One of my favorite things about the holiday season is that people have a little bit of extra cheer in their hearts, ready to give and share.
Charities depend on that giving spirit this time of year. Even though a charity’s needs continue year round, the biggest bulk of their donations are received in November and December.
If the spirit moves you to share your wealth this year, consider these tips to get the most bang for your buck.
• Cash is king. Sure, handing over a check for $20 is not as fun as filling a cart with $20 worth of canned goods, but your money will go farther and it won’t expire.
Food pantries and soup kitchens can buy food cheaper than you can, using quantity discounts and working special relationships they might have with farmers and sponsors. Money also helps charities plan meals better and buy any ingredients or supplies they might be short on. The same goes for shelters and other organizations. Just research them on CharityNavigator.org to make sure they’re using your money efficiently.
If you still want to feel that personal connection to your donation, volunteer some time wherever you donate money.
• Watch for wish lists. Many charities will post a list of items they need online. Buying from those lists will help you contribute what is needed most. Some organizations post Amazon wish lists, where you can buy and ship donations with the push of a button.
• Buy waterproof. Those Magic Gloves that stretch to fit any hand are great. But a good pair of waterproof, insulated gloves will be a great luxury, not just for people without homes, but for people who walk or work outside.
• Buy black. People in need are not picky. If you’re sharing used winter gear, anything goes. But if you’re buying something new and want to go the extra mile; black coats, hats, gloves and scarves tend to be peoples’ first choices. Maybe it’s because black clothing doesn’t show wear as easily. Or maybe it’s because they’re more stylish and go with everything. There are black, fleece-lined knit caps at Dollar Tree for $1.
• When donating clothing, make sure it’s clean. Many people don’t have easy access to laundry machines, especially those who live outside.
• Don’t forget babies and kids. People don’t seem to donate as much clothing or winter gear for little ones as they do for adults.
• Don’t forget the big kids. People tend to donate toys geared toward younger children at Christmas. Teens and tweens need love, too.
• Sock it to ‘em. One donated hat can keep someone warm the whole winter, but one pair of socks lasts just a few days at most. Warm, dry feet are important, and you can buy bundles of socks for as little as 50 cents per pair.
• Save your hotel toiletries and ask your friends to save theirs, too. Personal care items are greatly needed.
• Foods to go. Consider donating food that doesn’t need to be heated or prepared (peanut butter, crackers, granola bars, Chef Boyardee). I know I don’t feel like cooking a big dinner after a long, stressful day. And some people don’t have access to a stove or microwave.
• Sweets are a treat that is much appreciated by clients at food pantries. So are coffee, tea and hot chocolate.
• Pads and tampons, necessities that can’t be purchased with WIC or SNAP.
• Foods for special diet needs, such as those with diabetes or celiac disease.
• Call ahead to make sure your donations are appropriate for your chosen charity and that there’s room for them.