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4 neighborhood gifts that give back  

Kids-U (Photo by Brandy Barham)

Kids-U (Photo by Brandy Barham)

1— Worthiest winter greetings
is a nonprofit that works with students at many of our neighborhood’s affordable apartment communities, which often are occupied by families with limited resources and access to quality afterschool care. The kids in the program — those we met, anyway — are grateful, inquisitive, intelligent and creative. They put those gifts to work creating Christmas and holiday cards whose proceeds beef-up their afterschool programs. Kids-U founder Brandon Baker says more than 100,000 students ages 5-13 are unsupervised after school. “We believe these are the most critical hours for the student,” Baker said. Kids-U tries to ensure students have a snack, do homework and play each weekday afternoon. With supervision, they avoid risks such as substance abuse and criminal or sexual behaviors, Baker said. Each set of Kids-U holiday cards includes 10 cards with envelopes for $16. Order at dclchristmas

Network’s Santa Holiday Project (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Network’s Santa Holiday Project (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

2— Jolly (and hardworking) Ol’ St. Nick
Network’s Santa Holiday Project
— requiring massive manpower and impeccable organization — each year provides presents to more than 2,300 painstakingly vetted children from the Richardson Independent School District. One Saturday every October a team of volunteers — elves, if you will — interview some 300 Richardson and Lake Highlands families, mostly recommended by counselors at one of RISD’s 38 elementary schools, in an effort to ensure that Network’s resources go to our area’s most-deserving and in-need recipients. “Like all the services at Network, it’s about giving a hand up, not a handout,” organizers say. Families with elementary-school children qualify, but once they are accepted, all children in the family, even teens, receive gifts. Parents are allowed to pick 3-4 items for each child — athletic balls, board games, brand new books and dolls — all donated to Network by neighbors, companies and churches. Throughout November and December, volunteers run the overflowing toy warehouse where more elves sort gifts before parents arrive to pick up opaque grey bags packed with presents that would be impossible without this program. To help or donate, visit

3— Hope for the holidays
If you love deals, antiques, gently used jewels and upscale or specialty clothing — even holiday greeting cards — you might be a frequent shopper at White Rock Center of Hope’s Thrift Shop, located at 10021 Garland Rd. Off to a fine start with procuring unique gifts, you also are spreading more seasonal joy than you might know. Sales benefit several programs that serve disadvantaged families in the White Rock and Lake Highlands area. There’s a food pantry, clothing closet and school supplies for qualified recipients. And for the holidays? Christmas toys for more than 1,000 children every year — that includes donated and handmade presents plus knitted caps by a special group of volunteers known as Mad Hatters. Visit or call 214.324.8996 for a list of toy-donation suggestions.

Military Moms

Military Moms

4— Lake Highlands loves the troops
Rhonda Russell founded Military Moms
— an organization to support mothers of Lake Highlands High School grads serving in Iraq and Afghanistan — because it helped her cope with her son’s deployment in 2005. Every year since, the Lake Highlands Military Moms team up with the Lake Highlands Exchange Club, and, in recent years, the Highlander School, to send care packages to men and women from our neighborhood who are serving in the military. “The Highlander School collects the care package items. Military Moms prepare the recipient list, labels, forms and lead the packing event with students. And The Exchange Club pays for the postage and transports the packages for shipping,” Russell explains. “I was not sure if they would do this since [Highlander’s] principal recently died, but [the late principal’s] daughter wants to continue this event.” To help out, visit

3 ways to eat and be merry 

1— Wackym’s Kitchen

Wackym’s Kitchen

Wackym’s Kitchen

Job interviews can cause obsessive thoughts — am I qualified? Did my last answer make sense? Is there something in my teeth? But sitting in a job interview several years ago, designer Paul Wackym thought to himself, “Either I’m going to get this job or I’m going to make cookies.” You see, Wackym had a longstanding love of baking — he’d “tinkered around in the kitchen quite a bit,” but considered cookery a hobby, even though he had passively pondered the idea of making a career of it. He was hired after the interview, but in a bittersweet twist of fate, the company filed for bankruptcy a few weeks later. When the job fell through, his first thought was, “do it. Do it now.” He did. Within a few weeks his half-baked cookie business dreams took shape. He created cookies so delicious that within a few months they were selling at the Green Spot Market. The Grape restaurant and specialty stores countrywide. They make a pleasing party favor, teacher treat or sweet with which to stuff a stocking.

2— Prickly Poppy Bakery

L Streets resident Erin Van Kirk launched the home-based business in 2013 with the commitment to making each dessert a custom creation. Customers can start with set flavors (such as Hazelnut Crunch or Lavender Honey) or team with her to craft the entire concept — either way, every cake or dessert is made to order. This time of year, Van Kirk thinks holiday cookies. Iced sugar cookies are one of her favorite offerings, and she’ll make them in seasonal shapes such as snowflakes and Santa. Other specialties include chocolate-caramel thumbprint cookies and snowball cookies (pecan shortbread covered in powdered sugar). The bakery also offers a sugar cookie decorating kit in December, for those who want an easy way to bake and decorate their own version of iced sugar cookies. “Something about cookies just seems right for Christmas,” she says.

3— Christmas Eve Kits

“Dear Santa” Cookies and Christmas Eve kits by Lake Highlands resident Jennifer Pedersen, a.k.a. A Dancing Baker, have made their way into many a neighborhood home the past few winters. “The ‘Dear Santa’ cookies allow the kids to write their own letter to the big guy with an edible ink pen that I include,” Pedersen explains. “The Christmas Eve kits include a ‘Dear Santa’ cookie, edible ink pen, mini cookies for Santa, tiny cookies for Elf on the Shelf and reindeer food.” Check out this local purveyor of pastries on


Neighborhood made gifts
Elf, schmelf

An entrepreneurial Lake Highlands couple presents a little friendly competition for a certain ubiquitous pixie, with their 2015-initiated endeavor, which offers a positive alternative to “threat-based Christmas toys and stories like ‘The Elf on the Shelf.’” It’s rooted in a beautifully illustrated book called “The Spirit Post,” and it “uses positive motivation to encourage kids to do acts of kindness daily,” according to co-creator Amelia Cardenas, an immigration lawyer. Her husband and project partner Arik is a photographer. The Spirit Post uses not elves but cuddly messenger owls to deliver notes about good deeds to Santa and his team. The famous Elf, contrarily, is more of a snitch, reporting kids’ bad deeds to Santa. (We’ve seen it in action, and, in Elf’s defense, it keeps impressionable-aged children in line). Amelia wrote the book, which contains the backstory about a Christmas-spirit shortage at the North Pole. Artist Jessica Lanan illustrated it. Packages include the book, a plush snowy owl and a notebook for recording messages, and is available on

Kristy and Sara Crawford (Photo by Can Türkyilmaz)

Kristy and Sara Crawford (Photo by Can Türkyilmaz)

Make Your Mark

Members of large families or anyone who has trouble keeping track of whose stuff is whose, as well as drinkers aiming to keep tabs on their beverages, will appreciate the work of Kristy and Sara Crawford, purveyors of all things embroidered. Personalized Styrofoam cups, comfy moccasins, casserole carriers, school supplies, bibs, blankets, T-shirts and the ever-popular pick-a-pattern koozies, each with a precisely stitched name or initials, are all items available from the mother-daughter team at

Foot Cardigan Members, Tom Browning, Kelly Largent, Bryan Deluca, Matt McClard, Matt Fry (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Foot Cardigan Members, Tom Browning, Kelly Largent, Bryan Deluca,
Matt McClard, Matt Fry (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Festive feet

Lake Highlands resident Tom Browning a few years back quit his day job to focus fulltime on his pedi-project, Foot Cardigan. Browning is one of the five founders of this subscription-based sock-of-the-month club that launched last summer. Customers sign up to receive (or give) a randomly chosen pair of “delightfully unusual” socks in the mail for $9 a month. For $17 a month, you can get a subscription for yourself plus one. “For the price of two lattes a month, you get something fun,” Browning says. “You can wear them with uniforms, pants, shorts and, unfortunately, sandals. We neither judge nor condone that.” The guys offer three-, six-, nine- and 12-month subscriptions. At

Memory maker

Through trial and error JulieAnn Bever perfected the craft of creating personal mementos. She uses finger, palm and feet prints to create keepsakes for parents, pet owners and gift givers. She’s just about perfected the art of wheedling wiggly babies into handing over their paws for the cause. Once prints are secured, she uses them as the centerpiece for one-of-a-kind objects. As holidays approach, Christmas ornaments are the No. 1 seller, she says. “Some moms come back year after year for a new ornament. Others are just totally giddy to have one that says, ‘First Christmas 2016.’ Moms love to document everything their kids do. I have a cute baby-footprints design that I call: Mistle-toes.” She also makes mittens displaying handprints and footprint-stamped stockings. Your imagination is the only limit to what can be done, within reason, of course, at

It’s personal

More personalized made-in-the-hood ornaments hail from the hands of Lake Highlands mom Katie Fuerst. Faithful shop-local advocates say ornament shoppers need look no further than Fuerst Editions. “What I love about [Katie’s] ornaments is: They are beautiful and so well done. She custom makes each one so they are all unique. And she’s a neighbor and I love supporting neighborhood businesses and friends,” reader and neighbor Krista Curnutt says. Fuerst even hosts painting parties for members of the senior class at Lake Highlands High School (or, more likely, their moms) to customize ornaments with prospective college colors. “I’ve ordered from her for the past couple of years,” Curnutt says, “and what is so nice is that as each of my children move from activity to activity, and high school to college, and so on, I can add an ornament to my family holiday tree that is unique to them and what is going on in their lives.”

Ugly Christmas Sweater

Tacky tops

It will appeal to two groups of neighborhood residents — senior retirees, especially retired teachers, and hipsters, those millennials who embrace, and sometimes abuse, irony. It is the bad Christmas sweater — the gaudier, the tackier, the more three-dimensional, the better. Members of both categories populate our neighborhood, and still more reluctantly will participate in those Ugly Christmas Sweater parties and themed days at the office. Thus the typical thrift stores are in short supply of tacky holiday wear. Thankfully there is The Ugly Christmas Sweater pop-up shop, which offers a concentrated inventory of tasteless Santa and snowflake emblazoned knits. Find it all month at 6333 E. Mockingbird, suite 141.