11 Thoughtful Gifts That Give Back

One World Play Project
One World Play Project

Giving feels great—so great that there’s an entire holiday season devoted to it. This year, instead of limiting yourself to conventional presents, give a gift that extends that warm and fuzzy feeling to your loved ones. Making a donation in someone else’s name or gifting an item that benefits a charity is the perfect way to brighten the holidays for those who need it most. And when your friends and family feel included in the effort, a little generosity can go a long way.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. One World Futbol; $39

For every soccer ball purchased from the One World Play Project, one ball is given to children in a disadvantaged community. The organization’s model is simple but effective: So far over 1 million balls have been distributed in the name of “the power of play.” Each ball is ultra-durable, making it a great gift for any roughhousing kid.

Give Back at One World Play Project.

2. Whole Turkey For a Big Cat; $20

Tiger carrying raw chicken.
Big Cat Rescue

More than 80 lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars, and other exotic cats call the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Tampa, Florida home. After rescuing the abused or abandoned animals, BCR provides them with shelter, healthcare, and plenty of fresh meat to eat. One of their favorite treats to enjoy around the holidays is poultry. For $20, you can make a big cat’s day with a whole turkey given in someone else’s name. The sanctuary also lists cheaper gift options: $10 for a chicken or half turkey for medium-sized cats and a $5 Cornish game hen for even smaller cats. If your donation exceeds the cost of the bird, that money will go to meeting other needs around the sanctuary.

Give Back at Big Cat Rescue.

3. The Autobiographer's Handbook: The 826 National Guide to Writing Your Memoir; $17

Whether you’re a part-time pirate, superhero, or cryptozoologist, there’s an 826 chapter out there for you. The national organization of themed tutoring centers has been inspiring kids to read and write since 2002. If you’re looking for a way to give back to the nonprofit, include The Autobiographer's Handbook: The 826 National Guide to Writing Your Memoir on your holiday shopping list. This how-to guide is full of precious nuggets of advice from accomplished writers like Elizabeth Gilbert, Nick Hornby, and Sarah Vowell. In addition to upping your memoir writing game, the proceeds of each purchase will directly benefit the student programs offered at 826 centers across the country.

Give Back at Amazon.

4. ROMA BOOTS; $69 AND UP

Roma rain boots
Roma

Roma makes giving back look good. Every purchase of a pair of their sleek boots results in a new pair donated to an underprivileged child. The shoes come in a variety of styles and designs, with the cheapest classic boot pair priced at $69.

Give Back at Roma.

5. ALPACA; $150

Boy with alpaca in a field.
Heifer International

If you’ve ever dreamed of owning an alpaca but don’t have the yard space, buying one for someone in need is a great alternative. Heifer International does more than provide livestock to families—they also empower them with the tools and knowledge they need to turn animal products like milk and wool into a source of income. Alpacas are some of the more fun items in their gift catalogue, but gifters have their pick of farm animals ranging from $20 for a flock of ducks to $500 for a heifer. After selecting the gift, donors can send a personalized card to the person who inspired it.

Give Back at Heifer International.

6. WATER PURIFIER; $35

Card showing someone bathing in water.
Oxfam

For families living without access to a safe water source, a basic water purifier can be life-changing. With a donation of $35 Oxfam can provide the gift of clean water to someone in one of the many impoverished communities it works with around the world. If you want to donate the purifier in honor of someone else, Oxfam gives you the option to send them a physical or digital card or print one out at home.

Give Back at Oxfam.

7. Narwhal Adoption Kit; $55

Narwhal plush doll.
World Wildlife Fund

Narwhals are known as the unicorns of the sea for a reason—they’re mysterious, elusive, and famous for their horn-like teeth that grow up to 8.8 feet long. For just $55, you can symbolically adopt the sea creature for yourself or someone you know. An adoption kit includes a photo, a plush toy, a gift bag, a species card, and an adoption certificate from the World Wildlife Fund. Donors looking to make an even bigger impact can choose to opt out of the gifts with more of the proceeds going towards WWF’s conservation efforts around the world. And if you don’t have any whale lovers in your life, WWF has dozens more “adoptable” species to choose from.

Give Back at World Wildlife Fund.

8. Mosquito Net; $10

Box wrapped in mosquito net.
Nothing But Nets

One of the easiest ways to save a life is by providing a mosquito net to a family that needs one. According to Nothing But Nets, a campaign from the UN foundation, bed netting reduces malaria rates by 90 percent. After donating $10, the organization will send a insecticide-treated net to a home in sub-Saharan Africa where the disease is especially prevalent.

Give Back at Nothing But Nets.

9. HOMEMADE COOKIE GIFT BOX; $29

Box surrounded by packaged cookies.
That's Caring

If you don’t have the energy to bake cookies for everyone on your gift list this season, buy them a box of pre-made baked goods instead. This package includes three cookie varieties: white chocolate macadamia, sugar caramel, and oatmeal raisin. The cause it benefits makes this sweet treat even more satisfying: For every purchase, That’s Caring will donate a weekend food bag to a child facing food insecurity.

Give Back at That’s Caring.

10. The Unexpected Pit Bull 2018 Calendar; $25

2018 calendar with pitbull model.
The Unexpected Pitbull

This 2018 wall calendar shows that pit bulls are just as deserving of love as any other breed. The calendar includes photos of the dogs jumping, snuggling, and striking handsome poses, and each month features a true story from a human owner who’s taken a pit bull into their home. All of the proceeds go to helping dog rescue and advocacy groups. For animal lovers who can’t adopt a pet of their own, hanging up this wall calendar is a simple way to show support.

Give Back at The Unexpected Pit Bull.

11. Waterproof Hiking Boots; $140

Hiking boot on white background.
Keen

A pair of tough, water-resistant boots from Keen makes for handy hiking gear year-round, but the best time to buy the shoes is around the holidays. Through December 24, the footwear company will donate $5 from every pair purchased to the Portland, Oregon-based charity organization Mercy Corps. The group works in dozens of countries around the world, including Syria, China, and Haiti, to help victims of humanitarian crises. Sandals, winter boots, and other apparel are also included in Keen's Pair With Purpose program.

Give Back at Keen.

11 Patriotic Products to Celebrate the Fourth of July

Amazon
Amazon

Whether you’ll be lounging by the beach or grilling in your backyard this Independence Day, don’t forget to show off your all-American spirit with a little swag. Here are 11 products to help you celebrate Fourth of July—all of which would pair nicely with your collection of presidential bobbleheads.

1. Declaration Of Independence Signatures Mug; $15

Mug decorated with the signatures from the Declaration of Independence.
CafePress, Amazon

The names of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence are on display on this ceramic coffee mug. Studying the signatures each morning might inspire you to perfect your own John Hancock.

Find it: Amazon

2. Stars And Stripes Cufflinks; $55

Cufflinks with images of stars and stripes on them

Cufflinks Inc., Nordstrom

Brighten up your wardrobe with a splash of American pride. One half of this cufflinks set is striped red and white and the other is blue and spangled with stars. Together they make a patriotic accent piece.

Find it: Nordstrom

3. Fireworks Light Show Projector; $41

Portable fireworks light projector.
Uncle Milton, Amazon

If you want a low-hazard Fourth of July that still delivers thrills, consider getting a light show projector. When it’s pointed at a wall, the device displays vibrant fireworks animations accompanied by realistic sound effects. And it works indoors, so you can count on your Independence Day party ending with a light show no matter the weather forecast. (There's also a Disney version available for just $20.)

Find it: Amazon

4. Inflatable Cooler; $14

Inflatable American flag cooler filled with ice and drinks.
Fun Express, Amazon

When preparing for a picnic or barbecue this Fourth of July, don’t bother breaking out your tiny roll-away cooler. This 54-by-28-inch inflatable trough holds enough bottles and cans to keep your party going well past sunset. Once the cooler has been drained and deflated, it folds neatly for easy storage.

Find it: Amazon

5. American Trivia Cards; $15

Even players who paid attention in American history class might find this game challenging. Each box comes with 150 cards of United States trivia. Some questions—like what was the first state to grant women the right to vote—highlight important moments in our nation’s history. Others—like how many columns the Lincoln Memorial features—are a little more random.

Find it: UncommonGoods

6. U.S. Navy Blanket; $200

The U.S. military has been going to Faribault Woolen Mill Co. for its blankets for over 100 years. This one is crafted from 100 percent wool and weighs 3.5 pounds. The design is inspired by the blankets supplied on Navy ships—and if it’s tough enough for the Navy, you can bet it will withstand a Fourth of July picnic. We like the gray version, but it comes in several different styles and colors.

Find it: Faribault Woolen Mill Co.

7. American Flag Cornhole; $90

Two American flag cornhole boards with bean bags.
GoSports, Amazon

Baseball faces some stiff competition from cornhole for the title of No. 1 American pastime. This lawn set includes four blue bean bags, four red bean bags, and two boards decorated to resemble the American flag.

Find it: Amazon

8. U.S. Map Cutting Board; $20

Wooden cutting board in the shape of the U.S. map.
Totally Bamboo, Amazon

This 100 percent bamboo board eschews the traditional rectangle shape in favor of the outline of the American mainland. You can either keep it in the kitchen and use it as a cutting board or bring it out to the party as a serving platter for fruits, cheeses, and other hors d'oeuvres.

Find it: Amazon

9. Boston Tea Party Tea Sampler; $15

Six piles of loose-leaf tea.
Solstice Tea Traders, Amazon

A sip of one of the teas in this sampler will put you in touch with your inner revolutionary. Each of the six loose-leaf varieties—bohea black tea, oolong, congou black tea, souchong, singlo, and hyson—was among those tossed over the sides of British ships during the Boston Party. Whether you drink the tea or chuck it into the nearest harbor is up to you. (If you're looking for something to put on display, UncommonGoods also sells a slightly pricier, more elegant option with five teas.)

Find it: Amazon

10. State Map Prints; $27 and Up

A poster featuring a colorful map of Wisconsin
Bri Buckley, Society6

These unique prints by Bri Buckley highlight the beauty of each U.S. state in vibrant color. Each state map is available in both a modern and a vintage style, and like most Society6 art, the design is also available on tapestries, shirts, pillows, tote bags, and more.

Find it: Society6

11. Bald Eagle Pool Float; $15

A man and a woman ride a bald eagle pool float
Swimline, Amazon

Cool down the patriotic way this Fourth of July. This massive 8-foot-by-6-foot bald eagle pool float can fit up to two people comfortably, and will look great floating around your pool during your backyard barbecue.

Find it: Amazon

A version of this article first ran in 2017. It has been updated for 2019.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

Turn Your Phone Into an Instant Camera With KODAK's New Handheld Printer

KODAK
KODAK

Instant cameras are all the rage, but when you're already carrying a high-end camera everywhere you go in the form of your smartphone, the idea of carrying around an extra gadget might seem like more work than it's worth. You don't have to choose between the convenience of your phone's camera and the fun of having a tangible memento. KODAK's new SMILE digital printer combines all the fun of using filters and image editing on your phone with the delight of having a printed copy of your photo.

Blue, green, black, red, and white KODAK SMILE printers printing photos
The KODAK SMILE line of instant digital printers
KODAK

The handheld Bluetooth printer—which is roughly the same size as KODAK's SMILE instant digital camera—lets you edit photos on your phone, then print your image instantly on 2-inch-by-3-inch sticker paper. Using the KODAK SMILE app, you can add Instagram-esque filters; rotate images and change contrast, brightness, and other characteristics; and add stickers, text, doodles, and borders.

Most uniquely, you can add augmented reality elements to your photos, so that when you (or someone else with the KODAK SMILE app) point the app at the physical print, the image is replaced by a short video clip. The effect is something like the moving photographs in Harry Potter—you can surprise your friends by asking them to view a photo through the app's AR function, then watch their delight as the still image begins to move.

The KODAK SMILE app
KODAK

KODAK sent Mental Floss both the SMILE instant camera and the SMILE printer to test, and while there's a lot of fun in snapping photos on an instant camera and accepting whatever weird flaws that photo might have (though you can do some light editing on the SMILE camera before printing), in our opinion, the breadth of image-editing features and convenience of being able to print photos you've already taken on your smartphone makes the digital printer the better option if you're trying to choose between the two.

This is especially true if you're going on vacation or trying to capture a night out on camera; it's just easier to whip out your phone rather than break out another camera, and it's easier to edit photos on your phone than to manipulate photos on the SMILE instant camera's small screen.

Blue, black, green, white, and red KODAK SMILE instant-print cameras
The KODAK SMILE line of instant-print digital cameras
KODAK

The SMILE printer is available on Amazon and Walmart for $100 and comes in five different colors: white, black, blue, green, and red. The SMILE instant-print digital camera is also $100 on Amazon and Walmart and is available in the same colors.

While the camera and the printer both come with a starter pack of sticker-backed ZINK photo paper, you can get 50 refill sheets for $24 when you run out.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER