Holiday Giving (with kids!)

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

Christmas is the season of giving and although I try to remind myself that people are in need whether it’s Christmas time or the middle of July, I often find myself remembering to give more often during the holidays. About a week ago I heard about Operation Christmas Child for the first time. Operation Christmas Child distributes shoeboxes full of gifts to needy children worldwide. It’s such a great program and so much fun for the kids to help out. We packed up a few boxes, but I wish I had heard of it earlier; national collection week was November 14-21 so we didn’t have much time. I’m marking my calendar for September of next year to get started on shoeboxes for next Christmas. I started thinking about involving my kids in giving so I thought I’d post about ways to give (with & without the kids) and some national and local charities.

I’m sure this is true for most people, but money is pretty tight in our household, and even more so around Christmas. Here are some suggestions for how to find ways to donate without breaking the bank:

  • Collect change. If you want to collect even faster, pay with cash more often and don’t pay with exact change, or just toss a couple singles in the jar when you can
  • Have a garage sale or sell items on Craigslist or eBay to collect a little extra money to donate.
  • Sign up for and get promo codes and earn cash back on things you order at over 1,200 online stores (including Groupon, Old Navy, Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, & Target). Cash back is distributed quarterly in the form of a check or Paypal credit so it’s easy to keep this earmarked for donations.
  • When you’re shopping online and need to spend just a little more to get free shipping make it an extra toy or clothing item for someone in need.
  • Clip coupons and use the money saved to donate.
  • Buy extra items when you find a really good deal; donate the ones you don’t need.
  • Shop online through,, or A percentage of sales are donated and you choose which charity or organization receives it.
  • Collect samples, freebies, and travel size toiletries and similar items to donate to shelters or to give to the homeless.
  • Donate toys, clothing, or household items. Some places you can donate to:  The Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, and Amvets.
  • Buy small items from the Target dollar section or dollar or discount stores.

Ways to include kids:

  • Talk to them about giving; depending on their age, maybe they can even help choose a cause
  • Have them help choose toys or clothing they no longer need or use to donate
  • Shop with them for items to donate
  • Create Blessing Bags (idea from with your kids; keep them in the car to give to the homeless.
  • Plan a Milk + Bookies party, birthday party, or playdate with your kids
  • Make a simple blanket (try a no-sew fleece blanket)
  • Have them help collect pop tabs for Ronald McDonald House

Now, where to start? I’ve included information about some programs below. Some are nationwide and some are local. I am providing some basic information here and I’m sure my descriptions don’t fully do any of these organizations justice, so please click on the links for further details.

Animal Welfare League

  • Purpose: Provide homes and care to unwanted, homeless, and abused animals; reduce pet overpopulation through low cost spay and neuter services; and provide veterinary care for low income pet owners
  • Location: 6224 S. Wabash, Chicago, and 10305 Southwest Highway, Chicago Ridge
  • Deadline: None
  • Requested donation: Money or items from their wish list

  • Purpose: Supporting Soldiers who are in harm’s way
  • Location: Donations can be mailed from anywhere
  • Deadline: None
  • Requested donation: Care packages, letters, Beanie Babies, jerky, computers, tactical items

Barrington Giving Day

  • Purpose: Provide goods to individuals and families of Barrington schools, Barrington Township, and Cuba Township
  • Location: Barrington churches and schools and businesses
  • Deadline: November 15 – December 8
  • Requested donation: Money, coats, new or like-new toys and gifts, books for children and teens

  • Purpose: Recruit new volunteers for the USPS Operation Letters to Santa program, which provides gifts for children in need
  • Location: A directory of participating USPS locations is available after December 1. There are also suggestions on other ways to be an elf if there is not a participating location near you.
  • Deadline: Check back December 1 for details about your participating location.
  • Requested donation: A gift or gifts for a child in need

Christmas Without Cancer – christmaswithoutcancer [at] yahoo [com]

  • Purpose: Help provide basic necessities, such as gift cards for groceries and gas, to families stricken by cancer
  • Location: Oak Lawn, IL
  • Deadline: None
  • Requested donation: Money, gift cards

Dickinson’s Little Vaudeville Food Pantry Benefit Show

  • Purpose: Collect food for the Wheeling Township Food Pantry
  • Location: Patton Grade School in Arlington Heights
  • Date: Friday, November 4 at 7:30 pm
  • Requested donation: A non-perishable food item (in exchange for free admission to the vaudeville show)

Greater Chicago Food Depository

  • Purpose: Distribute donated and purchased food to food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters throughout Cook County
  • Location: Chicago. Food collection locations can be viewed online.
  • Deadline: None
  • Requested donation: Money, food

Holiday Mail for Heroes

  • Purpose: To distribute holiday cards to America service members, veterans, and families throughout the United States and overseas
  • Location: Donations can be mailed from anywhere
  • Deadline: December 9
  • Requested donation: A holiday greeting card with your message

Loaves & Fishes

  • Purpose: Provide food and groceries to struggling families in DuPage County
  • Location: Naperville, IL
  • Deadline: None
  • Requested donation: Money, food

The Mark Staehely Treasure Chest Program & The Mark Staehely Family Assistance Program

  • Purpose: The Treasure Chest Program provides toys to child in the hospital. The Family Assistance Program provides families of pediatric cancer patients with things like gas cards and food cards to help with the daily expense that can be difficult to manage when a child is facing a life-threatening illness.
  • Location: Treasure Chests are at the Children’s Memorial Hospital Oncology/Hematology Department, Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Radiology/Oncology Department, and Proven St. Joseph Medical Center’s pediatric floor. Donations can be made online and events take place in the Chicagoland area.
  • Deadline: None
  • Requested donation: Money or attend an event (2012 events include Candlelight Bowling in Joliet, “Dreams of Paris” event in Bolingbrook, and the 6th Annual Make Your Mark Golf Outing)

Milk + Bookies

  • Purpose: Expose kids to giving and provide books to children who don’t have access to them
  • Location: Anywhere you choose
  • Deadline: None
  • Requested donation: Host a Milk + Bookies event to collect books to donate

Murph’s Gift of Music

  • Purpose: Provide music related lessons and instruments to children from families who do not have the means to provide them
  • Location: Chicago
  • Deadline: None
  • Requested donation: Money, musical instruments

Operation Christmas Child

  • Purpose: Provide gifts to needy children overseas
  • Location: Boone, NC
  • Deadline: National collection week was November 14-21 this year; shoeboxes are accepted year-round if you ship them to their headquarters in Boone, NC.
  • Requested donation: A shoebox full of gifts for a child and $7 to cover shipping for each box (check out Making Time For Mommy for some great ideas on what to include in your shoebox!)

Pajama Program

  • Purpose: Deliver warm pajamas and a books to children in need
  • Location: Chapters located throughout the country. Donations are being accepted at the Biograph Theatre during Goodnight Moon The Musical.
  • Deadline: None. The Chicago Children’s Theatre will be collecting until December 23, when Goodnight Moon The Musical has it’s final performance.
  • Requested donation: Money, pajamas & books (can be purchased online for donation or you can host a pajama drive, or donate during Goodnight Moon The Musical)

Partners in Health

  • Purpose: Provide comprehensive health care to impoverished communities internationally
  • Location: Headquarters in Boston; provide services in 12 countries, including the United States
  • Deadline: None
  • Requested donation: Money

Project Linus

  • Purpose: Provide blankets for children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need
  • Location: Chapters are located throughout the country, and there are several chapters in Illinois.
  • Deadline: None
  • Requested donation: Homemade blankets

Ronald McDonald House Children’s Charities

  • Purpose: Provide a “home-away-from-home” for families so they can stay close to a hospitalized child at little or no cost
  • Location: There are six locations in Illinois
  • Deadline: No
  • Requested donation: Money, pop tabs, household goods, non-perishable food, new toys and games. Individual houses have wishlists of needed items. Small groups can volunteer to cook a meal for families staying at the Ronald McDonald House

Salvation Army & NBC 5 Coat Drive

  • Purpose: Collect coats for the needy
  • Location: NBC Studios, 401 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago
  • Date: Wednesday, December 21 from 4:30 am to 12:30 pm
  • Requested donation: New or gently used winter coats

Salvation Army & Bears Coat Drive

Salvation Army Angel Tree Program

  • Purpose: Provide gifts for needy children
  • Location: Salvation Army locations
  • Deadline: October 3 – December 16
  • Requested donation: an unwrapped gift for a child

Settler’s Pond Hoofed Animals (& others) Shelter

  • Purpose: Rescue hoofed (& other) animals; provide care for them while educating the next generation
  • Location: Beecher, IL
  • Deadline: None
  • Requested donations: Money, dog and cat food, fencing, or items from their current needs list

Toys for Tots

  • Purpose: Provide toys to children in need
  • Location: Locations throughout the Chicagoland area
  • Deadline: Ongoing collection; Toys for Tots parade is on Sunday, November 4 at 9:30 am at 83rd and Western in Chicago
  • Requested donation: Money; new, unopened, and unwrapped toys (no stuffed animals, food, toy weapons, no pets)

Wounded Warrior Project (see my previous post about the Wounded Warrior Project)

  • Purpose: Provide assistance to injured service members
  • Location: Anywhere
  • Deadline: None
  • Requested donation: Money


Have you included your kids in giving? Do you have a great holiday giving experience to share? Do you know of any other great organizations I should include on this list?



  1. We are a non profit organization that works with local businesses and other non profits to provide opportunities for families with children to get involved in hands-on service projects. Check out our website to learn more. We have two upcoming public events and many private ones for our Creatively Caring meetup group.

  2. A great post. With some many great suggestions its almost impossible to pick just one to support


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