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Amazon Donates to Charity When You Shop Through Smile

The holiday season is the busiest time for shoppers, and that uptick in sales can be seen everywhere from local small businesses to online giant like Amazon. For charities, the season of giving is also an opportunity to raise much needed revenue for their causes as the year ends. The shopping giant Amazon now allows you to give back to your favorite charities while getting your holiday shopping done by using Amazon Smile.

The program, Amazon Smile allows you to make a donation to your favorite charity simply by shopping through their Amazon Smile portal. Every product you purchase through the portal will result in a 0.5% donation to the charity of your choice. There is no spending limit, and donations are automatic as long as the purchase was made through Amazon Smile. As of writing, the program has raised $105,515,619.04 in total for all of the nonprofits that are in the program.

Shopping through the portal does not cost you anything additional. The prices for the products in the portal are exactly the same as the prices on their main website. The only difference is the donation. It's a simple, non-obstructive way to give back to others while purchasing what you otherwise already would have.

Amazon Smile also showcases a selection of charities for given categories if you need help choosing which cause to support, which is helpful because millions of nonprofits are able to be donated to via Smile. They also organize nonprofits into categories like In addition, you are able to search the charities by location to see if there are any organizations helping your local area.

While 0.5% may not seem like a lot of money, it can make all the difference, especially for smaller charities. In some cases, that little bit could make the difference between life and death. Angie Gunter, who is on the board of directors for the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA had this to say:

Source:  Amazon

Source: Amazon

“Every little bit we get is… they're lifesavers. I mean, it's literally life-saving gifts, so every dime counts. It's the time of giving. This is the time of the year where people open up their hearts and their wallets typically and they want to give, and I can't think of better a way to give then to your favorite charity.” 

It's a rare chance to have the ability to make a difference without spending a penny out of your own pocket, but Amazon Smiles lets do that. Every time you make the purchases you had already planned to make anyway through the portal, Amazon will add that .5% to that charity’s tally and write them a check when they routinely pay out.

In the aggregate, with the help of millions of other Amazon customers, your donations can save the lives of shelter pets in need, feed the hungry, fight cancer, save the planet, or anything else you might want to support. What ever cause is nearest to you can receive the benefits of these donations.

Unfortunately, there is one down side. Since the money for the donations aren't coming out of your pocket, the donations are not tax deductible.Charities can also ask to be removed from the program, and have to be in good standing with the IRS to be eligible to participate.

All in all, bookmarking smile.amazon.com in your browser instead of going directly to amazon.com is a completely simple task that any Amazon shopper (you don’t even need Prime!) can do that, depending on their purchasing behavior, can have immediate and bountiful positive effects on a nonprofit or cause that they support. The benefits cost you nothing since they come out of Amazon’s pocket, and the program is worth your consideration.

You can learn more about Amazon Smile here.

Amazon's Founder Announces New $2 Billion Charity Fund

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has announced the creation of a new philanthropic fund. The Day One Fund, which got its name from Jeff Bezos treating every day like it is 'Day One' of running Amazon, will focus on two separate areas. One portion of the fund will go to helping homeless families, and the other to preschool education for underprivileged children.

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The funds are in response to criticism from people who feel that the richest man on Earth should put some of his billions toward helping others. Although Jeff Bezos has donated money to charity before, his philanthropic efforts had fallen short of others such as Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. Jeff Bezos listened to these critics, and asked for suggestions on what direction to go with his money from followers on Twitter. In June, he announced that he'd made a decision, and would reveal that choice by the end of summer. He fulfilled that promise, by revealing the Day One fund on September 13th.

The fund will be launched with 2 billion dollars, divided between two areas. The first part of the fund, called the Day 1 Family Fund, will focus on providing money to charities that assist the homeless. This includes annual leadership awards for charities that go above and beyond to make a change in the world, such as the shelter, “Mary's Place” in Seattle, who made it their goal to ensure no child sleeps outside. Bezos mentions that Mary's Place was the inspiration for this fund in his Twitter announcement.

The other half of the fund, known as the Day 1 Academy fund, will be directed toward creating Montessori style preschools in underprivileged areas, with full ride scholarships available. Montessori education allows learning through guided play, and uses the child's own interest to help develop their mind. It is one of the biggest gifts to ever be given to preschools.

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It isn't yet known how far along the Day One Fund is towards completion, or when the fund will be officially launched. 

This announcement comes with mixed reactions from the public. While some people praise him for his philanthropic effort, others criticize him because he has given so little compared to his huge fortune. According to David Callahan, the founder of a website called Inside Philanthropy, focusing on philanthropic efforts later in life is fairly normal.

"With big fortunes like that, the only thing you can really do is give it away -- unless you want the government to take half of it through estate tax,” Callahan stated recently.

This statement has been proven true with the very same people Bezos is being compared against. Bill and Melinda Gates did not focus on their charity until after they had stepped away from the business, and many others did not begin donating until much later in life. At 54, Bezos is just on time to join the mega givers, and is a welcome first step in his philanthropic efforts.

Yaguas National Park and Conservation in the Peruvian Amazon

Earlier this year, on January 12th, the Peruvian government announced the designation of South America's newest national park. It is tucked away in the furthest north west corner of the country known as the Loreto region, just along the Columbian border where the mighty Amazon river meanders its way from Brazil. The Putumayo river, a large tributary of the Amazon serves as the main water source, creating a large, interconnected river basin where the water moves so slowly it can be difficult to discern what is truly a river. The closest town of any size is Iquitos, sometimes known as the capitol of Peruvian Amazon, that serves as the main port of trade between the area and the rest of the country. However, even from there, the park is still days journey away by any traditional mode of transportation. It is here, on a patch of land measured at over 860,000 hectares, that now sits Yaguas National Park, so named both after one of the rivers and one of the indigenous communities it protects. 

Although the Amazon rain forest stretches over around 60% of the country, Yaguas National Park is unique in its unrivaled biological diversity and relatively unspoiled nature. Its designation as a national park is the culmination of decades of effort from local indigenous communities, as well as national and international conservation groups including the Servicio Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (SERNANP), Peru's national agency for the protection of natural areas.

This new national park is not only home to multiple endangered and rarely seen species, like the giant river otter, but its dense biodiversity is such that is rarely seen in the natural world. In fish alone there are thought to be over 500 distinct species within the borders of the park, one of the richest sites in the world with regards to diversity in fish and representing over 60% of species present in Peru. This is in addition to the projected numbers of 160 distinct species of mammals, 500 species of birds, 110 species of amphibians, and 100 species of reptiles thought to be present. Not to mention around 3,500 species of plants in this one park alone. For ecologists and conservationists, Yaguas National Park is a treasure trove. In the river one might see freshwater pink river dolphins and manatees. In the air it may be harpy eagles or hoatzins. Everywhere, the fast growing nature of the rain forest is such that one might forget about the influence of man. That, it until running into evidence of illegal mining or logging operations.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Multiple environmental watch groups, SERNANP included, have in recent years used the area now known as Yaguas National Park as site for biological and geological research in the hopes to prove the immeasurable value of the park and the need for its continued and increased protection. Not only have they documented no small amount of the varied species in the area but also identified its other point of great importance, its essential role as a carbon sink. As global concerns about carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels grow, untouched forests such as this which store atmospheric carbon become increasingly valuable and in need of preservation.

Additionally, the site of the new park is home to upwards of 1,000 indigenous people who rely upon the land to maintain their way of life. Leaders of local indigenous communities, from the Bora, Mürui, Tikuna, Kichwa, Ocaina, and Yagua peoples, were instrumental in the successful designation of the park and are often the fiercest proponents of conservation. These communities, due to their remote location, rely upon subsistence hunting. It is also to be considered that the communities now present in the area are the remnants of much larger populations of indigenous peoples whose numbers were decimated as part of the rubber boom. Entire communities have already been indelibly shaped by the exploitation of their natural resources. 

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Furthermore, additional damage to the ecosystem in which they live has the potential to dangerously affect population levels of animals considered essential to their diet. In this way, environmental conservation meets economic benefits for the national government. By maintaining the ability of local communities to be self sufficient, it is estimated that the Peruvian government will benefit to the tune of over US$7,000,000.

Unfortunately the Amazonian rain forest, particularly that of Peru, has been under increased threat by illegal logging and mining efforts. Those areas of the Amazon, like this one, that were spared from the rubber boom now must worry about deforestation and illegal mining efforts, some searching for gold and others searching for the plentiful oil deposits present in the region. In fact, expeditions facilitating the formation of the park were at times met by violence from mining groups  aware that they were operating in the area illegally.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Logging and mining efforts not only scar the land with their heavy machinery and clear cutting but also leave poisonous chemicals in their wake. Mercury, in particular, is used heavily in the gold refining process, regardless of the significant health risk to the miners themselves. In high enough quantities it can cause irreversible brain and damage to internal organs. This mercury inevitably makes its way into the river, therefore the water supply, and from there has the potential to poison the entire forest. As it flows downstream the problem continues and has the potential to produce irreversible symptoms of the neurological toxin in animals and people miles away. The placement of Yaguas National Park in a river basin means that any change to the water supply will be felt throughout.

The fact that this stretch of jungle is still relatively untouched presented a rare opportunity for conservationists to protect it from further damage, an opportunity that will only become less common and more essential as the world continues to see the effects of climate change. By preserving the park as a protected area, this stretch of jungle at least is made safe. The benefits of designating the area specifically as a national park are two fold. It places stronger legal protections on the land and it diverts funding for increased physical protection. 

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

The area protected by Yaguas National Park is densely wooded and free of roads. The only viable ways in and out of the park are through the river. A key aspect to the Yaguas National park preservation effort is in the placement of a ranger station at the main point of entry, the Yaguas river. Although indigenous communities will be able to travel freely both by land and by waterways, individuals and groups interested in bringing large scale operations and equipment into the protected area have little choice but to travel by water. In addition to placing strengthened legal protections on the area, the transition of the Yaguas Reserved Zone to Yaguas National Park increases priority and funding for SERNANP to physically provide protection. Just by placing this increased protection at these key locations in the park, the amount of illegal logging and mining is expected to be significantly reduced.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Beyond the victory the designation of a new national park presents for conservationists Yaguas National Park presents a victory for cultural preservationists as well. Peru has been coming under fire recently for failures to protect sites of cultural significance. Just this February, the famous UNESCO registered Nazca lines were dealt irreparable damage by a commercial truck driver who diverged from the nearby highway, scarring the land in the name of a shortcut. With plans now moving forward to allow highways to further penetrate the Peruvian Amazon, preservation concerns regarding current indigenous tribes and their sacred sites have only risen higher.  Because of the extreme biodiversity present in the region of Loreto surrounding the Yaguas and Putamayo tributaries of the Amazon river, the land protected by the newly formed Yaguas National park, it has long been considered a sacred space by local tribes, known to many as “sachamama”. By setting aside the park for preservation the Peruvian government protects these sacred sites from further legal and illegal exploitation of their natural resources.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Elsewhere in the Peruvian Amazon, Canadian oil and gas company Pacific Exploration and Production has also recently decided to abandon legal prospecting efforts in Sierra del Divisor National Park. As with Yaguas National Park, the area is faced with concerns regarding the effect of large scale oil drilling efforts on local indigenous populations “uncontacted” and separated from modern society due to their extreme remote location. 

Sierra del Divisor National Park, itself, was only established in November of 2015 on a staggeringly large (approximately 1.3  million hectares) swath of land along the Peruvian-Brazilian border which places it within multiple Peruvian provinces, including Loreto. The land that was to be affected by these oil drilling efforts stretches over nearly half of the national park and over areas protected specifically to shield indigenous inhabitants residing in isolation. 

This move, to abandon this plot of land that is known as Lot 135, is in the wake of efforts by the Organización Regional de los Pueblos Indigenas del Oriente (ORPIO) in 2017 to sue the government agencies responsible for granting the concession to the Canadian company. This is on the grounds that the indigenous peoples residing within the park have a constitutionally protected right to continued isolation, as well as conservation of the land in its natural state, in order to preserve their way of life. It has been argued that even newly proposed plans to expand the peruvian highway system puts this right to isolation at risk. In recent years there have been multiple large scale efforts by indigenous communities in the region of Loreto to impress upon the national government the need for further natural preservation, including a promise to block future efforts of oil extraction. Upon the revelation that prospecting groups operating within the land in question have observed, on multiple occasions, evidence of indigenous peoples, such as missing food, and brief glimpses of “naked” individuals there have been multiple campaigns in the last few years urging the Canadian company to leave Lot 135. 

Although the company has plans to officially leave the lot as of March 13th, purportedly due to financial concerns, ORPIO retains its lawsuit in the hope to get the land reevaluated and placed under more comprehensive legal protection. This would prevent the land being used in the future from being used for the exploitation of its natural resources.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

These increased environmental protection efforts in South America comes in sharp contrast to efforts to roll back protections on national parks and monuments in the United States under the administration of President Trump. Specifically, those intended to shrink national monuments in order to remove restrictions on mineral and oil companies leasing protected land. Promises made early on in his presidency prompted famous resistance movements on the part of park rangers and environmental activists, as well as the resignation of multiple National Park System advisers. In hand with the United States' decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord these these actions show the priorities of what is arguably the strongest power in the western hemisphere. It has been made clear that the United States is choosing the rather short sighted value of the business opportunities associated with the exploitation of natural resources over the long term value of environmental preservation.

Yaguas National Park is a reminder that elsewhere in the world there are governments, independent organizations, and diverse communities dedicated to the preservation of our natural resources and dedicated to fighting the very real effects of global climate change.

 

Image source: Flickr

Amazon's Latest Competitor: The Salvation Army?

The Salvation Army has just announced a grocery brand under the name DMG Foods by inaugurating their first location in Baltimore, MD. The charity is calling it, "The Salvation Army's first nonprofit grocery store," and is planning on opening future stores in underserved communities that are sometimes referred to as "food deserts."

According to their website the store is, "Named after The Salvation Army’s branding promise of doing the most good, DMG Foods aims to expand the food availability for the community while also meeting the immediate needs of our customers." The location is 7,000 square feet, and by partnering with the Maryland Food Bank, it features some of the amenities that consumers have come to expect- like a rewards program, daily meal solutions, and cooking demonstrations. What sets this grocery store apart though is that since it is operated by The Salvation Army, profits end up going to support programs like ending human trafficking or curing diseases. The nonprofit has been operating under this model with their thrift stores, but this first test store could mark the beginning of a new way for the charity to support communities.

Source:  DMG Foods

Source: DMG Foods

Their goal of opening grocery stores in communities that currently have no access to fresh food or grocery stores is worth noting too. According to The Food Trust, "A 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 23.5 million people lack access to a supermarket within a mile of their home... And a nationwide analysis found there are 418 rural “food desert” counties where all residents live more than 10 miles from a supermarket or supercenter— this is 20 percent of rural counties." In a city, where someone might not have either a car, access to public transportation, or time to use public transportation- not having a grocery store within a mile is a huge deal, and can mean the difference between having access to fresh food and having to settle for a convenience store that doesn't have as healthy of options. Even in a rural community where cars are more abundant, 10 miles is a long stretch- especially if your car is broken down and you're running out of food.

This gap in access to fresh food takes a toll on an individuals' health, and is a problem that needs to be solved. In that same study, The Food Trust states that, "A multistate study found that people with access to only supermarkets or to supermarkets and grocery stores have the lowest rates of obesity and overweight and those without access to supermarkets have the highest rates... In Chicago and Detroit, residents who live farther from grocery stores than from convenience stores and fast food restaurants have significantly higher rates of premature death from diabetes." This means that the simple fact of not having a grocery store within access to you directly impacts your health negatively, and is something that millions of Americans deal with daily.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

This comes at a time where the online giant Amazon who bought the high end grocery store chain Whole Foods, has also recently opened a lower cost 365 brand location in New York. While Amazon seems to just trying to occupy a more competitively priced level to compete in the heavily contested grocery marketplace and DMG Foods seems to be trying to alleviate a source of food insecurity in their first test market, it will be interesting to see how these two strategies operate in relation to each other. That is to say that if Amazon continues the path that the current national grocery operators are walking on, or not serving broad swaths of the country, it's hopeful to know that a well resourced organization like the Salvation Army is now attempting to solve a long standing problem. 

The importance of healthy eating has never been more in the public consciousness than now. Michelle Obama writes on the website for her Let's Move campaign, "In the end, as First Lady, this isn't just a policy issue for me. This is a passion. This is my mission. I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition." If the former First Lady says that she's that committed to solving this real problem, then that's a phenomenal asset to the cause at large.

While food deserts do exist in America's underserved communities, there has also been a groundswell in information, awareness, and advocacy on the problem. Oscar award winning documentaries about food abound, healthy eating campaigns are happening, people know what kale and quinoa are enough to make jokes about it on late night television. Legislators are beginning to ask questions and submit bills. The Salvation Army is attempting to directly alleviate the problem by opening a new store in Baltimore. These are all great strides that are happening in an effort to bring fresh food to the communities that need them the most.

 

Image source: Flickr