The spirit of generosity is always especially strong during the holiday season, as we reflect on what we have and feel moved to help others with less. If you’re looking to give back this holiday season, here are 10 ways to do it.
1. The Marines’ 'Toys for Tots'
You don't need direct access to a Toys for Tots dropbox to join the effort—it's more than easy to contribute online. The organization’s website features virtual boxes, which you fill with suggested toys based on age ranges. There’s everything from baby dolls and basketballs to art sets and science kits, and you can decide how many items to include before you check out. The organization will take care of shipping and delivery. If you’d like to help a certain Toys for Tots branch in your area, you can search for nearby locations on this map.
Since you’re probably going to buy at least a set or two of holiday cards this year, why not get them from a charitable organization? That’s the idea behind GreetForGood.org (formerly CardsThatGive.org), a website with greeting cards from more than 230 nonprofits—including children’s hospitals, animal shelters, and everything in between. Among the hundreds of cards to choose from are recyclable cards, e-cards, cards you can customize with your own photos, and more. To take it a step further, here are some charitable gifts to give this Christmas, from candles to coffee.
3. One Simple Wish
Kids in the foster care system can ask for specific gifts through One Simple Wish, which ballparks the price of the item (shipping and other operational costs included), and publishes it online. While you don’t choose the exact item, you do get to learn about the child the gift is going to; Imani, for example, is an 8-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio, who's hoping for a karaoke machine so she can rock out with her sister. You can browse the whole list or even filter by age, gift category, occasion, and more.
4. Feed the Children
In addition to helping food-insecure children and families on a global scale, Feed the Children also provides disaster relief, teacher supplies, and more. For its annual No Hunger Holidays campaign, the organization will distribute care packages across the country containing shelf-stable food, personal care products, and recreational extras like toys and books. You can learn more and contribute here.
5. The Salvation Army’s ‘Angel Tree’
The Salvation Army sets up its Angel Trees in Walmarts across the country—that way, you can choose a tag from the tree, pick out the requested gift, and donate it all in one shopping trip. You can also complete the whole process online: Simply enter your zip code here and you’ll see a list of Salvation Army organizations in your area. Choose “View Registry” for any location, and you’ll be taken to Walmart’s website, where you can purchase products that the Salvation Army will distribute to families in need. Many registries also list Walmart gift cards, if you’re looking to give something a little less specific.
6. Home Instead’s ‘Be a Santa to a Senior’
Similar to the Salvation Army’s Angel Trees, Home Instead’s annual Be a Santa to a Senior tradition involves picking a tag from a tree and buying whatever item is written on it. This venture, however, is specifically for senior citizens who might not otherwise receive gifts. You can search for participating seniors in your area and ship items from their Amazon wish lists directly to them.
7. Pay Away the Layaway
Pay Away the Layaway is exactly what it sounds like: a charity that pays off people’s layaway balances. The organizers mainly choose families who bought items for kids—clothes, baby products, school supplies, books, toys, etc.—from retailers like Burlington and Walmart. You can donate here.
8. Child’s Play
In 2003, the creators of the Penny Arcade comics collected video games and other toys to donate to Seattle Children’s Hospital, hoping to demonstrate that video games weren’t as bad as the media made them out to be. Eighteen years later, the operation has grown into a full-fledged charity called Child’s Play, which sends items to hospitals and domestic violence shelters all over the U.S. and Canada. You can donate directly to the cause, or you can explore the map of affiliated institutions and send gifts from their Amazon wish lists. It’s not just video games—there are also books, art supplies, DVDs, LEGO sets, and all kinds of other toys and games to choose from.
9. Youth Villages’ Holiday Heroes
Youth Villages helps anyone from ages 0 to 22 who has developmental or learning disabilities, emotional or behavioral disorders, abuse in their history, and/or a difficult family situation. Some of the organization’s programs include crisis counseling, residential treatment centers, post-foster-care transition services, and more. Through the Holiday Heroes initiative, you choose a participating state or region and sign up to fulfill a gift wish list submitted by a child enrolled in a Youth Villages program.
10. Alternative Gifts International
Instead of buying physical gifts for all your friends and family, you could make donations on their behalf through Alternative Gifts International, which partners with various charitable initiatives across the globe. So you can, for example, donate to a mobile library in honor of the biggest book lover on your list; donate to a tree-planting center for your eco-friendliest friend; and so on. Find out more here.
A version of this story ran in 2020; it has been updated for 2021.