Written by: Juanita Rilling, Director, USAID CIDI

Effective Holiday Giving Blog Post

It’s no secret that gifts are a beloved part of the holiday season. From buying and wrapping them, to giving and getting them – the whole process is saturated with merriment.

Some of my favorite parts of the gifting tradition are buy-one-get-one sales (known as BOGO sales) featured by some stores during the holiday season. My home is filled with these freebies, from a colorful collection of sample-sized cosmetics to bags of flavored coffee to BOGO pairs of shoes; I love getting extra goodies from a single purchase.

And BOGO means more to me than just a great perk during holiday shopping. As Director of the USAID Center for International Disaster Information, I spend my year sharing with donors the best ways to support disaster relief, explaining why monetary donations provide the greatest value, flexibility and impact in recovery efforts – essentially serving as a BOGO donation.

What makes monetary donations such a great deal? In the hands of experienced, reputable relief organizations, monetary donations not only save thousands of lives following a humanitarian disaster like Hurricane Katrina or the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, but they bring additional benefits, too. Charitable organizations use cash donations to purchase needed supplies in proper quantities locally, saving thousands of dollars in transportation costs, supporting local merchants and contributing to economic recovery in affected areas. Local purchases also ensure that goods are fresh and familiar to survivors, culturally appropriate and, in the case of equipment, locally supportable so that they will be sustainable additions within the community long after the relief organizations are gone.

Around the holidays, most of us feel the giving spirit pretty strongly, which is a wonderful thing. In that spirit, it’s also good to remember that disasters can happen at any time, in any season – and when they do, being smart about donations ensures that people who are impacted receive the attention, supplies and support they need. Even tiny cash donations combine to achieve the BOGO magic, multiplying the value of your gift – no matter what you give.

In contrast to monetary donations, material donations only provide relief workers with one option rather than the power and flexibility of many options. Executive Director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania Katherina Rosqueta explains that food banks, for example, can purchase what they need for “pennies on the dollar” with cash donations. She estimates that they pay about 10 cents a pound for food that would cost $2 per pound retail. Feeding an entire family for $1 rather than providing a single can valued at $1 seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?

At the USAID Center for International Disaster Information, we’re focused on generating awareness about how monetary donations to trusted relief organizations can achieve every donor’s goal of helping as many disaster-affected people as possible. Just as I’ll always buy the BOGO gift over its single-purchase counterpart, I’ll always give the $5 over the $5-worth of stuff because I want my donation to do as much good as possible. If you ask me, helping more people is the best free gift this holiday season and year-round.


Posted in Best Advice, Give Back | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

jurassic mix_cred Connie Horne

When winter temperatures hit, many grocery stores have to source their salad greens from warmer climates thousands of miles away. But now, thanks to local company PodPonics, local greens are available year-round. The company’s Lettuce Buy Local products are grown using hydroponics, a system of growing plants in water instead of soil. This method uses 90 percent less water than greens grown in fields, and it allows the plants to grow indoors, protected from harsh winters. Their pesticide-free, organic greens come in a variety of mixes, including the new Jurassic Mix that includes baby kale. No matter which mix you choose, their innovative approach lets you enjoy healthy, fresh greens even through winter.

Details: Available at Whole Foods, Kroger and Fresh Market locations, podponics.com

Posted in Best Bites | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blueberry_Pancakes_01Café Sunflower, which has been serving tasty plant-based fare to Atlantans for 20 years, has added a new offering to its Buckhead menu. On Sundays, the restaurant now offers brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., with entree items ranging from $10 to $18. In keeping with the rest of Café Sunflower’s menu, brunch offerings are vegetarian, local and made from scratch. Try their Tofu Benedict, spinach crepes with sweet potato or some classic blueberry pancakes.

Details: 2140 Peachtree Road NW, Atlanta, GA, cafesunflower.com


Posted in Best Bites | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Jessica Shops Pick of the Month

Replacement basket pic

If you have trouble deciding what to give your friends, family and co-workers during the holidays, utilize the free custom design services of Rumson Gifts. Their experts can put together a personalized gift basket created specifically for your recipient. They offer hundreds of products, ranging from well-recognized brands to unique selections from local artisans. Their wide selection includes candles, artwork, clothing, home products, kitchen, linens, books and more. Once your gift basket is ready, it can be shipped anywhere in the United States or delivered via a courier service in the Atlanta area.

Mention JessicaShops, and 10 percent of your purchase will benefit the Atlanta Community Food Bank through the end of the year. www.rumsongifts.com

For more info on Jessica, visit www.jessicashops.com

Posted in Jessica Shops | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The scoop on what’s new around town 


GMO OMG ArtworkYou’ve likely heard buzz about genetically modified foods, whether from a news segment discussing GMO labeling laws, from a health-conscious friend or during your own research about healthy eating. But amid all the hype, you may have missed GMO 101. What are GMO plants and foods, really? How do they affect the environment and our health? Why are companies genetically modifying plants in the first place? These questions and more are answered in the documentary GMO OMG, which recently became available in Target locations across the country. Coming from director Jeremy Seifert, who simply wanted to know what he was feeding his young children, this documentary will get you up to speed and make you an informed consumer on the topic of GMO ingredients in food.

Details: Target stores nationwide, gmofilm.com

No Bartender Required

Bottle +Cocktail Pine Jal

For this year’s holiday parties, enjoy a cocktail without spending time mixing ingredients. Native Atlantan Elizabeth Wiltgen has launched Jane St Vodka Soda, a carbonated mixed drink that combines vodka with fruit juice and agave nectar. Right now, the brand offers four delicious flavors: original with lime, Grapefruit Meyer Lemon, Pineapple Jalapeno and Peach Peppercorn, which are available throughout Atlanta. Starts at $15.99.

Details: Available throughout Atlanta liquor stores, janestvodkasoda.com

Drink Up 

All MilksA new line of organic cold-pressed juices has hit the Atlanta scene. Bamboo Juices, led by CEO Kelley Sibley in collaboration with the chefs at local Serenbe Farms, offers unique juice mixes such as Cinnamon Yam, Red Pepper Melon, Sweet Fennel and more. But if a veggie juice isn’t your thing, Bamboo Juices also offers organic almond milk mixes. The almond milks have indulgent flavors such as Vanilla Mint, Honey Turmeric and Deep Chocolate, and each one is packed with protein. Try Bamboo’s juices or milks by the bottle or as part of a cleanse to reset after the holidays. Starts at $8 per bottle.

Details: Available at Serenbe or through free home delivery, bamboojuices.com

Track It

WeGo_Hybrid_Product ShotWhen a fitness tracker offers more features than usual, you might expect it to go up in price. That’s not the case with the new WeGo fitness tracker from EB Sport Group. Like other leading brands, this fitness bracelet connects to your smart phone and tracks sleep, calories burned and motion throughout the day, and even doubles as a watch. The difference? This brand’s trackers start at just $30. WeGo also offers a clip-on tracker alternative to the bracelet that can be worn on your waistband or pocket. Check out your options at Sports Authority and Dick’s Sporting Goods locations.

Details: joinwego.com

Healthy at Home 

child_with_thermometerKids usually don’t consult the clock before getting sick, but thanks to MedZed, they can receive medical attention even when the pediatrician’s office is closed. This new at-home pediatric care service addresses flu, allergies, fever and more for kids ages 2 to 17. The process includes a phone consultation with a MedZed pediatric nurse or pediatrician and a house call to examine and diagnose your child. The practitioner will call in any necessary prescriptions, give you a follow-up phone call and keep your regular pediatrician in the loop. The service costs a flat fee of $150.

Details: mymedzed.com

Posted in Best Bulletin | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warm Gingered Sweet Potatoes

Chef Megan McCarthy, a healthy lifestyle consultant and the Edible Garden Chef at Atlanta Botanical Garden, loves to share fast, fresh ways to enjoy local, seasonable produce. When the temperature drops and you crave warming, nurturing foods, Chef McCarthy recommends turning to sweet potatoes. Especially in cold season, sweet potatoes can deliver just what the doctor ordered; a load of vitamins A, B and C that you can access in just a short cooking time. Boiling or steaming sweet potatoes are your best bet for saving loads of cooking time as well as reducing the effect on your blood sugar. This recipe also includes a bit of natural fat, which creates a satisfying dish, and fresh ginger for a pop of liveliness.


4 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

4 cups water

1-inch fresh ginger root, peeled

½ cup coconut or almond milk

2 tbsps pure maple syrup

1 tbsp extra-virgin coconut oil

1 pinch sea salt

Freshly ground nutmeg to taste

½ cup pecans, toasted


Peel and dice sweet potatoes and place in medium saucepan. Add water to cover and cook on medium high for about 10 minutes or until fork tender. Drain sweet potatoes.

In food processor, pulse peeled ginger root to mince. Add cooked sweet potatoes, coconut milk, maple syrup, coconut oil, sea salt and nutmeg, and pulse until smooth consistency.

In dry sauté pan, lightly toast pecans over medium high heat until fragrant. Garnish sweet potatoes with toasted pecans to serve. Makes four servings.

–Courtesy of Chef Megan McCarthy, healthyeating101.com

Posted in Best Bites | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Land Rover pic, cred Biltmore EstateIn autumn, the Biltmore House’s views of the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a vibrant array of fall foliage, but that’s not the only reason Atlantans head to Asheville. The Biltmore’s Outdoor Adventure Center now offers off-road driving lessons from the Land Rover Experience Driving School. The lessons cover the basics of driving off-road, such as steep ascents, descents, side tilts, log crossings and rock crawls, and the drive can be customized to your level of skill and comfort. If you don’t want to be in the driver’s seat, let an expert driver take the wheel while you enjoy the views from the passenger’s seat. Prices vary based on course selection.

Details: One Lodge St., Asheville, NC, 800-411-3812, www.biltmore.com 

Posted in Best Fun | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Dr. Christopher Killingsworth from Atlanta Aesthetics answers a reader’s question about mommy makeovers.

Killingsworth, MD, Chris_cred himself

Q: What makes a woman a good candidate for a mommy makeover?

A: Women experience a number of changes to their bodies after childbirth. They may notice a loss of fullness to their breasts and a change in shape. Also, the stomach may develop loose skin and an abdominal bulge that exercise just will not help. A good candidate for a “mommy makeover” experiences these changes and wants to restore her breasts and abdomen to their pre-baby condition. She needs to be relatively close to her goal weight, in good health and ready to put herself first for a short time after the procedure.

Posted in Best RX | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Christie Carden York from Century Travel & Affiliates is here to give you her best travel advice for the holidays.

York, Christie_cred Christie York


What are the toughest parts of holiday travel?

Availability and inflated rates. The Caribbean in particular is incredibly popular, and many hotels will have severe minimum night requirements (up to 14 nights) that you have to adhere to. Add on the fact that rates can be double that of any other season, and you’ve got a challenge when everyone wants the same type of destination.

How can people overcome those challenges?

Plan early and think outside the box. There are gorgeous places in California that are still in the low 70s during the day. Alternatively, head somewhere cool and enjoy the wintery weather, such as a ski destination.

What are some tips for traveling with family or in large groups?

Don’t over commit and run yourself ragged trying to see or do too much during this time of year. Keep some downtime in place to just be together.

What are your favorite places to visit during the holiday season?

London, Paris and Washington, D.C. are absolutely gorgeous during the holidays. If I am itching for warm weather, I’ll head to southern California.

Posted in Best Advice | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Dr. Edmond I. Griffin from Dermatology Associates of Atlanta answers a reader’s question about the latest technology to tighten aging skin.

Griffin, MD, Edmond_cred practice name

Q: I’m looking for a non-invasive way to tighten my aging skin. What’s the latest technology?

A: We recently added the advanced Infini™ skin tightening system by Lutronic® to our selection of services that address familiar skin concerns such as loss of elasticity, hyperpigmentation and acne scarring. The system features two flexible hand pieces that allow for precise targeting with the unique combination of supercharged micro-needling and radiofrequency technology. These work together to volumize and rejuvenate skin while stimulating collagen production to produce tighter and more toned, refined skin.

Posted in Best RX | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment