The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year for many, but for families who are struggling to make ends meet, it can be the hardest.
For those who are in a position to give to others, there are plenty of organizations that provide free Christmas gifts for low-income families. You can reach out to local institutions like religious organizations (churches, synagogues, etc.) and children’s hospitals (St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, especially) to check their policies on donations.
If you're in the giving spirit and want a place to start, here are seven Christmas assistance programs to consider donating to this upcoming holiday season.
The Salvation Army
Around the holidays, you might hear Santa Clauses ringing their bells in shopping centers across the country and see The Salvation Army's logo etched across the Santas' red donation kettles.
The Salvation Army is an evangelical Christian organization, founded by clergyman William Booth in the late 1800s. In 1891, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee launched the organization’s now-famous red kettle campaign, in which passersby would drop money into the iron pots stationed in various locations. The campaign is still used today to collect donations for the homeless and families in need.
There are a few ways you can go about donating to the Salvation Army around Christmastime (and beyond). Similar to Goodwill, the organization does take physical donations, like toys and home goods. But you can also drop a few dollars in a red kettle or log on to The Salvation Army website to donate money online.
Toys for Tots
Toys for Tots was founded in 1991 by the Marine Corps and, to this day, is led by veteran Marines. It is an IRS-recognized, nonprofit charity organization that delivers toys to economically disadvantaged children.
The organization accepts unwrapped toys from individual or corporate donors, as well as monetary donations through the Toys for Tots website. Many town halls, firehouses, and libraries hold holiday toy drives for Toys for Tots, in which community members can drop off their unwrapped toys for donation — but if you can’t make it in person, the Toys for Tots Virtual Toy Box program allows you to hand-pick and purchase a present for someone to receive. You can also mail in your donation and ask your employer to match the amount you've given.
Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree Christmas
In addition to the work Prison Fellowship does for those who are or have been incarcerated, they’ve also made it their mission to take care of families who are affected by a loved one’s sentence. This is where Angel Tree Christmas comes in.
The Angel Tree Christmas initiative makes it possible for children to receive Christmas gifts from their incarcerated parents. You can make a monetary donation online via the Prison Fellowship website or register your church or community organization as an Angel Tree Christmas partner — this allows donors to either make a traditional donation or virtually sponsor a child (or children!) online.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation
Make-A-Wish grants life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. These wishes aren't just gifts, they’re incredibly impactful events that help kids experience moments of pure joy during their difficult medical treatments.
To contribute during the holidays (or anytime), you can make a monetary donation through the Make-A-Wish website.
Making a child’s holiday season a bit brighter can be as simple as filling a shoebox. Founded in 1970, Samaritan's Purse is another evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization, focusing on uplifting families in crisis areas around the world.
Its annual Operation Christmas Child program sends gift-filled shoeboxes from donors to children in need. If you live within range of a drop-off location, making your own shoeboxes with your family offers a fun way to give back during the holidays. Find a medium-sized shoebox with a lid, fill the box with toys and gifts, wrap the box and lid separately (so that it can be opened without unwrapping), print out a label to designate the gender and age category of the gift recipient, and drop it off with Samaritan's Purse.
For folks who live further away, shoeboxes can also be packed virtually and sent to a child in your name.
One Simple Wish
One Simple Wish grants the wishes of children who have been impacted by “abuse, neglect, and trauma,” and have spent time in the foster-care system.
Here’s how it works: Log on to the One Simple Wish website and browse wishes that have been submitted on behalf of the children by their agency worker. From there, you can choose a gift from the wish list and donate the designated amount to make it come true. Items include laptops for doing schoolwork, LEGO sets, new shoes, and bedroom decor to make their space special.
Pay Away the Layaway
Thousands of families purchase their holiday gifts through a layaway program each year — this means that they set up a payment schedule to pay off their purchases over time. However, low-income families may quickly accrue debt this way if they are spending more than they make.
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