Last Minute Valentine's Day Gifts That Give Back

Maybe you’ve been procrastinating. Maybe you haven’t been able to find the right gift. Or maybe you’re trying to avoid contributing to the multi-billion dollar industry that is Valentine’s Day.

Whatever the reason, if you find yourself in a bind, we’ve got you covered. We’ve scoured the web for socially conscious goods that can help you show your love while putting your dollars to a good cause. Because the best gifts are the ones that give twice.

Whether it’s a significant other, friend, or even yourself - don’t forget to take the time to show your appreciation and love tomorrow.

Here’s a roundup of our favorite ways to do that:

1. Out of Print

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Out of Print sells a whole collection of literary-inspired goodies perfect for the bookworm in your life. From “Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy t-shirts to “Where The Wild Things Are” totes, there’s a piece of merchandise to celebrate almost every classic novel you can think of. We personally love the line of enamel pins they’ve recently added to the site.

Each purchase helps fund literacy programs and book donations to communities in need.

2. Raven & Lily

Raven & Lily is a fair-trade women’s fashion and lifestyle brand selling clothing, accessories, household items, and more. The Texas-based brand is centered around the mission of empowering women by employing them with fair trade wages. All designs are produced in economically-challenged countries like Pakistan, India, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Kenya, and Peru.

They’ve curated a handy Valentine’s Day gift guide that can help jumpstart your shopping.

3. Cause Roast

Cause Roast produces delicious tasting, stylishly packaged fair-trade coffee. Each bag of coffee gives 50% back to a range of causes and needs including clean water, food, and education. Their bag of Brazilian Hartwig roast is every bit as flavorful as it is powerful - its cupping notes include peach, tomato, jam, and citrus.

4. Krochet Kids Intl.

Keep your loved ones warm this winter with a hand crocheted beanie.

The Krochet Kids is a nonprofit that works with women of Northern Uganda and Peru to lift their families out of poverty. The organization employs women, educates them, and provides them with mentorship to build a sustainable career path for their future. Each product is hand-signed by the person who makes it so you can see the impact of your purchase.

Want to share your favorite socially conscious brands with us? Tweet them to us at @gramforacause and we’ll add them to the list!

 

How to Help Italy Earthquake Victims

Our hearts and prayers go out to those affected by last night's earthquake in central Italy.

As we woke up this morning and learned of the 6.2 magnitude earthquake, we were devastated by the aftermath and to see such a beautiful community filled with rubble. But we've also been incredibly inspired by the brave rescue workers, volunteers, doctors, and nurses who have been on the front lines helping care for and comfort those in need.

For those at home who, like us, would like to lend a hand but might not be able to physically make it out there, we've rounded up a few ways you can help:

DONATE TO ORGANIZATIONS ON THE GROUND

The Italian Red Cross is on the ground in central Italy with rescue dogs searching for survivors, providing psychological support, setting up mobile kitchens for those displaced from their homes, and more. You can learn more about their efforts here. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) created a fund here for those who would like to donate in English.

ShelterBox is also in the area, delivering boxes of tents, lamps, water purifiers and toys to victims.

Global Giving also set up a donation fund, with the goal of $1,000,000, to provide emergency supplies such as food, water, and medicine in additional to longer term assistance.

Save the Children is in Amatrice, working to create safe spaces and support centers for children.

DONATE BLOOD

For those in Rome, AVIS, the main blood donation organization in Italy, issued an urgent appeal for blood donations. To give, you can visit your local AVIS location. Travel blogger @_smARTraveller also tweeted out a list of local hospitals with donation centers.


FACEBOOK SAFETY CHECK

Facebook turned on Safety Check, a feature that allows users to either mark themselves as safe or monitor friends and family that are in an area affected by crisis. You can use Safety Check to check on loved ones that either live or are traveling in central Italy. Visit Safety Check here.

#PRAYFORITALY

Last but certainly not least, show your support and encourage others to give back by posting on social media. Your words can bring great comfort in this difficult time.


iHope Prom Night: “Once Upon a Time”

The Gramforacause team recently attended iHOPE Academy's Annual Prom Night to help capture the event in photographs and volunteer. Chief Community Officer, Gloria Wu, recaps the night:

Immediately upon our arrival, we could sense the anticipation in the air, the children and adults were outside eagerly awaiting their grand entrance. The International Academy of Hope’s (iHope) was hosting their annual prom and this year, the theme was “Once Upon a Time”. The students and their dates looked like characters straight out of a fairytale - ball gowns, crowns, tutus and all. Prince Charming, Maleficent, princesses, and princes were all in attendance.

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Hosted at Amy Ruth’s restaurant, this prom was nothing short of magical. From the Beauty and the Beast rose table centerpieces to the silhouette of a grand castle in the background, we could see the staff’s dedication to setting up the perfect atmosphere for the night.


Millennium High School also partnered to volunteer, with more than 15 seniors attending to join the iHope youth in the festivities. The night was filled with dancing, delicious food, and delightful company - oh and you betcha there was a conga line!

 

The love towards the iHope students was clearly visible throughout the event. Every selfie taken, every twirl around the dance floor, every song request for their kids, and even just the little actions revealed how every child was valued and loved. When Zaystar and Amelia were crowned Prom king and queen, you could see their dates beaming with pride.

The Gramforacause team is grateful to have been part of this amazing event and to have captured just a glimpse of the evening’s magic. Definitely a night for the storybooks!

iHOPE is the only school in New York City dedicated to serving children and young adults with pediatric acquired brain injuries and brain-based disorders. For more photos, please check out their Facebook page.

Stars Found: The Salvation Army’s Annual “Star Search” Spectacle

As I transferred train cars onto the New Jersey Coast Line headed towards Asbury Park, I had no idea what to expect upon photographing The Salvation Army’s Divisional Star Search event. Morning prep paced on as the children filed into the Asbury Park Citadel donned in their crisp white tops, classic navy bottoms and youth soldier lapel pins. Class acts brimming with excitement, stomachs stacked with butterflies, on deck and ready to show the community how well they can sing, dance, speak and play. Amongst the droves of participants, there was a strong mix of ages, experience levels, backgrounds and personalities, as the girls and boys performed throughout the day proudly representing their New Jersey town.

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To say I was impressed wouldn’t be completely accurate: I was reached. By keeping an open mind, without judgment nor expectations, life will continue to surprise you and these little rockstars blew me away. It wasn’t just their talent, rather their vulnerability: They showed up, they were seen. And they lived that Saturday with their whole hearts.

For more photos, visit The Salvation Army New Jersey Division Facebook page and check out the event’s exclusive hashtag ‪#‎njss2016‬. For more information on youth related music and arts events from across The Salvation Army New Jersey Division check out NJ Youth Music & Creative Arts.

 

How One Nonprofit Uses Social Media To Build Writers & Encourage Storytelling

A few months ago, I found myself longing to be in a writing workshop class like the ones I'd taken in college. I missed sitting in a room with other writers, talking about craft and each other's work.

I did some quick research online to see what was available through my local community college, but nothing worked with my schedule. I forgot about my quest for a while, and then one day on Instagram I saw I had a new follower: a local non-profit called Project Write Now. They were located in my area and they had exactly the kind of classes I'd been seeking.

Since Instagram brought us together, I thought it would be interesting to talk to Project Write Now about how social media plays a role in how they communicate with their community and how they get their message out.

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What is Project Write Now?

Project Write Now is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a writing community and helping people of all ages become better writers. We provide free writing workshops for qualifying organizations and schools, as well as fee-based classes to children, teens, and adults in our Red Bank studio. Last February, we launched an after-school writing program called "The Studio," open by application to 12- to 14-year-old local students. We also hold literary events, including our "An Artist's Perspective" seminar series, which runs monthly and features local artists speaking about their craft. Our goal is to bring people together to write and share their stories.

How was Project Write Now founded?

Jennifer Chauhan started a private writing studio in her career change, following her love of writing and teaching. But she wanted to reach more people, people who might not seek writing support or identify as a writer. In August of 2014, she teamed up with Allison Tevald and together they created the nonprofit organization, offering studio classes as well as an outreach program for local schools and mission-based organizations.

How has social media impacted how you spread your mission?

Some people have told us that they discovered our organization through Instagram or Facebook. One of our favorite history buffs, Sarah Vowell, has been "liking" our posts on FB and we're a bit starstruck by that! Each social media channel also has a slightly different audience. Many parents find out about summer writing camps and studio classes through Facebook, but we can't reach our young students that way. When we have a schedule change for The Studio, we let the participants know via Instagram, and ask them to spread the word.

How has Instagram, in particular?

Instagram has helped us connect with local organizations as well as attract some worldwide attention through hashtags like #amwriting. It's great to be able to show the community how we are helping our youth. Sharing a picture of a child reading their [singular] work to a group is one of our favorites. It's a special moment of risk-taking in a safe environment, where people are really listening and hearing what the student has to say about their experience or opinion.

What was #GivingPoetryTuesday?

#GivingPoetryTuesday was an exciting and fun idea that started out at the Red Bank train station with an actor reading a poem to very cranky commuters in the cold, rain, and dark. We took photos and videos of all the performances throughout the day around Red Bank: a firefighter in full gear at library storytime; the mayor at a restaurant; the schools reading poetry over morning announcements; and more. We raised awareness about our organization in Giving Tuesday by "giving poetry" in surprise locations. We popped into some local businesses. Some of our students translated their English-written poems for Spanish-speaking proprietors.

What are your plans for the future?

We are always envisioning the future growth of the organization, and we've grown tremendously in the past year and a half. The after-school students are learning about publishing their work and will be launching an online literary magazine at the end of the fall. In the near future, we'd like our adult students to begin reading their work in public.

How do you plan to use social media, going forward?

We're going to continue to use social media to let people know about our programming and events. #givingpoetrytuesday readings will be chronicled on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. We're also toying with the idea of hosting a podcast interviewing "tweens" and what their lives are like in terms of writing, human connection, and technology.

If someone wants to support or get involved with Project Write Now, how can they go about doing this?

During the summer, we have an internship program for teens. We’re also always looking for more young and adult students to sign up for classes in the studio. Our instructors love everyone's stories and helping them discover the possibilities in their writing projects. We're always seeking funding to support our outreach work and the after-school program.

To learn more about Project Write Now, donate, or find out more about opportunities, you can visit projectwritenow.org or email info@projectwritenow.org.

 

10 Must-Read Books for Creatives

If you walk into a library or bookstore, you’ll find hundreds of books on creativity, art, and producing work. Creativity is not something that can be quantified or explained away by science (though some writers may try). There aren’t right or wrong ways to go about making work. The rituals and routines that work for some don’t work at all for others. For this reason, it’s worthwhile to mix and match advice from various sources. Here are ten books on creativity that are worth the read, regardless of your skill level or preferred medium.

  1. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

    by Elizabeth Gilbert

If you need a pep talk about your right to create, Elizabeth Gilbert has got your back in Big Magic. Anyone who wants to live a more creative life will get something out of this book, regardless of the medium of your choosing. If you're new to the whole "artist" thing, or if you're totally uncomfortable calling yourself a creative person, Gilbert will show you that your work is permitted to take up space in the world. This quote from the book says it best: 'the work wants to be made and it wants to be made through you.'

I’ll admit I was a little skeptical of this because I’ve never read Eat Pray Love or anything else by Gilbert. But from the first page, she had me sold. She gets real in this book—she doesn’t paint a picture of being an artist as one where things are easy and fun all of the time. Making work can be drudgery. It’s a path for the  brave. If you’ve never made anything before and don’t know where to start, this book is a good one to read. It’s like a supportive friend who will grab your hand and say, “Yes, you should totally pick up a pencil and get started, you absolutely should just go for it.”

2) The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life

by Twyla Tharp

Some people believe that creativity is something you’re born with, and that talent in art is innate. Tharp argues that creativity is something anyone can access if they want to and if they put in the time. Tharp is a dance choreographer, and her book covers all kinds of creativity.

One great line from the introduction is that “Creativity is not just for artists.” She goes on to say that creativity is important for business people, engineers, and parents. It’s something everyone should incorporate into his or her life, and it is possible for anyone to do so. Her book goes on to teach the reader how to build their skills, through anecdotes and practical exercises.

3) What It Is

by Lynda Barry

This book is a big, beautiful comic treasure. Flipping through its pages is inspirational enough, but the subject matter is all about Barry’s journey to becoming an artist and how you can do it, too. The leader of a writing group I’m in gave us all a photocopied page from this book. It’s a comic that starts by asking, “If a genie offered to free you from a dull, canned life, what would you say?” The character in the comic asks if this will make her rich, famous, or “really cute,” and the genie says no and asks if a “feeling of aliveness” would be reason enough to make creative work.

The character asks for time to think about it and in the frame where thirty years have gone by, finally decides “yes”, only to be, by then, dead. It’s done with humor and in Barry’s signature illustration style, but it’s serious stuff. If you wait too long to be “ready enough” to begin your work, you might find that you don’t have any time left to do it. This book is an excellent one to read when you need a push. It will remind you that it’s okay to be messy and imperfect and to do things your way—but that you need to do them.

4) Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!)

by George Lois

This book will make you feel a bit like someone is standing over you, barking commands at you while you work. If that's the kind of nudge you need (as opposed to gentle, welcoming words of encouragement), this is the book for you.  It’s worth looking at for the design alone. There are snarky chapter titles in big, bold letters. The pages are riddled with sometimes-bizarre images from Lois’s work in the advertising field and from historical events. You'll find a lot of things here that you haven't seen in other books on creativity, which is precisely why you should check it out.

5) Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity

by Austin Kleon

This book focuses on what to do once you already know how to harness your creativity and you’re actively producing work. (It’s the follow up to Kleon’s first book, Steal Like an Artist.) This is a helpful instruction manual for putting yourself out there, particularly on the Internet. Kleon lays down some rules about how to tell the difference between sharing and spamming.

He advocates “selling out” by asking for money for your work and finding ways to fund it through other ideas like teaching and speaking engagements. Read this if you’re ready to take your work and creative career to the next step but aren’t sure how.

6) Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

by Anne Lamott

 

Lamott is a brilliant writer and so it’s no surprise that her book on craft is also brilliant. The lessons she shares are useful to any creative, not just writers. She talks about taking on large tasks by thinking of them in terms of smaller pieces and doing one thing at a time until you’re through. She stresses that it’s okay to share your stories and to write about other people because you own your experiences. This book is a beautiful blend of memoir and practical advice. It’s a classic book on writing, yes, but I once lent it to someone in a grueling academic program as a reminder that sometimes you have to do things bird by bird.

7) The Photographer’s Playbook: 307 Assignments and Ideas

Edited by Jason Fulford and Gregory Halpern

If you catch yourself taking your work too seriously or if you become bored of making the same kinds of images, “The Photographer’s Playbook” is a wonderful tool to get you thinking in a fresh way.

The title and the fun composition notebook-style design of the book reveal what matters here: play. Experiment, engage with the world differently, forget the limits you’ve placed on yourself over time. This book reminded me of the homework my high school photography teacher used to assign. They made me want to remember how it felt to be a kid fascinated by a camera.

The lessons in this book come from a wide range of accomplished photographers, and sometimes their advice conflicts with someone else’s in the book. This reminded me that it’s okay to take what it useful to you and forget the rest—everyone’s creative process is different, and that’s part of the reason reading about creative processes is so interesting.

8) Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age

by Cory Doctorow

Copyright Law might not thrill you, but you'd have a hard time saying you find it boring after reading Doctorow's book. The book outlines how copyright law has, historically, helped and harmed producers of creative works, and describes the changes brought about by the Internet. You'll learn how copyright affects you and your work and why you need to have at least a cursory familiarity with it as an artist in the 21st century. The book delves into issues involving censorship, human rights, piracy, and getting paid. The writing is clear and approachable—this is no dry legal tome.

9) Catching The Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity

by David Lynch

David Lynch is the brain behind some wonderfully weird cult classics like Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. In addition to his work in television and cinema, he's a writer and musician. In Catching The Big Fish, he shares a bit about what his thought process is like. There's an emphasis on meditation, which may or may not be your thing, but it's still interesting to read about how it helps Lynch create his work. The book is told in short vignettes that range from stories about his famous works to technical advice for new filmmakers. He touches on suffering, depression, and drugs, all of which he says have negative impacts on creativity. He doesn’t advocate for glamorizing the “tortured artist.” This is a quick and sometimes befuddling read, but if you’re at all intrigued by Lynch’s work, it’s a good one.

10) My Ideal Bookshelf

edited by Thessaly La Force and illustrated by Jane Mount

The first thing I do the first time I visit someone's home is explore the titles they have on their bookshelf. (And if they don't have one, I make a break for the exit immediately. Just kidding.) My Ideal Bookshelf is a collection of short essays from interesting people about the books that have had lasting impacts on their life, work, and personalities. Many of the people featured in the book are writers, but musicians, actors, athletes, and designers are included, too. It's inspiring to take a peek at what some of your creative idols are reading. It's a way to gain insight into what their thinking is like. This book is an excellent place to find more things to add to your to-read list.

Likes Don't Equal Worth

The past few months I’ve been working on building up my personal brand, particularly on social media. One of the main focuses has been my Instagram account, because this platform is the perfect medium for me to tell stories through photos.  

By nature I am a storyteller and, in a lot of ways, I use my Instagram as a micro-journal to let people know what I am thinking or feeling on any given day. My personal brand building has been going really well. In fact, my Instagram following has been growing at an astronomical rate.

People relate to things that are real. They don’t always want to see a picture of a cat or a flat lay.  They want something dynamic, like really engaging posts (picture + caption) and that’s part of the reason for the growth. At the end of the day it is about providing value back to your audience in some small way.

Now, this all sounds good, but along the way I noticed something. Something very wrong was happening under the surface. Every now and then, there were moments where I would catch myself tying my personal worth to how many likes I got on Instagram or how many views I get on Snapchat.

Let me quickly give you an example. A few weeks ago, I was at a photoshoot and at the end, right before everyone left, we all exchanged Instagram handles so we could stay in touch. As we began going around, I met and followed someone who had over 10k followers and something weird happened, I felt a little less than.

The feeling stuck around for a lot longer than normal, because everyone I began following had a bigger following than I did, by sizable margins.

I just kept thinking, “Why is my account not bigger or not better?” For a brief moment, instead of focusing on the new friendships I was making, I was focused on myself and my lack of following.  I wasn’t in the “top followers” club and I felt left out of this imaginary group.  

Now, I'm not saying that it isn’t normal to have these kinds of thoughts, but it is bad to let them grow on you.  Furthermore, it is destructive to allow yourself to believe them.

Now, in retrospect, I am thinking to myself, “Why would my Instagram following portray the kind of person I am?” It can’t right. I mean someone with tens of thousands of followers isn’t necessarily a better person than someone with 300 followers, but it’s easy to fall into that mindset.

The answer, it doesn’t. Only if we choose to let it. Subconsciously we all fall into the trap of getting so tied to the numbers: the the likes, the follows, the pins, the retweets, etc. They make us feel powerful and, when compared to someone else, better than.

But, NEWSFLASH, none of those metrics define who we are as people. Social media is a place for interaction between people, often around a diverse range of topics. We must never forget that the “social” aspect comes before the media.

It’s important to focus more on providing value in our posts (besides the coffee shots or selfie collages) and engaging with others.

What’s amazing in all of this is that, you get to decide where you derive your worth. In a day and age where self worth has become a hot topic, it is extremely important to make sure that you don’t hinge it on your next like.

I’ve been so fortunate to meet many amazing people and brands through my Instagram account. At the end of last year, I found a local photography meetup group, through an Instagrammer in NC. I just happened to be browsing and stumbled onto her account.

I reached out saying that I was a beginner to photography and wanted some help getting better.  From that one interaction I have meet some of my best friends, who challenge me to continue getting better in how I see the world. In addition, my photography level has improved to a level that would not have been possible without their help.


 

Opening Up The Conversation On Mental Health

"When there's unity, nothing is impossible. "

Welcome to May, we're so glad you are here with us to enjoy another beautiful month of making the world a better place. As you may know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We wanted to use this opportunity to join in on the conversation and learn more together as a storytelling community.

That's how we landed on a vulnerability photo project. Vulnerability is something very close to my heart.

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Living with a mental illness like Generalized Anxiety Disorder which is what I have, is like living with two heads. Your mind is constantly busy thinking of every single detail and when I mean EVERY SINGLE DETAIL, I'm not kidding. The simplest of tasks can cause so much anxiety and fear; even writing your thoughts down can be overwhelming because there is so much going on.

At times I can really feel so alone and defeated. It's not easy to understand because anxiety isn't tangible for people to see. When someone looks at you like you're weird because you're having an anxiety attack, well, it's really disheartening.

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There is so much stigma circulating around mental illness, partially because it's not something you can really see and touch. But 1 out of 5 people have a mental illness, which means a friend or a family that you know is probably struggling from a mental illness. And unfortunately that person is probably keeping it a secret because they're afraid of the consequences of what will happen if they publicize their illness.

If you're new to mental health, you're probably wondering how you can help your person and let them know they're not alone. The best place to start would be to first educate yourself. My favorite site is Nami.org. Here's a handy infographic Nami created on mental health facts, talking more about consequences, impact and treatment.

Secondly, we can all exercise our empathy. Empathy is probably one of the hardest things for any of us to do. We live in such a fast paced world that it's easy for us to get caught up in only focusing on our own well being or staying afloat ourselves. But in order to really help your person with a mental illness, you need to let down your own walls and listen. It's a learning process for the both of you but when you listen and feel with your heart, your person will feel that too.

Last but not least, we'd love to dedicate the month to using photography to open up the conversation on mental health. It all starts with vulnerability. You can participate by simply capturing moments of vulnerability and tagging them with #gramforacause. Also feel free tag your person in the photo to let them know you care and understand and will help end the stigma so that they can live in the world free from judgement!  I can't wait to see your posts, and from a person who does suffer from a mental illness, thank you. Thank you for helping us feel like we're apart of the world and that we matter!

WWIM13: Eat Green With Me Picnic Recap

Photo by Whitney Tressel

This past weekend, the Gramforacause team partnered up with our friends from The Creative Pantry to host our first ever potluck picnic for WWIM (World Wide Instameet Weekend) meet.

World Wide Instameet Weekend is an annual, weekend-long affair that Instagram hosts where tens of thousands  WWIM13 happened to fall on Earth Day weekend this year, so the team decided to dedicate the day to celebrating the beauty and wonder of nature. You can bet we were excited to hop on this as a way to start a conversation on conservation and learn a thing or two ourselves!


On Saturday, April 23, a few of us woke up early to explore the Union Square Greenmarket and pick up some good eats for the picnic. With hundreds of varieties from more than 100 local farmers, the task to pick only a few items proved challenging! While some of us were in Union Square, others went to local markets in Jersey City as well as Whole Foods to search for fresh organic munchies for the event.

We were really lucky that the rainy weather cleared up to a sunny day. Among the first to arrive at Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, we quickly claimed the perfect spot and laid out a few blankets. Our brand ambassador Ashley even brought a lovely picnic basket! We all swapped stories of community building and collaborative project ideas while nibbling on foods ranging from an assortment of cheese, smoked meats, fruit, artisan breads, to pies and cookies.

We’ve found that food never fails to bring people together and this proved true for this picnic as well! Alexa Fernando, half of awesome The Creative Pantry team, joined us from Canada, some new faces joined us from New York City and some others joined us from Jersey City!

Check out some of our photos from our Eat Green With Me picnic:

Photo by Whitney Tressel
Photo by Gloria Wu

Photo by Gloria Wu

Photo by Whitney Tressel
Photo by Whitney Tressel

To keep up-to-date with Gramforacause's latest events and meet ups, be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook at @gramforacause!

 

 

Celebrate #WWIM13 With Us At Our #EatGreenWithUs Picnic

We were very excited when we first saw Instagram announce #WWIM13. The latest WWIM happens to fall on Earth Day, so in addition to dedicating the weekend to celebrating the beauty and wonder of nature, Instagram is also encouraging the community to explore other ways to give back!

This is an opportunity to show the world and ourselves, how collectively as a social media community, we have the power to make an impact - whether it's planting a tree, cleaning a park or educating others on more sustainable practices. This weekend, we'll be partnering with our friends over at The Creative Pantry to host Eat Green With Me. We'll be picnicking in Central Park, potluck style.

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