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Friday, May 27, 2011

Fashion With Compassion: Wedding Dresses that Heal

Last night my friend Margot and I got together to get some frozen yogurt. (It was delicious by the way). Like me, Margot is planning her wedding in New Orleans, while living here in DC. It is nice to have someone to commiserate with about planning a wedding from afar! 

Me, with Andrew and Margot- showing our love for NOLA, food, and charity at the Dear New Orleans event in DC.
With my wedding now only months away in October- I’m really getting down to the nitty-gritty. What will the bridesmaids’ hairpieces look like? What type of transportation will we use? What music will we have at the ceremony? Margot, on the other hand, whose wedding is in June 2012, is still enjoying the earlier (albeit stressful) phase of wedding planning. With her ceremony and reception sites booked, she has now moved on to the dress search. After relaying to her my limited knowledge of bridal boutiques in the DC area and my even more limited knowledge of designers- I decided I needed to brush up on my wedding dress IQ.

You might remember my previous post on donating dresses, rather than "trashing them." Donating your dress to a worthy cause is a great way to help others and keep your dress from becoming an unused ornament in your closet.  Thanks to the I Do Foundation, I’ve run across Dresses that Heal, a great organization that allows brides to help others by giving them the chance to “honor the strength and journey of breast cancer survivors” through their gown purchase.

Dresses that Heal was founded by Rachael Rivard, a bridal consultant in Madison, Wisconsin, after she shared an emotional moment with one of her brides. The bride, Laura, seemed to be like most brides - excited to be on the search for "the dress," but Rachael noticed that she was even more moved by the experience than the typical bride. This was because Laura, who was only 28 at the time, was already a breast cancer survivor.  There had been times that Laura had thought she would never even see herself in a wedding gown or have a wedding day. Touched by the young bride’s courage and unique perspective, Rachael decided she wanted to find a way to give back to others like Laura.

Rachael wanted to find a way to combine “fashion with compassion.” So, she founded Dresses that Heal and began looking for an organization to partner with. She found the perfect fit with the Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation, Inc. (BCRF)  Unlike other organizations, which are dedicated to finding a cure for the disease, BCRF aims to help women with the spiritual and emotional side of recovery.
BCRF offers “Infinite Boundaries” wellness retreats for women in all stages of breast cancer, from the newly diagnosed to those in treatment and even to those in remission. Since its founding in 1997 by Ann Haney, countless women, ages 20 to 71 have attended the Infinite Boundaries retreats to begin the healing process by exploring their feelings, fears and life wishes and by having the chance to share their stories with others who are facing the same challenges. BCRF also offers an annual educational conference, Sharing the Knowledge, every November in Madison, Wisconsin.
Some lovely ladies at a BCRF Infinite Boundaries retreat.
Through the “Compassion Collection,” Dresses that Heal offers gowns that are donated by some of the top names in the industry – Marisa, Amy Michelson, Cheryl King Couture, Stephanie James Couture, L’ezu Atelier, Henry Roth, Judd Waddell, Matthew Christopher and more.  The designers designate a particular dress from their regular collection as part of the “Compassion Collection,” which is marketed by Dresses that Heal and benefits the Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation. All the gowns, along with other donated items, are auctioned off at the largest bridal show in the Midwest to benefit BCRF and are also available at the Wedding Channel Couture show in New York City in October. 
Help others heal with the Josephine dress by Stephanie James Couture.
So, for all you brides-to-be still on the dress search- visit the Dresses that Heal website to find out other places where the Compassion Collection is available. For those who would like to donate to Dresses that Heal you can find more info on the website as well.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pottery Barn Feeds A Good Cause

For the final installment of this month's charitable registry series, I’m looking at Pottery Barn, which has partnered with FEED Projects to launch the FEED Lunch Collection. The collection features a line of everyday household products, including sporks, water bottles, bags and storage containers.  The funds generated from each purchase in the collection support the UN World Food Programme (WFP) or UNICEF, and provide children with healthy school meals and clean water, respectively.

All products are for sale at Pottery Barn stores nationwide, as well as at While the FEED line is charitably oriented, it is also environmentally-friendly, as all products are made from environmentally-friendly, fair trade and artisan-made materials. FEED's mission is to create good products that "feed" the world, which they do through the sale of FEED products, including bags, t-shirts, their signature bears and more.

Here’s a break down of the products offered at Pottery Barn via the FEED collection:

FEED 50 Bag: A hip reusable bag that is perfectly sized for your lunch essentials or for packaging for a wedding gift. It is made of natural burlap and measures 12” long x 6” wide x 14” high.

A great gift bag for wedding gifts.
FEED 3 Spork: The spork is just what it sounds like – a spoon/fork hybrid that is a fun multi-functional utensil. Each spork measures 2” wide x 7.5” high. The sporks are stainless steel, and they all feature a blackened, antique style handle etched with “FEED” etched on them. 

Not your average spork (aka not plastic and from a fast food place).
FEED 6 Storage Container: The purchase of each storage container generates funds that provide six school meals to children through the UN World Food Programme. Made of porcelain, the containers come in two different sizes and with plastic lids to maintain freshness.

I really love these containers- they are both multi-use and stylish.
FEED 1 Water Bottle: The FEED water bottle is a great idea for a bridesmaid or groomsmen gift. For each FEED Water Bottle purchased at Pottery Barn stores in the U.S. and at Pottery Barn online, FEED  donates $10.00 to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to support UNICEF's water and sanitation programs. Additionally, the funds generated allow UNICEF to provide water to one child for one year, through the UNICEF Tap Project. The FEED stainless steel 1 Water Bottle measures 3” diameter, 9” high, and holds 25 fluid ounces. Each bottle comes with a plastic screw-on lid and is on a silver key chain.
Not just a registry item, the water bottle can be a great gift for a member of the wedding party.
Editor’s Note: I recently learned from a reader that Kohl’s also has an amazing line of products that support woman's health called the Kohl’s Cares Line. The line includes many items, including mugs, tupperware and pie plates. All the products are available at a reasonable price- between $5 and $10, with 100% of the proceeds going to support the fight against breast cancer. Kohl’s has also decided to support the fight against breast cancer with a commitment of $7 million over three years to the American Cancer Society’s Midwest Division and the Southeast Wisconsin Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure to support breast cancer research, education and patient-assistance programs. In the future I'd like to do a full post on these great products, but for now check out the Kohl's website for more information.

The Kohl's Cares pink pie pan.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kohl's for the Cure

So, you’re registered at Kohl’s? Or maybe the gift recipient is? Well, you can give back just by registering for or buying items from Kohl’s special Cook for the Cure product line. The Cook for the Cure line is made by KitchenAid and includes a blender, prep bowls, can openers, cheese graters and more. You can find a gift at just about any price range starting at $9.99 and up. A percentage of all proceeds, varying from 10-15% of the product sales goes to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Need a cup of cheese? Easy grate, easy storage.
This year alone, KitchenAid will donate a minimum of $450,000 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure in conjunction with its pink product collection. Susan G. Komen for the Cure is the global leader of the breast cancer movement, having invested more than $1.9 billion (wow) since it began in 1982.  The group, which began as a grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists, has grown into the world’s largest organization raising awareness for breast cancer.

Through events like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, Komen has become the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fighting against breast cancer in the world. The movement is so strong that the color pink has basically become ubiquitous with the cause itself. You can visit the Komen shop online for more pink products for the cure.
Peeling for the cure? Starting at just $9.99!
Also, it should be noted that the Cook for the Cure line is not sold exclusively at Kohl’s- Macy’s does offer a limited selection of this “pink” line, including a standing mixer that is not available at Kohl’s. A Standing Mixer is a big-ticket item on many couple’s registries, and later a fixture in their kitchens. Why not buy one that also helps others? Personally, I’m not a baker and our new apartment will not have much storage space, so I’m not registering for one, but the Cook for the Cure ones are pretty snazzy.

A mixer that makes a statement.
More of a Margarita type than Susie homemaker? It just so happens that for every pink blender that is purchased KitchenAid will donate $15 to Susan G. Komen.  It is important to note, in order for the purchase to count you or the gift recipient must register each pink product purchased at

Blending for a cause.
All Cook for the Cure products come in the same shade of pink as the iconic Breast Cancer Awareness ribbon. If pink isn’t your favorite color - I completely understand- it isn’t mine either! If the products didn't go to a good cause, I'm not sure I would have anything that was pastel- let alone pastel pink.  Stay tuned for some non-pink products that make a difference in my next post on Pottery Barn

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Macy's: Shop For A Better World

I’ve had several friends ask me lately- what can we get you as a present? Do you know any good shower gift ideas for others? Any picture frames with a purpose? Have you found something different, or outside the box?

Well, to be honest I haven’t been exactly sure where to guide people. There are a lot of charitable gifts out there and while I’ve registered for a few- my search has really only just begun.

Yet after much demand, here is the first article of a three-part feature of some of my favorite charitable items that are available at a registry near you.

If you are registered at Macy’s or are shopping for someone who is…

It’s pretty much what it sounds like- you shop and make the world better. Currently, Macy’s is focusing on two countries in particular- Rwanda and Haiti through the Rwanda Path to Peace 
program and the Hearts of Haiti project.

All sales of the products that are featured on the Shop for a Better World site go to employ artisans in Rwanda and Haiti who are both recovering from different types of disasters- genocide and an earthquake. All steps of production for the products take place in artisan’s home country. Even the raw materials are locally sourced.

The Path to Peace project was created three years ago by Willa Shalit and her company Fair Winds Trading. The baskets are woven almost exclusively by women. They are exported to the US and sold at Macy’s Department Stores. Today, the baskets are the number one export out of Rwanda under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

The project is also helping Rwanda in the process of healing and reconciliation. Weavers, suppliers, and government officials work closely together. Where there was once conflict and separation, Rwandans now work together for a common good. Many weavers who only years ago would have been in harsh opposition to one another based on tribe- Hutu and Tutsi- now work side by side to make baskets and provide an income for their families and communities.

In addition to conflict resolution, the weaving has also led to dramatic improvements in public health- as increased income leads to more access to education because parents can afford to buy their children uniforms and school supplies. With more money, there is also better nutrition, which has made medicines for HIV and AIDS more affective. Also, the extra income has allowed the weavers to buy their families mosquito nets, which has reduced malaria cases as well. Cases of domestic violence have also decreased, since more women are now earning their own livelihood as weavers.

Since the devastating earthquake of January 2010, it has been almost impossible for Haitians to make a living. Many raw materials have been wiped out.  Most places in the country are without secure or sanitary conditions.  Despite the initial flood of donations, Haiti remains largely without funding or support.

Macy’s Hearts of Haiti collection is a collection of handcrafted masterpieces that when purchased, directly benefit Haitian artisans. The artisans receive 22% of the retail price of each item purchased. For many families, the Hearts of Haiti initiative offers the first sustainable income since the earthquake. The money raised from selling their products enables the artisans to repair their homes and businesses, to feed and clothe their families and to send their children to school. As in Rwanda, the benefits of a steady income are tenfold, and results in numerous benefits, including better nutrition, improved education and greater access to healthcare to name a few.

The lovely 4x6 frame is on my wish list- I love the detail.
To create the works of art, like the items featured above, artisans from Haiti use steel from recycled oil drums. They use the steel to shape rustic, one-of-a-kind giftware defined by sculpted birds and branches. If you don’t know already, I am a sucker for all things birds- so a few of these items have made it to my registry, including the Heart of Haiti Songbird Picture Frame. 

In addition to their steel work, the Haitian artists also make lovely paper-mache items, including the "feathered vase" above, which I was lucky enough to get as a shower present. It comes in three very cheerful colors.  I just ran across the delightful placemats below- definitely going to add them to my registry! To find more products from Haiti, visit the Shop for A Better World site.
Chickens are one of the most valued possession in rural Haiti. These placemats honor the humble chicken in brightly painted bird mats by artist Jean Paul Celestin of Jacmel.

Check out the 2nd installment next week- Kohl's: Blending, Mixing and Baking for a Better World.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Geronimo! A Website with a Mission: Where Giving is Going

After calls home to our moms for Mother's Day, (Happy Mother's Day Mom and Ms. Donna), my fiancĂ© and I spent much of the day looking around DC for a new place to rent or perhaps even to buy. We went to numerous open houses and pretty much wore ourselves out comparing showers to bath tubs and carpet to hardwood floors. By the time we got home, the last thing we wanted to do was to research honeymoon destinations, which is precisely what we were supposed to do this evening.  Yet, I pushed through and began to Google “charitable vacation rentals.” I was surprised to uncover Geronimo, a site that provides vacation rentals for charity. (Not related to the SEAL Team 6 raid or the Apache leader.)

I was rather intrigued by the Geronimo website, which allows generous vacation homeowners and vacationers to come together to list and find rental properties. Since the economic downturn many people have been left with homes they cannot sell and rental property that they cannot rent. In states like Florida, numerous beach houses are sitting un-rented and unsold.  Listing properties can often be costly and time consuming.

The people behind Geronimo realized this - they also discovered that while traditional charitable donations may have seen some decline in the past few years, many people are still looking for creative ways to be charitable. Geronimo’s slogan, “Where Giving is Going” pretty much sums up its core mission. 

Homeowners list a house for others who might be looking to go on a vacation, such as a honeymoon. Then, when a Geronimo property is rented, half (or in some cases all) of the proceeds go directly to a non-profit organizations selected by the owner. The owner also has the option of letting the renter pick the non-profit that will benefit. This option is ideal for owners looking to maximize exposure and the likelihood of someone renting a property. It is truly a win-win for all - with owners getting free advertising and renters getting to enjoy a great vacation (often also at a great deal) that often gives them the chance to donate money to their favorite charity.

Unlike voluntourism, which I featured in my blog post Honeymooning For A Cause, under the Geronimo model neither party is expected to volunteer- the charitable giving is done purely through the rental agreement, meaning that you can relax and know that you are doing a good deed without having to "do" anything. If you have a more relaxed vacation style this can be a great alternative to exciting, but often jam-packed voluntourism trips.

Paradise for rent in the U.S. Virgin Islands- with 50% of the cost benefiting the charity of your choice!
Many property owners start out by donating just one spare week, but some end up donating longer periods of time or even multiple options for the "one" week (different dates, etc.). Unlike other rental sites, listing a property on Geronimo is always free. Essentially, a Geronimo listing is a free way to market properties and expose them to a huge network of generous vacationers. It is also a way to make a tax-deductible donation.

So, if you are like us and are unsure of where you want to go on your honeymoon or perhaps your next vacation - Geronimo gives you plenty of options to choose from. Whether you are looking at exotic locales like Thailand and Belize or more domestic destinations such as Vermont or Florida, they really do have something for everyone. Don't see your ideal dates listed, submit a request!

The view from a private tree house resort in Thailand available for rent on Geronimo.
Planning a destination wedding? Many of the listings include private beachfront property, like this one in the Bahamas.  Hosting a bachelor or bachelorette party? Some properties sleep large groups- a few places even have five and six bedrooms, making them ideal for group trips. The prices range from very reasonable for a Gulfshores, AL spot (around $200 a night for a three bedroom) to very pricey for a private Hawaiian estate (over $13,500 a night).  

Say Aloha to this sweet residence for $13,500 a night.
Geronimo currently has over 1.1 million non-profits in its database, many of which are smaller groups, like Lighthouse for Women, a California based non-profit that helps oppressed and abused women and their children across the globe by providing long-term safe homes and jobs that give them financial independence. Some of the featured non-profits, like the American Diabetes Association and the American Cancer Society are household names. With so many options, it is hard not to find a cause you care about. To find out more, you can browse for featured non-profits on Geronimo’s homepage.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Postal Service

I know I say this a lot, but we are very lucky to have so much support from our friends and family. Not only have they hosted amazing parties and showers for us and given us unconditional support, but they have also bought us some really nice gifts. Their kindness has truly been overwhelming and as a result, it has been really important for us to make sure we show our appreciation. What’s the best way to show folks you care? Well, as my friend Liz would tell you, any good southern girl learns the answer at birth - thank you notes of course! And what do you need to send said notes? Stamps. Lots and lots of stamps.

Yesterday, I went to the Post Office to buy stamps again. Between the save the dates and the first batch of thank you notes, we’ve already gone through a ton of postage. I decided to look carefully at all the stamps this time and see what my options were. My Liberty Bell and pine cone forever stamps were starting to seem a bit- well, dull.  After looking at all the options, I have to say I was shocked- not by the many types of stamps that ranged from Latin Music Legends to National Parks, but by the amount of stamps featuring wedding designs. There are multiple wedding stamps- gold bands, wedding cakes, bouquets and even a stamp to commemorate the Royal Wedding. I guess it is no wonder that stamps and weddings go together like a horse and carriage. Weddings involve lots of mail. Think of all the shower invites, thank you cards and response cards that are sent before the big day. 

Rather than go the traditional route and purchase wedding related stamps, I decided to look for stamps that reflect something about our personality and our charitable mission. Not knowing where to start, I asked the woman behind the counter if they sold any charity stamps. I was met with a somewhat quizzical look, but then she quickly presented me with a sheet of Breast Cancer Awareness Stamps, as well as a sheet of ones featuring ways to help the environment.

She explained that The Breast Cancer Awareness stamps are semipostals (aka charity stamps). Essentially, semipostals are postage stamps that raise funds for a charity. The Breast Cancer research semipostal costs 55¢, which generates 7¢ or 8¢ per stamp goes to research for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer, minus administrative costs. 

Interestingly, semipostals have been highly successful in much of Europe and elsewhere abroad for a long time. In fact, England introduced its first semipostal envelope in 1890 with the same purpose of earning revenue for charity that today’s semipostal stamps have. 

While semipostals have been a mainstay across the pond since the 1890’s, benefiting causes such as aiding victims of tuberculosis, and the Red Cross in the wake of World War 1, the United States did not release a charity stamp until 1998. All the proceeds from the first US semipostal stamp went to fund Breast Cancer research. 

In 2001, following the tragedy of September 11th, the next U.S. semipostal was released. The Heroes stamp depicts the NYC firefighters raising an American Flag at Ground Zero. Like its predecessor, this stamp raised tens of millions of dollars- this time aiding families affected by the terrorist attacks. 

Another trend for stamps are awareness stamps. While these don’t benefit a charity, they raise awareness for an issue.  The USPS’s current awareness focus is on “going green.” The Go Green “Forever” stamp series illustrates simple things people can do every day to make their lives more eco-friendly. The stamps themselves feature clever illustrations that show every day situations and solutions- out of milk? Don’t drive- walk or bike to the store. They offer advice like "compost" and "switch to energy-efficient light bulbs." 
Another popular set of stamps that raise awareness set are the Animal Rescue: Adopt a Shelter Pet series from 2010. (Props to recently featured philanthropic blogger and animal activist Rachel Smith who used them for her wedding invites.) I have to admit I’ve bought these stamps in the past because of the cute animals, but I didn’t even realize the featured cats and dogs were shelter pets! It turns out that all the pets depicted on the stamps were homeless at one time, but by the time of their “photoshoot,” all but one had been adopted.

Using semipostal or awareness stamps is an easy way to help others or to raise awareness. What's even better is that you don't have to be planning a wedding to need stamps. There's always an occasion to send snail mail- after all- Sunday is Mother's Day. Wouldn't grandma like a good old fashioned card and a stamp that tells her how to save energy?