How to Support Charities and Small Businesses This Holiday Season

FILM FORUM - Supporting-Charities-and-Small-Businesses
BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images; Courtesy of FILM FORUM

Left: New York’s nonprofit Film Forum, closed amid the pandemic. Right: American Cinematheque’s membership T-shirt.

From nonprofits to neighborhood movie theaters, bookstores and restaurants, here's how to design a gift-giving strategy that's helpful and hyperlocal.

Celebrity stylist Jeanne Yang is shifting her gift approach this holiday season. "People are going to be focused on things that feel substantive," predicts Yang, who during the pandemic fell in love with the "One Small Step" series on StoryCorps, which connects people from disparate backgrounds to discuss conflicts or commonalities. "Rather than going on Instagram and watching someone flaunt their ostentatious purchase, the five minutes you spend listening to these stories could impact you in a positive way," says Yang, who is donating to both StoryCorps and No Kid Hungry on behalf of friends and family this year while also supporting small businesses like Vroman’s, the Pasadena bookstore.

Movie theaters, restaurants and bookstores have been pivoting throughout 2020 to offset lost income. Independent bookstores ranging from L.A.’s Skylight Books to Book Culture on New York’s Upper West Side are suggesting shopping early for hot titles, due to smaller print runs amid the pandemic, while many are also emphasizing personal service for customers who wish to avoid in-store shopping. “I’ll FaceTime or send videos of books I think [clients will] like,” says Joanne Hendricks, who owns an eponymous, celebrity-favorite bookstore in New York’s Greenwich Village, where one might find a vintage copy of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway or a signed cookbook by Marcella Hazan. (Natalie Portman has been spotted there.)

Many restaurants, meanwhile, are adding a premium to gift cards. At Santa Monica’s North Italia, a $100 gift card comes with a $20 bonus through Dec. 31. Via Goldbelly, iconic New York eateries are shipping gift boxes nationwide, from a $179 brunch box from Russ & Daughters to a three-pack of Detroit-style pizza from Brooklyn’s Emmy Squared for $89. Or consider gifting an online cooking class: Delicious Experiences offers customized virtual lessons, with such chefs as Elizabeth Blau of Honey Salt in Las Vegas contributing their fees and proceeds to charities like Delivering With Dignity. “We pivoted quickly to takeout and also created a community kitchen; with three other restaurants, we’ve delivered more than 200,000 meals over the past eight months,” Blau says, adding that the virtual, personalized classes are an opportunity to enjoy “a fun experience while also contributing meals to the community.

Gift cards and memberships likewise have become key to survival for independent movie theaters and film groups. "I’ve been really heartened by the people who’ve bought memberships while we’ve been closed," says Sonya Chung, deputy director of New York’s nonprofit Film Forum. At American Cinematheque, the umbrella nonprofit organization programming Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre and Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre, membership purchases after Nov. 27 come with a ’90s throwback logo T-shirt. "It’s one way to show that we appreciate the support,” says Grant Moninger, the group’s creative director and co-head film programmer. "People have been checking in to make sure we’re OK and renewing their memberships early. Nobody wants to see a place they love go away."

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.