Parents burdened by medical bills, credit card debt, and unexpected job loss are finding themselves forced to look for creative ways to celebrate the holiday season. Fortunately, there are various ways to get free toys this holiday season, whether you demonstrate financial need or just want to save some money.
Ways to Get Free Toys for Christmas
To find free toys, patience is key. While there are a number of resources that offer toys for children at Christmas, finding a toy that is age-appropriate and a good match for your child's interests will take some time. In addition, some of these options require that you are able to document a genuine financial need, such as unemployment or medical issues, to get the toys for free.
Depending upon your income and your family's circumstances, there may be charitable organizations that can provide your children with free toys. Some of these are national organizations that have branches that serve your local community while others are designed for those in a specific community alone.
- Toys for Tots: Run by the U.S. Marines, this national organization provides toys for children up to age 12 in low-income families, although individual local branches may serve children up to age 17. Individuals interested in receiving free toys can contact their local branch to make a request. Documentation is required to verify income and sign up.
- The Salvation Army: Best known for its Christmas bell ringers, this organization also collects toys to distribute to needy children via various programs including Angel Trees, Toys for Tots, or the Salvation Army Toy Shop. Individuals can qualify for assistance if they're facing problems with employment or have difficult family circumstances. Those interested in receiving toys need to contact their local branch, and requests are normally taken beginning in October or November.
- Angel Tree: Sponsored by Prison Fellowship, this organization provides toys for children who have a parent in prison. The incarcerated parent has to sign up for the program through his or her prison. Gifts are typically collected by churches and then taken personally to children who qualify for the program.
- Make-A-Wish Foundation: This organization offers gifts and wishes for children under age 18 who are facing a life-threatening medical condition. Although it offers its services around the year, eligible children may request Christmas toys as a wish. A parent, guardian, medical professional, family member, or the child can place a referral online.
- Churches: Many local churches have "Adopt a Family" programs during the holidays to provide those in need with food, toys, and decorations for a Christmas celebration. In addition, they can often put you in contact with other organizations in your community that are offering Christmas help for low-income families during the holidays.
- Food Banks: In some communities, toys are distributed through a local food bank. To find a food bank near you, you can visit Feeding America to see food banks in your zip code or state, and you can then call to find out if they offer free toys.
Even if you don't demonstrate financial need but still want to save money this holiday season, you can often find toys on websites that allow people to give away items they no longer need. These sites generally require that you meet with the giver locally to pick the items in person.
- Freecycle: This website is a non-profit network made up of people across the globe who are committed to reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. The website is broken up into regional groups, and members post items to give away with no strings attached. In the past, Freecycle listings have included items such as swing sets, bicycles, and play kitchens.
- Curb Stuff: Similar to Freecycle, this website is designed for individuals who want to give away unwanted items, including toys. The website is also broken up into local groups, and you will probably need to meet with the giver in person to pick up the toy.
- Craigslist: Although most commonly known as an online classifieds website where people can sell items, find jobs, and seek housing, this website also has a section that allows users to give away free items, including toys. To find out what is available, you'll need to visit the Craigslist page specifically for your city and then select the "Free" link under the "For Sale" section.
Another way to get free toys is to get together all the parents in your neighborhood for a toy swap. You can invite each parent to bring over their child's toys that are no longer needed, but still in good condition. With enough participants, you'll have plenty of toys suitable for a variety of age groups. A bit of scrubbing, a fresh coat of paint, or a pretty ribbon bow may be all that is needed to turn one of these items into the perfect gift for your son or daughter.
If you aren't familiar with the parents in your area, Toy-Cycle offers a similar service online. However, you'll have to pay about $2 per month after the free 30-day trial to keep using the site.
It takes some time and creativity, but savvy shoppers can occasionally manage to purchase brand-new toys for little or no money. Strategies include:
- Promotions that offer a specific free gift with purchase
- Mail-in rebates to help you save money on your toy purchases
- Coupons that can be combined with sale prices to reduce the cost of a toy even further
Although you're not guaranteed to win a prize, the Internet is full of contests offering free toys for kids. Some contests require an essay or photo submission, but many are simply random drawings.
One popular giveaway is the annual 12 Days of Nick Jr. Holiday Sweepstakes, which typically starts in late November and offers toys as some of the daily prizes. You can enter daily throughout the promotion. The Toy Insider also has an annual holiday giveaway that begins in December and includes a room full of the year's hottest toys as the grand prize.
Gifts Aren't Everything
While every child certainly deserves a toy for Christmas, keep in mind that your children don't need to receive an entire room full of presents for the holiday to be special. Don't forget that toys are only one small factor in creating happy holiday memories. Traditions like baking cookies, singing Christmas carols, attending a worship service, or building a snowman can be just as meaningful as the opening of gifts.