Attention Last-Minute Shoppers: HuffPost Has a Store With Gifts That Give Back to Those in Need

With the holiday season in full swing, I want to call your attention to two worthwhile initiatives being spearheaded by the HuffPost Impact team and our partners at Causecast.

First up is a holiday gift store we are rolling out today to help those of you looking for last-minute presents that have the added advantage of helping others.

There's a growing awareness that the economic crisis that has left millions without a job and without a home demands more from the rest of us this holiday season. With painful economic times leaving many families struggling to make ends meet, according to a National Retail Federation survey, 84 percent of the public is planning to spend less on holiday gifts than they did last year. People are also trimming their Christmas lists, cutting back from an average of 16 recipients to ten.

This scaling back has also extended to charitable giving. A CNN poll found that over half of the people surveyed said they would be giving less money to charities this year. It's a cruel irony that as the number of people in need rises, the number of people able to help out is falling.

It's one of the reasons the Impact team decided to pull together The Goods (aka The Last Minute Holiday Store: Gifts that Give Back) -- a virtual store where goods and services for those in need can be purchased in the name of your friends and family members (or yourself!).

The store features gifts in three price ranges: under $25, $25 to $50, and over $50. Each item is meant for those in need. And since the people in whose name you give the gift will immediately be notified via an eCard, these "pay it forward presents" are perfect last-minute gifts. (These gifts can come in handy for those unexpected drop-bys: step into the other room, fire up the computer, go to our store and -- presto! -- your guests will be sent a message letting them know that you have purchased a gift that gives back in their name. Even on Christmas Day!) Plus, your gift is tax-deductible. So buy it before the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, and you can write it off on this year's taxes.

Among the items available at the store:

A $10 box of nails that will help Habitat for Humanity build a home for a low-income family.

$10 also buys 20 bags of groceries for hungry families (via Feeding America).

A $25 care package (valued at $75) to be sent to a U.S. soldier (via the USO).

$100 buys a share of a newly-dug well that will provide water for a family of five for 20 years (via Charity Water).

So check out the Last Minute Store -- a reminder for all of us that the impulse to give back is at the heart of what we are celebrating.

The other initiative, which we are calling "12 Days, 12 Cities, 12 Families," kicked off earlier this week. On each of the days leading up to Christmas, HuffPost Impact is featuring the story of a person or family in need -- and the nonprofit groups dedicated to helping them. The stories include specific ways for readers to get involved and help out.

So far, we've featured the moving stories of a mother intent on rebuilding her family's house four years after Hurricane Katrina and an ex-convict working to reconnect with his family. Today's story is about a mother of four in Los Angeles facing homelessness; Friday's is about a former marine who provides support to brain injury sufferers.

By presenting their stories, we hope to be able to make a difference in these people's lives, and also to shed light on the vitally important work being done by nonprofit groups all across America -- groups that desperately need our help.

Lastly, I have a gift I want to pass on to you: a new book put together by marketing and web 2.0 guru Seth Godin. Titled "What Matters Now," the book features short essays from 73 people Godin calls "big thinkers, each sharing an idea for you to think about as we head into the new year" (full disclosure: I'm one of the 73).

Among the contributors: Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert on "Ease"; The Long Tail's Chris Anderson on "Atoms," Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp on the need for people to "Magnetize"; Venture capitalist Fred Wilson on "Slow Capital"; and novelist J.C. Hutchins on "Gumption." I wrote about "Sleep."

It's also beautifully designed.

And here's the best part: the book is free. You can get the pdf and download it by clicking here.

It's a fun and a thought-provoking way to kick off 2010.

Access the Last Minute Store here. 12 Days, 12 Cities, 12 Families here. And What Matters Now here.