Located in Chicago, Blue Sky Bakery & Café serves up “social change, powered by your appetite.” While patrons can choose from freshly-prepared soups, sandwiches, and pastries, the café is staffed by at-risk or homeless youth who are gaining valuable transitional jobs experience in cooking, baking, customer service, and more. In addition to offering a space to dine in, Blue Sky Bakery caters events, can serve as an event space, and sells gift boxes brimming with cookies, jams, locally-roasted coffee, and more.  Escape Chicago’s grey skies—and help youth escape homelessness—at the Blue Sky Bakery this holiday season!

What the sell: Cookies, pastries, jam, coffee, cupcakes, and a wide variety of food items.


Photo credit, clockwise from bottom left: Connections to Success; Bright Endeavors; FRESH Food; Ed Johnson via ArtLifting; Homeless Garden Project; Sweet Beginnings; Blue Sky Bakery (center).

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About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.

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