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Every holiday season, thousands of people fall victim to a completely preventable social faux pas: the awkward, unexpected one-sided gift exchange. Your neighbor, coworker, classmate or friend shows up with a little package with your name on it, and it hadn’t even occurred to you to get them a gift. While accepting the gift in slow motion, you are racking your brain for something, anything, that you can quickly pop into a festive bag, so they won't know you forgot to put them on your list this year. This scenario has kept the fruitcake industry alive. According to The Joy of Cooking, a fruitcake can last for up to 25 years, so it's no wonder 38 percent of people admit to keeping them around with the bow affixed for the purpose of quick regifting.
The unexpected gift giver actually keeps my mother up at night. That's why she always keeps a collection of somewhat generic, crowd-pleasing gifts on deck – candles, ornaments, scarves, gift baskets. When a neighbor stops by with a gift out of the blue, she gracefully receives it, and asks them to come in for a second while she runs upstairs to grab their gift. It's a foolproof strategy, but there are so many fun gifts that can suit anyone (not) on your list and give back at the same time. Here are six go-to gifts that give for that unexpected gifter. All of them benefit nonprofits and will be appreciated far more than the fruitcake you have lying around.
- A gift card from TOMS shoes. When they pick their style and size, and purchase shoes using your gift card, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need.
- Yellow Bird Project tees. Who doesn't love a t-shirt? The Yellow Bird Project has over 25 tees designed by indie rock musicians, each of which benefits the band's charity of choice. The new design from Metric to benefit musical education programs will be a crowd-pleaser.
- A great deal. During the 12 days of gifting on Living Social, group deals on local restaurants, spas and attractions will also donate local nonprofit organizations. Check out the organizations that will benefit from deals you buy - and gift - in Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC before December 20.
- Okra Seeds from Women for Women International. If you have your laptop handy, you can give the gift of okra seeds on behalf of a friend to help women farmers in Rwanda, Sudan and Afghanistan produce crops that will feed their families and provide additional income. You donate online and tell them their gift (a card from Women for Women) is in the mail.
- Music for good. The Indie Rocks! benefit album for Malaria No More, featuring The Walkmen, Yonder Mountain String Band, Third Eye Blind and others, will send a malaria-preventing mosquito net to Africa. And one of my favorite albums, Dark Was The Night, benefits the Red Hot Organization, an international charity dedicated to raising money and awareness for HIV and AIDS through popular culture.
- Good Cards. These gift cards from Network for Good can be redeemed by the recipient as a donation to more than 1.8 million nonprofits, so no matter whose hands the card finds itself in, it will go to the cause they care about most.
Keep your closet stocked, just in case.