Have you always wanted to make a list and check it twice so you can play Santa Claus? The holiday season is the perfect time to give to others who might not be as fortunate as you. Alas, most of us don't have a naughty/nice list that tells us exactly what a stranger might need to fulfill his holiday wishes. That is where a slew of non-profit organizations come in. These groups help match needy families with those wanting to spread a little Christmas cheer.
Toys for Tots
If you love the thought of sugarplums dancing through children’s heads, then the Toys for Tots program could be the perfect match for you. The organization was started in 1947 by Major Bill Hendricks. That first Christmas, Hendricks and a group of U.S. Marine Reservists delivered about 5,000 toys to needy children. Since then, the U.S. Marines have delivered more than 452 million toys to over 209 million underprivileged children. (Pictured above are marines collecting toys in New York City's Times Square -- right outside the ConsumerSearch office!) Toy collections begin in October and continue through December.
Toys can be dropped off at local Toys for Tots center or purchased and donated at any Toys“R”Us. NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal has thrown his name behind “Shaq’s Santa Sack.” This is essentially a wish list at Toys “R” Us of toys that kids most want. However, as Christmas gets closer and closer, it may be best to make monetary donations to the organization, because most toys will be delivered by December 22nd.
According to Bill Grein, Vice President Marketing and Development at Toys for Tots, this year’s donations are down and if something doesn’t change quickly they may not have enough toys to give to all the children who need them. “Last year we gave out toys to 7.2 million children. We started December about 1 million toys behind that and we haven’t made up the difference,” said Grein.
One area where there is always a shortage is for the pre-teen and young teen age groups. “Maybe it’s because we are named Toys for Tots and people think of tots as little guys and gals. However, older kids also like to be remembered at Christmastime and we have a real need for toys for them,” said Grein. He added that they appreciate things like iPods, wallets, age-appropriate jewelry and remote control toys such as cars.
Grein shared that when people go online and make a donation to ToysForTots, the organization then notifies one of the 745 units that are in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, D.C. and American Samoa. The money is instantly put on a debit card that the coordinator for that unit has and they can immediately go and purchase a toy that a child wants and fulfill another wish. “If we’re going to reach the number of kids we did last year, we need help and we need it fast,” said Grein.
Angel trees are popular opportunities to give back to your local community and easy to find in nearly any shopping mall or big box retail store, such as Walmart. You’ll find trees sponsored by local organizations, as well as trees placed by nursing homes, churches, orphanages and other organizations. The concept is simple. Choose an angel, which lists the name of an adult or child, the person’s age, and a few gift items they’d like for Christmas. Shop for the items and take them to the service counter along with the angel to donate them.
There is also an organization called Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree, which helps incarcerated parents deliver gifts and the gospel to their children. The organization accepts monetary donations and also works with churches to collect and deliver gifts.
Operation Christmas Child
If your heart lies with children in underprivileged areas of the world, then Samaritan’s Purse operates a program called Operation Christmas Child which collects shoeboxes full of toys and other goodies and delivers those boxes, along with the gospel to children all over the world. The program was started in the early 1990s by Dave Cook. In November, thousands of locations open around the country in churches, schools and community centers. These locations act as collection points for the shoeboxes, which are then shipped to a central location before being sent overseas to their intended location. According to a press release from the organization, they expect to deliver 100 million shoeboxes in 2012. Visit their website for details on what to pack in a shoebox and where to drop yours off.
Operation Letter to Santa
The United States Postal Service (USPS) receives hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa each year. Some of these letters come from needy children. Since 1912, local post offices around the country have taken it upon themselves to pull out these letters and make them available to those who want to fulfill those requests and dubbed the effort Operation Letter to Santa. There are now chapters all across the country, so people should phone their local post office to see if they are participating in the century-old program. If your local post office does not participate, you may want to call post offices in larger cities nearby until you find one that does.
Operation Shoebox is a program that sends packages to military men and women serving overseas filled with items needed the most. Although the program runs year-round, Christmas is a particularly difficult time for those in service to be away from home. It can also be the perfect time for you to begin giving to this program. If there is a Sam’s Club in your area, check to see if they serve as a drop-off point for packages. There is a list of needed items on the website, such as bubble gum, 5 Hour Energy and tuna packets.
Another idea is to adopt a local solider who you know of through a co-worker, community g roup or in your own family. A special Christmas package filled with favorite items from home can help ease a soldier’s homesickness over the holidays.
My Two Front Teeth
My Two Front Teeth is an organization that teams up with local family giving trees and creates an online presence that allows givers to play Santa to families from all over. The organization sends a gift catalog that has toys for $25 or under to the organization. The child then creates a wish list based on that catalog. The card is scanned and put online for gift givers to look at and choose. You simply pay for the child’s gift with a credit card. My Two Front Teeth wraps and delivers the gift for you. If you are crunched for time, but really want to fulfill a child’s wish, this organization can help you play Santa in a fraction of the time.
Wish Upon a Hero
Wish Upon a Hero is an organization that utilizes the online social media phenomenon to help grant the wishes of people. Those who have a need post what their wish is. Others can view the details of those wishes and become a “hero” to help fulfill that wish. Join the site to participate. On the right side lives a scrolling ticker that lists wishes that have been fulfilled and the hero’s screen name. In the main screen is a list of highlighted wishes ranging from a gift for a teen daughter to a small toy for a toddler to a marine wanting a gift for his wife. Whether you want to play Santa to a military family, a family down on their luck or just someone who seems to really need an item, you’ll find ample gift-giving opportunities on this site.