The East Bay is home to thousands of nonprofit organizations, and that number keeps growing as more Bay Area charities are priced out of San Francisco and relocating here. This season, consider supporting one (or many) of them by giving friends and family the gift of a charitable donation on their behalf. To help you find a good match, we've compiled information on some of the best local organizations at which your money will have the most direct impact.
And if you want to support a worthy cause, but still would like to come away with a gift-wrapped item, we've also included some great options for socially conscious gifts, the profits from which go toward a respectable mission.
Cat Town Cafe
You don't need to be selfless to appreciate this charity. Cat Town Cafe, Oakland's new cat cafe (the first in the country), combines coffee and cats into one experience. Visitors can spend time in the Cat Zone, a room with six to twenty free-roaming cats (all up for adoption) as well as a separate cafe room at which the organization serves coffee, bagels, and other snacks. The cafe is a project of Cat Town, a nonprofit rescue group that launched in 2011 and has since helped find homes for more than six hundred shelter cats.
A $10 donation to Cat Town helps support the organization's critical sheltering efforts — and secures a reservation for an hour of time in the Cat Zone (which fits up to fourteen people total). Donate $50 and bring the whole family, or if you really want to support the organization, consider adopting a furry friend.
NIAD Art Center
A gift from the National Institute of Art and Disabilities (NIAD) in Richmond supports two good causes — and leaves the buyer with an original work of art. Fifty percent of your purchase goes directly to the artist, and the other half goes to NIAD, which works with roughly sixty artists, each of whom has some kind of developmental or physical disability. This holiday season, NIAD's Deck the Walls exhibit, which is up until December 23, features $40 drawings from nearly all of the organization's artists, which buyers can immediately take home with them. The gallery's backroom offers smaller paintings for only $30 and a holiday lounge with a wide range of affordable, handmade gift items, including jewelry, ceramics, scarves, T-shirts, sculptures, and dinnerware.
Temescal Community Foundation
If you're looking for some creative and affordable gifts for kids, the Temescal Community Foundation has great options — and offers a nice alternative to big-box toy stores and other retail chains. The shop currently has some great vintage toys from the 1980s, including a number of Barbie dolls and action figures, with most toys under $10. The thrift store also has a ton of clothes and an eclectic mix of antique and vintage household items. Some of the proceeds from the thrift shop, located in the historic Hooper's Chocolates house on Telegraph Avenue, go toward the Autism Society and to anti-bullying efforts, according to Raf Roaf-Esparza, the shop's assistant manager. The foundation also does job training for young adults at the thrift store.
Being a socially conscious shopper means, for starters, patronizing independent and family-owned businesses. At Regina's Door, a new clothing boutique in downtown Oakland, offers customers the added bonus of a partnership with Love Never Fails, a Bay Area anti-trafficking nonprofit organization that supports at-risk youth. Regina Evans, the shop owner and an Oakland native, helps sex-trafficking survivors through employment, mentoring, and community events. The business, which opened its doors in September, also has great holiday gifts. Evans sells one-of-a-kind vintage dresses ($55–$225), some dating back to the Victorian era, along with vintage handbags ($55–$100), tops, pants, suits, and coats.
Root and Rebound
For those who want to donate directly to a social justice cause, this new Berkeley-based nonprofit is a great option. Root and Rebound provides free legal services and support to some of the most vulnerable people: those reentering society after incarceration. The organization, which launched last fall, depends entirely on individual giving and small donations to support its efforts to help people leaving prison and jail transition back into society. Donations will also help support the group's current initiative to publish a legal guide to reentry — a manual Root and Rebound will distribute to thousands of people to help them navigate the many obstacles associated with the process of coming home, said Katherine Katcher, the organization's executive director.
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
If you want to support an organization with a similar mission but a greater emphasis on broader policy efforts, the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights is a good pick for your holiday charity. Funds donated to the organization go to local and national campaigns aimed at moving resources away from prisons and toward jobs, education, and health care. Locally, the center is currently pushing Alameda County to direct more of its public safety funds to community-based programs and restorative justice initiatives, and nationally, it is working to reform sentencing practices to create systems that better enable and encourage former prisoners to rehabilitate their lives.
Oakland Public Education Fund
Some of the best charitable giving opportunities are the ones in which you can have direct control over where your money is going. The Oakland Public Education Fund is one such nonprofit group, allowing donors to give directly to specific schools (any traditional public school or charter school in the district) or specific programs. Since it launched in 2003, the Ed Fund, formerly called the Oakland Schools Foundation, has helped Oakland Unified School District schools raise more than $25 million for a diverse range of programs and resources. According to executive director Brian Stanley, when you donate to a specific school, the fund will work with that school to determine the best use of the money, identifying certain project opportunities or resource needs, .
Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir
If you want to support both the arts and community service, a gift to the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir is a good fit. The nonprofit organization — which has 65 singers in its main gospel choir and around 15 in its youth choir — allows supporters to donate toward a number of specific needs, including to the youth choir, upcoming CD recordings, scholarships to help members go on tour with the choir, and community service projects. In that latter category, the choir regularly does free performances for homeless shelters, local jails, and other nonprofit fundraisers.
International Rescue Committee, Northern California
There are many ways to help immigrant refugees who have resettled in the United States, and the International Rescue Committee — which has offices in Oakland and has been expanding in the East Bay — makes it easy for holiday shoppers to pick an option that resonates. Through the organization's large menu of "rescue gifts," East Bay residents can choose targeted donation options (which come with well-designed printed cards that make the donation a nice gift). East Bay residents may especially be interested in funding a $135 "refugee farmers' market kit" which can help a refugee with a background in agriculture from his or her home country set up a stall at a local market; in Oakland, the IRC's New Roots program has connected local refugees to Laney College gardens. As part of New Roots, donors can also give a $60 "community garden" gift to help refugees begin urban farming.
Old Yak Bazaar
This new Berkeley establishment, which has only been open a month, also combines social justice and indie retail. Old Yak Bazaar takes its ethical mission seriously, partnering with the Trade Alternative Reform Action Projects (a New Delhi-based fair trade group that helps provide women with sustainable jobs), Guchusum (a nongovernmental organization that supports Tibetan ex-political prisoners through job training and health care), and Conserve (another NGO that makes products out of recycled materials).
These partnerships mean that the store's handmade jewelry, dresses, bags, scarves, and more all come directly from people who made them — and are getting fair compensation for their crafts, explained Wen-Yan King, who runs the shop with her husband, Tenzin Losel. And the goods are still affordable, with a lot of jewelry under $20 and dresses ranging from $62–$78. The shop also has a number of cheap and fun "Elephant Poo" products, including handmade notebooks, gift bags, and cards, made from Indian elephant dung.
Rebuilding Together Oakland
Another opportunity to ensure that your money goes directly toward helping people in need, Rebuilding Together Oakland makes it easy to give a little cash. The nonprofit, relying mostly on volunteers, does home repairs and rehabs for low-income Oakland homeowners with support from donations. The group does energy efficiency upgrades, safety modifications, and more for low-income people, seniors, people with disabilities, and veterans. Donations go to direct causes — for example: $25 for fire safety (two smoke detectors), $250 for shower safety (new grab bars), and a range of other package deals.
Cat Town Cafe, 2869 Broadway, Oakland, CatTownCafe.com
NIAD Art Center, 551 23rd Street, Richmond, 510-620-0290, NIADArt.org
Temescal Community Foundation, 4632 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-653-6817, TemescalCommunityFoundation.com
Regina's Door, 352 17th St., Oakland, 510-423-8157, ReginasDoor.com
Old Yak Bazaar, 1610 University Ave., Berkeley, OldYakBazaar.com
Root and Rebound, 1900 Addison St., Berkeley, 510-279-4662, RootAndRebound.org
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, 1970 Broadway, Oakland, 510-428-3939, EllaBakerCenter.org
Oakland Public Education Fund, 1000 Broadway, Oakland, 510-221-6968, OaklandEdFund.org
Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, 510-839-4361, OIGC.org
International Rescue Committee, Northern California, 405 14th St., Oakland, 510-452-8222 Rescue.org/Gifts
Rebuilding Together Oakland, 1171 Ocean Avenue, Oakland, 510-625-0316, RTOakland.org