Local shopping that does a ton of good by giving back? Yes, please!

McFarland House Cafe

A few Decembers ago, I challenged myself: With every Christmas present I bought, I’d try to maximize the number of people it helped. It was so fun, I’ve kept the challenge going!

Here’s my thought process:

Anytime I buy a present, it (hopefully!) benefits the recipient in some way.

If I buy from a small business, I help the gift recipient and the small business owner.

Some small businesses, though, go above and beyond in supporting the local community.

If I buy from those businesses, the gift benefits the recipient, and the small business owner, and the people and programs that business supports.

That’s a powerful gift!

I’m not knocking Amazon and big-box stores. I shop those, too. But the Christmas Challenge does make shopping a little extra fun, a little extra special, and it does a little extra good. Below, I’ve described a few Madison-area businesses that I love and that have great reputations for community service. The Madison area is blessed with lots of caring local business owners, so this is not a comprehensive list!


If I ever meet Dave Heide, I’ll be starstruck. The dude is a community-service rock star. Yes, the food at his restaurants (Liliana’s in Fitchburg and the much-missed Charlie’s on Main in Oregon) is amazing. But his community giving is truly exceptional. Liliana’s, for example, just offered a pay-it-forward program that allowed people to purchase a Thanksgiving dinner for another family. Heide is also in the process of launching Little John’s, a pay-what-you-can restaurant concept that also partners with local organizations to end food insecurity in the Madison area. For more information on Little John’s, check out their website and Facebook page.

Liliana’s has gift certificates and pay-it-forward options.

Beautiful bread warmer from Serrv


My heart is a little broken that Serrv’s State Street store is closing. But you can still shop online to support this local business, which started in 1949 and sells items from artisans and farmers around the world using fair-trade principles.

GIFT IDEA: Home decor, kitchen and garden items, clothing and accessories, chocolates, spices, teas … so many choices!


This training program teaches commercial-kitchen baking skills, hospitality and restaurant management, etc., to help people who have significant barriers to employment, such as homelessness or lack of education. That’s a beautiful mission in and of itself. But the kicker for everyone else is that these fabulous bakers then sell the tasty treats they’re learning to make. All proceeds are then reinvested into the program.

GIFT IDEA: Cookies, muffins, breads, pies, cheesecakes … YUM. During the pandemic, orders are available for delivery in Dane County for $5, or for curbside pick up on Saturday mornings.

Yes, Target gift cards are great. But wouldn’t it be nice to treat our teachers AND support a local business?


I’m sure Short Stack has lots of delicious food. But the first time I went there, I tried their fresh-blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup, and now it’s the only thing I want to eat ever for the rest of my life. The popular restaurant on West Johnson Street is closed for dining in during the pandemic, but you can still order their pancakes, breakfast burritos and other breakfast-y foods for curbside pick up or delivery. Through their Organization of the Month program, co-owners Alex Lindenmeyer and Sinead McHugh donate 1 percent of the eatery’s monthly profits to 12 nonprofits each year.

They also partner with the Just Bakery program. And they are committed to making their restaurant a welcoming place for all people. As one example: Short Stack managers participate in the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development’s Justified Anger course that teaches Black history in order to expand White allyship.

GIFT IDEA: I’ve been eyeing up Short Stack’s new Pie Of The Month subscription. (You can choose the number of months you want to subscribe.) But as noted above, I’ve also bought their gift cards for teacher gifts.

When a fire recently put a Sun Prairie family out of its home, Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson knew immediately who to call. Tim Metcalf, co-owner and president of Metcalfe’s Market. Metcalf immediately said his grocery store chain would cover the cost of whatever the family needed and ended up footing the bill for a month’s worth of groceries. (Target also gave the family big discounts on items they needed to replace.) Metcalfe’s is also behind Brat Fest, which kicks off summer in Madison and has raised almost $2 million to support local charities.
GIFT IDEA: Gift certificates, holiday treats, a cart full of food … anything you can get at a grocery store. (And, of course, you can shop for your own holiday-meal items, too.)

OTHER OPTIONS: I asked moms groups on Facebook to suggest options. Several people listed the businesses mentioned above. But they also said these businesses are exceptional at community service — McFarland House Cafe, Karben4 Brewing, the Willy Street Co-op, Salvatore’s Tomato Pies, Eddie’s Alehouse and Eatery, Beans n Cream and Yola’s Cafe.

If you know of other small businesses that do great things for our community, please add them to the comments here and on social media.

Kirsten is a native Wisconsinite who married a Brit, moved to England and happily ended up in Madison in 2010. She and her husband, Adrian, are parents to Sophie, Charlie and Susannah, who fascinate and exhaust their parents pretty much every day. A former newspaper reporter, Kirsten now supports mompreneurs through her website, motherbility.com. She's also a mini-expert on traveling with kids. (Always answer "Should we go to ... " with "yes." Bring toys, snacks and an excess of patience.) She and her family camp every summer, usually in state parks, because they love outdoor living. And s'mores.


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