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What if your holiday shopping could accomplish two goals at once?

Instead of enriching Amazon or other corporate chains, buying gifts at local businesses benefits the entire community. And when you choose to spend your dollars at Philly shops that already give back in some way — by maintaining ethical sourcing practices, cleaning up trash or donating profits to charity, for example — you effectively double their positive impact.

Here are 10 suggestions for gifts that’ll make people happy and also help make Philadelphia a better place for all.

A restaurant gift card

What better gift is there than the excuse to relax for one night? A bunch of Philly restaurants have philanthropic missions — or at least dedicate a portion of their profits to good causes. Snag someone you love a gift card, that way they’re forced to treat themselves with delicious food.

A few options:

  • Oyster House — the owner is on the board at the Attic Youth Center, so he regularly donates hot meals and offers cooking classes to the LGBTQ youth who access services there
  • Rosy’s Taco Bar — donates a portion of its profits to the National Immigrant Justice Center (and here are some tips on what to order)
  • Taproom on 19th — this South Philly pub collects donated coats and school supplies for the local neighborhood association to distribute
A puppy (or kitten, or cat, or dog)

Be honest, all you really want is a puppy for Christmas. If your holiday shopping list includes living things, there are of animal shelters in Philly that rescue local strays and find them loving homes.

Here are a few to look out for:

An antique sofa or funky end table

The North Philly furniture store Uhuru donates 100 percent of its proceeds to the African People’s Education and Defense Fund, a national nonprofit that works to defend the civil rights of African people. Stop by for some gifts, and you can load up on a handful of random items — furniture, antiques, art and collectibles.

That new Michelle Obama book

For the bookworm in the family, check out this Germantown bookstore and cafe. For a neighborhood bookstore, Uncle Bobbie’s got a great selection that features tons of authors of color.

The staff takes time to give back to the Germantown community, offering free services like support groups, book clubs, film screenings and children’s story time events. For Germantown residents with their own community event ideas, Uncle Bobbie’s is willing to offer the space up for free.

A personal transit empowerment tool (aka bike)

Based out of West Philly, the Neighborhood Bike Shop is just like a regular Philly bike store. Inside, you can buy bikes, parts and accessories. On top of that, the shop provides tons of programming for kids and adults in the community, like summer camps, leadership classes and job opportunities.

A diamond ring without the guilt

If you’re trying to give away something shiny this year, there’s a way to do it ethically. The jewelry industry is often called out for being problematic — especially when it comes to diamonds.

But the Philly jewelry store Bario Neal centers ethics above all else, committing to sourcing metals and gems that are conflict free and acquired using fair labor.

A Philly-made hoodie

Every season, the South Philly clothing store Paratodo partners with a different charity and donates 25 percent of its profits to the cause. The store sells casual menswear clothing — think hats, t-shirts and hoodies — all made locally.

Last season, Paratodo’s donations went to All Hands and Hearts to help repair homes in Puerto Rico damaged by Hurricane Maria. The winter 2018 recipient hasn’t yet been announced.

Winter 2018: Perspective Lookbook - Vimeo

Winter 2018: Perspective Lookbook from Paratodo on Vimeo.

A sleeping bag and camping gear

With locations in Old City and West Philly, United by Blue sells clothes, home goods and camping products. Plus, they organize regular trash cleanups in Philly and around the world. For every product the store sells, United By Blue promises to remove one pound of trash from the world’s waterways.

If you’ve got an outdoorsy loved ones, this is a solid option for gifts. They even put together a handy gift guide to make the search process a little easier.

A dish set from 1932 — or a thousand other things

There’s a handful of benefits to shopping at Philly AIDS this holiday season. First: the selection is hard to beat. You’ll find a random collection of items — everything from fancy glassware to ugly sweaters — and it’s all second hand, so you’ll save some cash on the gifts.

Best yet: They give away a ton of money to LGBTQ orgs. In 2017, the nonprofit donated $186,000 in grants to Philly HIV/AIDS service organizations, and the store recently started offering free HIV testing on site.

A Gritty ornament

There’s no time to pretend Philadelphia isn’t the greatest city in the world. That’s especially true when you’re getting gifts for other people.

If you want to shove some Philly down your loved one’s throats, you can snag some Philadelphia ornaments in Fishtown. Called “jawnaments,” the options boast images of soft pretzels, SEPTA trolleys, even Gritty — all for prominent display on your holiday foliage. And a proceed of all the sales will go toward the Fishtown Neighbors Association.

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Let’s say you have a question about which food provider makes your kid’s school lunch every day. Maybe you want to know how many local companies put in a bid on a bridge construction project. Or maybe you’re interested in what’s on your councilperson’s calendar.

You — yes, you! — can request these and other public records from local and state governments.

Access to these documents is the foundation of investigative journalism around monitoring public officials and evaluating government activities, but you don’t have to be a reporter to ask for them. Wasting people’s time with frivolous requests isn’t cool, but if you’re unsure if a record is public, it doesn’t cost anything to file one.

A record can be anything from an email to a video to a tweet, but whether or not it’s public depends on a few factors.

There are 30 exceptions carved out in the state’s Right-to-Know law. Records that identify a minor, reveal a “trade secret,” or could jeopardize public safety are off-limits. The judiciary is exempt from the law, save for financial records.

How exactly do you go about making the request? Here’s a step-by-step guide.

All of the information in this article comes from the Office of Open Records and a training given by its Executive Director Erik Arneson.

1) Figure out which agency you need to contact

Contrary to what it may sound like, the state Office of Open Records (OOR) is not the department with which you file your request. Confusion happens often, Arneson said, and OOR — which deals with appeals — gets dozens of primary requests a year sent directly to them.

Instead, find the appropriate place to send your request using OOR’s database, where you can search for contacts by name, county, and type of agency. It doesn’t contain each and every department and group, Arenson said, but it’s the best place to start.

2) Write your request

You’ll either compose your request on the agency’s form or on the standard one provided by OOR.

Do not ask questions in your request (like, which company has the contract to feed my kids at Billy Penn Elementary?) Instead, try to be as specific as possible in describing the record you’re looking. Don’t forget to provide a specific timeline.

It’s not a good idea to request a list — if one doesn’t exist, an agency doesn’t have to make it for you. Instead, use “records showing” ahead of the information you want. For example, instead of asking for a list of suspensions at Billy Penn Elementary in 2018, you should ask for *records showing* suspensions.

There is no fee for electronic copies. However, an agency can charge you 25 cents per page if they have to print a record to redact and it then scan it back into the system. That’s why it’s super important to ask to be notified if the fees will be more than your budget. Do not skip this section of the form.

Arneson said that certified copies are really only necessary in court cases.

3) Send it

You can send a RTK request by email, snail mail, fax or in-person. If you send your request by email, there’s no requirement the agency connect with you in the same way (meaning you could get a response via USPS).

4) Watch your timeline

There’s a very specific timeline agencies and governments have to follow. The officer must respond within five business days to either grant your request, deny it, grant it in part, or ask for a 30-day extension. Agencies are given one 30-day extension, but after that cannot put off the deadline further without the express approval of the requester, aka you.

5) Appeal – if necessary

If the agency misses any of above deadlines, or denies part or all of a request, the requester has 15 days to appeal to OOR. That can be done simply online.

The burden of proof is on the agency.

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See it at Philly Mag.
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See it at South Philly Review.
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See it at Instagram.
A fiery wedge of sunlight battles darkness beneath the El #billypenngram #kensington
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