Christmas can be a financially and emotionally challenging time for families already concerned about money. Fortunately, many national and local charities offer assistance to help make sure every child gets a visit from Santa. Whether you know a child who needs a gift this holiday season or simply want to make Christmas special for another family, several organizations can help.
Eight Organizations With Gift Programs
On the national level, major non-profit organizations and government agencies work to put donations to good use, helping millions of families every Christmas. On the local level, smaller organizations get community members together to meet the holiday needs of families living in their area. Either way, you can find a program that will make Christmas special for every child.
USPS Operation Santa
For more than a century, the United States Postal Service Operation Santa program has been helping children in need receive toys at Christmas. As part of the program, post office employees open all mailed letters to Santa and sort out those from children in need. Then, they copy the letters and remove any personal information. Community members can pick up letters at participating post offices to fulfill the children's Christmas wishes.
There are no posted guidelines for children to qualify for this program, and it's important to note that writing the letter does not guarantee a community member will "adopt" it. However, it's a great avenue to try if you know a child who is in need of a gift this Christmas. It's best to write the letter early in the holiday season for the best chance at having the wish granted.
Salvation Army Angel Tree
The Salvation Army's red donation buckets are familiar fixtures at many stores during the holiday season, and this non-profit also runs the Angel Tree program. Families in need register with the Salvation Army, and then community organizations put up Angel Trees decorated with ornaments requesting specific items.
To tailor the Angel Tree to the needs of a community, the Salvation Army runs the program through its individual local branches or Corps Community Centers. To register a child to receive a Christmas gift, you must enter your zip code on the Salvation Army Christmas Assistance page. This will put you in touch with the Corps Community Center nearest you. Each Corps Community Center has specific guidelines, but in general, children must be 12 years old or under. Families often begin registering in October.
Toys for Tots
Toys for Tots is another organization that helps provide toys for children in need. Affiliated with the US Marine Corps, they accept donations of money or toys from individuals and businesses and then work to get toys under the Christmas trees of more than seven million children each year.
Whether you want to find gifts for your own children or help someone you know is in need, it's easy to sign a family up for Toys for Tots. Enter your state on the organization's Request a Toy page to find the local branch that can help. In general, children must be age 12 or younger, but the individual branches sometimes give to teens as well. Deadlines vary with each branch, but it's best to register early.
The United Way also helps to match toy donations with needy families. You can find your local branch by putting your zip code or city in the Find Your United Way tool. Each United Way branch operates differently, but in many cases, parents register to "shop" for their children among the donated new toys. Community members and businesses can donate money or toys at their branch or at participating local businesses.
Although each branch has specific guidelines, there's generally a registration form that parents need to complete early in the holiday season. If they are approved, the United Way contacts them to help them receive the gifts. Most branches facilitate gifts for kids under age 16.
For school-aged children, the school can be an amazing resource. Call the main number and request to speak to the social worker, school psychologist, or guidance counselor. These individuals understand the financial hardship of their students and often know the best way to connect a child with a gift. Sometimes the school has a gift program run by the PTA or PTO.
- Be sure to speak with someone who can help you. Although kind, the school administrative assistant may not be aware of the resources available.
- Share the details of your situation. It may be difficult to tell your private business to a school employee, but educators are there to help.
- Directly ask for help. Don't assume the school will offer.
If you want to help other kids in need during the holidays, ask the same individuals if there is a program in place. Many schools hold fundraisers during this time of year to help needy families.
If you belong to a church or other religious organizations, they may be able to help as well. In some cases, they even help non-members. To find out if you can get assistance this holiday, talk the pastor or other religious leader.
- Be sure to explain your situation completely. To be able to help, the pastor will need to understand what is going on. Share the ages of the children and a bit about your financial status.
- Give the pastor a clear idea of what you need so he or she can help with specifics.
If you would like to help a religious organization bring Christmas cheer to a family in need, contact the pastor or leader. You can share your ideas or work with a program that is already established.
Boys and Girls Clubs of America
Although they are a national organization devoted to helping underprivileged children, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America also offer local holiday assistance in some areas. Individual branches frequently run holiday toy drives to help children within their system. Not every branch participates, so you'll need to check whether yours does. Enter your zip code to find a club and then contact that club for details.
Each club has its own rules about qualifying to receive toys from the drive. In general, parents will need to prove they have an income 150% below the current U.S. poverty level. Most branches help kids under age 18. Applying early will give you the best chance of finding a gift for your child.
If you wish to donate money or gifts to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, you can do so at your local branch or through the national website.
Another national organization that sometimes has local branches with toy drives, the YMCA is a great place to look in your community. To find your local branch, enter your zip code on the main page. Some branches, such as the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg, have large scale toy drives each holiday season.
Requirements for qualifying for the free toys vary depending on the branch. In general, you'll need to demonstrate that your family is in a difficult financial situation. Age requirements for kids also vary based on the location.
To donate or volunteer, contact your local YMCA to find out if they have a program. If not, you may be able to help start one.
Make the Holidays Special
Sometimes, there simply isn't money in the budget to buy Christmas gifts for the children in a family. If that's the case, doing your homework to find an organization to help can make the holidays special for everyone.