Holiday Charities

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions & Advice  

Donating during the holidays in a more 'real' way

Dec 2012

My 4 year old saw a recent news segment about a retired teacher who shops all year long for toys and clothes to gift to kids in need during the holidays, and decided he wants to buy some toys to give to kids who don't have as much as he does, too. I know there are plenty of places where you can drop off gifts, but any recommendations on how to do this in a more 'real' way? I thought of taking him to a women's/kids' shelter, but a) there's no way of knowing how many kids there will be and we couldn't buy enough for everyone anyway, and b) it feels kind of wrong, like 'using' and objectifying the people there in a kind of show-and-tell for the benefit of my own kid's moral/charitable development. Any ideas?

I highly recommend contacting Compass Community Services based in San Francisco. They are an amazing non profit that helps homeless and transitioning families. You will be given information on a family with a list of the items they are in need of and the child or children list toys they wish for. Your son will get a thank you note from the family after the holidays. Roger

We would be elated if you would support our Moms Group 'Mocha Moms of Contra Costa County-West' in making a donation of unwrapped toys to donate to the NEW Drew Gooden Foundation. Mr. Drew Gooden is a native of Richmond, an El Cerrito High School Graduate and is currently playing professional basketball with the Milwaukee Bucks. We are thrilled to help them with their endeavors to bring toys to families in the West Contra Costa County area that would not otherwise be able to provide for their children. If you would like you may contact us and we will be sure that it reaches The Drew Gooden Foundation. You can contact us directly by email and we will pick up from you. Mocha Moms of Contra Costa County-West wccmochas [at]

My kids have enjoyed programs where we were assigned a specific family in need - given the ages and genders of the family members (we usually tried to pick one with kids close to the ages of our kids) and then we could buy toys, clothes and things with specific people in mind. That might be a way to make it more tangible for him without being overwhelming. We've found families through local social service agencies and I think once even through Starbucks. JP

Last week I saw one of those 'giving trees' at Bayfair Mall, where each ornament is a needy kid's wish list. You can fill the list right there at Kohls or Target. I have seen them in years past at Hilltop Mall too. Kind of an intense conversation to have with my 4 year old, but we'll do it in future years. Mall Crawler

People can donate to foster youth and homeless kids K-12 in a real way through the Mt. Diablo Unified Homeless Outreach Program for Education (HOPE). There is a website link where people can 'sponsor' families in need for the holidays. Call Elsa Dalpiaz for more information 925.682.8000, ext. 3054 or 100% goes to the children and families and is tax deductible. James

It might be too late for this year, but every year we 'adopt' a needy family (or two) through Brighter Beginnings (locations in Richmond and Oakland). We are assigned a family (you can specify if you want a specific size family, particular age kids, etc), get their 'wish list,' and then shop for thing we think they would like. We always add a grocery gift certificate (they tell you which store is most convenient for them) so they can have a nice holiday meal. You are responsible for wrapping the gifts and delivering them to a drop-off site, but the agency delivers them to the family - so no 'show & tell' involved. We always receive a nice thank-you card from the families (via Brighter Beginnings, so the family doesn't know who donated the gifts). While we dont' get to actually se the 'poor' family, we do have a pretty good idea of their situation and needs, so it seems pretty personal without seeming to 'put them on display' (ick). I know there are other organizations that conduct similar adopt-a-family programs each year, including some int he BPN archives. R.K.

People in need of holiday cheer

Nov 2008

We are a mother-daughter team of artisans looking to create wonderful christmas/hanukkah/kwanza gifts for oldsters, housebound seniors, parents, grandparents, neighbors, folks who may be in need of a little cheer. FREE. We are building personalized gift baskets, thisses and thats, cool stuff, wonderful baked goods, living plants, whatever - the idea is to spread the joy and remind folks that they are in fact, not alone. We do this sporadically throughout the year but know that the holidays are especially tough for people who think they're forgotten. Does anyone know how best to find people in need?

You could start by calling local churches. I know that mine would gladly provide you with a list of older folks who would be absolutely thrilled with such a lovely gift. Liza

Want to drop off wrapped gifts on Christmas Day

Nov 2007

I have been wanting to have a tradition Christmas Day where we go as a family to a shelter and bring wrapped gifts. One past year, we brought many different gifts labeled by age and gender - the shelter ended up being mostly men and we had brought many child and woman gifts. Does anyone have any ideas for a place that would be open to assorted presents on Christmas Day?? wanna-be do-gooder

Well, it's not done right on Christmas, but consider adopting a family through Brighter Beginnings (formerly known as Perinatal Council). They serve needy families throughout the area. If you want, you can request a family with similar age kids to your own family. They tell you a lot of info about each member of your adopted family. You purchase gifts for the family members, wrap them, and provide (if you wish) gift cards for a holiday meal. The agency does the actual delivery, but it is quite personal. Most years, I have received (via the agency) a personal thank you note from the family. I think some needy families, while grateful, may be embarrassed to have a ''richer'' family drop in with gifts. They might prefer the anonymity of getting the gifts through the agency. You can still make it very personal to your kids by talking about the individuals. Contact them at adopt-a-family[at] (you must put in all the hyphens!) R.K.

Christmas day volunteering for Jewish family

January 2007

I am a Jewish single parent and though we are very busy over the holidays, Christmas Day is always a bit of a let down. This year I'd like to find something generous and loving for myself and my 7 year old to do. Does anyone have a suggestion of a shelter, hospital, soup kitchen or something where we could do a little giving and filling of our own hearts and others?
Hoping for other gifts on Christmas

While I applaud your desire to teach your seven year old to give to others, many organizations that do the kind of work you are describing have an age limit - both for the safety of the children and for the efficiency of the work. So call before you go. That said, a number of Jewish organizations try to cover Christmas Day so that those who observe the day can just celebrate. You could call Jewish Community Information and Referral at 415-777-4545, they serve the entire bay area, and ask them for referrals. Additionally, you may want to spend part of the day having fun - this year the Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF had a Family Day on 12/25 and a number of other Jewish institutions had special programs too. Again, JCI will have a full list of them.

One added note, JCI just produced their 5767 (that's 2005-2007 on the Western calendar) copy of Resource: A Guide to Jewish Life in the Bay Area. You can also get that for free by calling Gail or Judy at JCI at the number above. If you're in the East Bay, I'm happy to help. At Building Jewish Bridges 510-839-2900 x347.
Dawn Kepler

Meaningful Holiday Giving

October 2006

Trying to make ''giving'' meaningful to my 3 and 5 year olds...would love suggestions of ways to have my children see, and particpate in giving back over the holidays. For instance, if we donnate toys and gifts, I'd love to have them give the gifts to needy children. Or, visit old people whose faces light up. Or, bring food to the hungry and see what hungry really means. Any ideas appreciated.
Interested Mom

when i was living on the peninsula my family and i worked with the county to adopt another family during the holidays. we collected food, toys, clothes and household items from our entire family and then delivered the items to the family in need. it was good for everyone. we felt good about giving, and the receiving family felt good about having gifts to give their children and food to put on the table. perhaps alameda county has a similar program? Erika

I admire your intention. Our family, also, tries to engage in meaningful giving. Last year we let our five-year-old choose one of the organizations we gave to, and it has become a great source of pride for him. However, it's often a good idea to proceed gently and a step at a time with very young children. When my son was a toddler, I started to talk about giving to the community with him. But I found it upset him very much to know that there were other children who did not have enough to eat or a place to sleep. The fact of that was too scary for him at the time--if it could happen to others, he knew it could happen to him, too, and the fear prevented him from knowing how to give. I actually see this as a step towards compassion: the identification with the other's situation. But at three-years-old, he was too young to know how to separate his experience from the experience of others.

So I backed off there, and focused on giving in other ways and to other concerns--the environment, charities that help animals, picking up trash we see on the street and throwing it away, recylcing, and other things. Also, I made community involvement a regular part of our daily lives, rather than a once-a-year tradition.

Now that my son is six, he takes great pride in his world and his community and wants to give to it. But he is still a child, and needs to have his own world feel secure. Giving away toys is very hard for him. Going to a homeless shelter is way too scary still. But he is better able to help with food banks, and community resources. And he is very creative and motivated to find ways stop global warming, help endagnered animals, and generally take a positive approach to the world's problems.

So my advice, I guess, is to proceed slowly but positively. Don't expect a little child to have the same feelings about giving that an adult has. Work with their interests, and work year round. Add more ideas and actions as they grow and can understand more. And thank them often for their efforts. Just as I thank you for yours. anon

For the past three years we have purchased and donated a gift through Wells Fargo. There is a giving-tree in our branch's lobby during the holiday season with tags that have been filled out by kids with specific gift requests. We choose one that is the same age as our son and he shops with us for the present. We explain that this child doesn't have as many things as we do -- without totally blowing the Santa-myth! I like that we know we are getting a gift that is really wanted. I think there are other places that have such lists like the Regional Center of the East Bay. We talk alot during the holiday season about why we give and receive presents. It is a fine line since we do the Santa-thing, but I talk about Santa's motivations too and other cultural holidays during the time of lights.
Santa's helper

Christmas ''Shoebox'' Donation alternatives

November 2004

I just rec'd a brochure on Operation Christmas Child from Samaritan's Purse. They collect shoe boxes full of gifts for young children and distribute them throughout the world. Sounds like a fabulous idea for my kids, but the organization is a bit religious for us. The form you fill out to send in a box says ''I will pray for this ministry...'', which I'm probably not going to do. I hate to mis-represent my beliefs even though this is going to strangers. Anybody heard of a non-religious alternative (or maybe not so obviously Christian) who does the same thing? Want to Give

I just signed up for this today--found it in Child magazine yesterday. The box project was established in 1962 to help poor rural families in Maine, Appalachian states, a few other southern states, and Native Americans in South Dakota. In essence you adopt a family, commit to one year at least, and you have to pay a $50 membership fee (this covers the staff's time matching you with a family). You fill out the online form and they will send you information about your family match in the mail, then about once a month you send a box to the family that includes whatever they need. All the correspondence is between you and whomever you adopt, so the family can tell you specifically what they need (food, utensils, clothes, blankets, whatever). There doesn't seem to be an overt religious affiliation as far as I could tell (I read all the ''about us'' stuff and there wasn't any god message in it anywhere). They also have a holidays only box program, but signups for that closed on Nov. 18. On the online form you can specify whom you would like to help if you want (I said I'd like a family with kids to personalize it for my son, who I intend to involve in the selection and packaging of items to give). Or, you can just say you'll help whoever needs help. They also have classroom/community center projects that you can read about on the site. Laura

Organizations for school's holiday drive

December 2004

I am helping to coordinate a holiday drive at my daughter's preschool. We would like to select an organization that could really use some extra assistance this year. We would gather together a bunch of Christmas donations for them (toys, clothes, gift certificates, whatever is needed). Last year we did the ''Adopt-A-Family'' program at Children's Hospital. We may do that again but I thought I'd solicit some other ideas. An organization that helps women and children would be of particular interest. Thanks! Amelia

The Catholic Voice always publishes a list of charities with their wish lists. I imagine you can access it online. We often give to the Elizabeth House which is a wonderful home for woman and children in Berkeley. Some of the others listed are: A Friendly Place- drop in center for homeless women - 451- 8923. Bay Area Crisis Nursery in Concord, Jubilee West in Oakland. Nancy

Adopt-a-Family Charities

December 2003

Our preschool would like to adopt a family or families for the holidays. Our preference would be to actually receive a family profile so that we can buy individual gifts for the family members. We have gone through the Center for the Vulnerable Child in the past, but wondered if there were other similar groups that we coiuld help Thanks! kristi

I am in charge of a family for my babysitting coop, and we were assigned a single Mom and her 5 kids from St. Mary's Center in Oakland. I spoke last week with Sister Marilyn Medau, 510-893- 4723, ext. 202, who tells me they had an unusually high number of families (350!) apply for help. Sister indicated they still had a number of (smaller) families left to adopt. I'm sure she would appreciate the help very much, and they are also looking for volunteers to distribute the gifts and food certificates on Dec. 14, 15, 16, and 17. jmr

The Homeless Youth Collaborative assists homeless youth to find jobs and housing. The youth often need household goods (dishes, etc.) and food when they are moving into housing. These items are always appreciated, but even more so during holiday season. For information about donations, please call the Homeless Youth Collaborative at 510-652-4111. Susanna

The Windrush Parents Association Family to Family Program does just that. We sponsor new clothing, toys and gifts for the residents of the GRIP homeless shelter in Richmond (GRIP stands for Greater Richmond Interfaith Program, a consortium of 35 churches and temples in the area). We just completed matching nearly fifty families at Windrush School with children and their parents for holiday gifts. However, I am told we will get another 10-12 individual referrals (2-3 families) next week and so we could use that many more sponsors.

Each sponsorship carries a commitment of $50-$100. worth of new toys and clothing which you buy, wrap, and deliver to the shelter by Dec. 20. You get a name, age, gender and wishlist for each person, and sponsoring a whole family would be fabulous, as would sponsoring just one or two people. If that fits your parameters, let me know. I would love to know that we have the whole shelter covered (because right now we are just a bit short.) And I can tell you, buying one of the parents new boots, a coat or bathrobe feels just as good as buying toys for the kids. We try to cover everyone who lives there.

Please contact Peggy Scott, the Windrush parent who is coordinating this program directly for more information. Thanks for your generosity. Warm regards, Natasha

November 2002

Inspired by the recent thread on excessive gift giving at the holidays, my extended family has decided to limit our presents this year and ''adopt'' a family in need. Now we have to find out how to go about finding a family. I've looked at the archives and found nothing, while a Google search returned a daunting list of thousands. Advice about local organizations from people with firsthand knowledge would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Our Girl Scout troop has done this for several years through the East Bay Perinatal Council in Richmond. They can be reached at The Perinatal Council Richmond, 2727 McDonald Avenue, Richmond, CA 94804 510.236.6990. There's also an office in Oakland. Last year we had a single mom with 3 very young kids and the girls had a great time shopping for them. Cathy

My daughter's Girl Scout troop has been ''Adopting a Family'' for years. Each year they call the East Bay Adopt-A-Family coordinator Rose Arnold to get a family. They can state a preference for size and configuration of the family and even the gender and age of the kids. (Of course choices are probably less plentiful the later in the season). Call Rose Arnold at 510-903-7531. Kathy

The Hematology Oncology Clinic at Children's Hospital Oakland often has families that are truly destitute, in addition to having a child with a life threatening condition, who need sponsorship during the holidays. I think the volunteers at the hospital also coordinate a family adoption program for the whole hospital. Families served by the hospital are usually dealing with some serious health condition in addition to being poor so it is a very worthwhile place to help out. The number for the hospital is 510-428-3000. Vickie

Children's Hospital has a program as part of their Vulnerable Child Program. You agree to sponsor a family by purchasing holiday gifts. The case worker gives you the ages and gender of the various family members and some ideas of what might be needed or desired. I think you have a choice about whether to actually meet the family and deliver the gifts in person, but check with the case worker the make sure if this is something that is important to you. You will need to act quickly however, as I seem to recall getting the list sometime in November so that the gifts can be ready to go before the holidays. Anonymous Santa

My family and work use the Family Support Services of the Bay Area (510) 834-2443. This group came to speak at our United Way drive, and they are wonderful. They provides respite care to families of special needs children, teach parenting and household skills and literally save families from entering the foster care system. They reach some of the neediest families in Alameda, Contra Costa, S.F, and San Mateo counties. They are able to give you a local family. I support your decision to make a difference this year. mizzbee

Call Children's Hospital - I think it's called the Center for the vulnerable child. Our pre-school adopts a family every year and this is who we work with. The director of the program can pair you with a family and give you their wants, needs, sizes etc. If you can't find the number let me know and I can track it down through the pre-school. Good luck - it's great that you are doing this as there are a lot of families in need. kristi

A Better Way is a foster family and adoption program in Berkeley. Every year during the holiday season they ask their children in foster care what they would like from Santa. They always need people to ''adopt'' these wishes - they have a huge party with Santa who gives each child what they have asked for. None of this happens without the generous help of the families who are able to provide the toys. The nice thing is that they provide a small toy for every child attending (for the biological children of the foster parents too). You can attend the very festive party so your children can see where their gifts are going - the kids are thrilled to get something special. It is a very hands on way to make a difference. Their website is and their number is: 510-601-0203. Ask for Shahnaz Mazandarani. P.S. I know about this organization because I used to work there - the children have been through a lot so I always think about them during the holidays. Please contact me (hmatzger AT if you have any questions. Helen

Children's Hospital Oakland's Center for the Vulnerable Child works with many families needing a variety of support over the holidays. If you participate, you will be matched with a family and given information about number & ages of children, specific needs, etc. You can then shop for and deliver wrapped items to the Hospital. You will not personally deliver the presents to the family. It is a wonderful program that supports families of all sizes and flavors who will truly benefit from your generosity. If you need more information, contact the Hospital's Center for the Vulnerable Child, 428-3000. Chris

Several years ago our family adopted a family for holiday gift giving. We called the local Jewish Family Agency and they called several rabbis in our area. One identified a single dad and young daughter as a family in need. Our kids had a great time choosing clothing for her. They also chose toys from their own things to offer. We rounded out the gift with supermarket and electronics store gift certificates for the dad. The family remained anonymous to us, but we received a lovely thank you note. I recommend calling your local churches or synagogues or Catholic Charities or Jewish Family and Children Services. I know they can connect you with a needy family. Good luck. Martha

Call the Center for the Vulnerable Child at Children's Hospital, Oakland. They have a holiday adopt-a-family program of local families which is in full-swing right now. Our preschool adopts a family every year and it has been a very rewarding and well- received effort. Lisa

Charitable Holiday Gifts

November 2002

I've heard about a way to give over the holidays, but can't find out where it's happening. It's called a ''giving tree'' or something like that. There are people in need listed, with their ages and wishes. You can choose one or more people, and bring back the item wrapped as a gift. Has anyone heard of this and where it might be happening? Lisa

Barnes and Noble in Berkeley has a basket in the childrens section with little cards. Each card has a child's name and some sort of interest,and then you but a book the you think corrolates to that. They give you 10% off and wrap and distribute the books.

I highly reccomend Heifer International. See Last year my four siblings and I skipped our annual gift drawing and gave the $500 we would have spent to the Heifer Project to buy a cow that will feed a hungry family in the developing world for years to come. You can also buy a share for $50 or a duck for $20. Many options and they are helping build self-sufficiency in many places. A great organization, based on peace church witness. Called one of the 100 best charities in the country by ''Worth Maga Judy

Try this: virginia

The Wells Fargo Bank in Montclair always has one of those Giving Trees, and last year I saw one in the Emeryville Toys R Us. There was also a front-page article in the SF Chronicle (Nov 26th) that said The Salvation Army (415-575-4849) , the Family Giving Tree (408-946-3111) and Samaritan House (650-341-4081 x 15) are really looking for help as well. Susan

You can donate a new pair of socks for kids or adults and tie them with our red ribbon onto one of the Solano Sock Trees located in the banks on Solano Avenue: Bank of America, 1516 Solano; California Bank & Trust, 1451 Solano; Citibank, 1377 Solano; The Mechanics Bank, 1801 Solano: The Mechanics Bank, 801 San Pablo; or Wells Fargo Bank, 1800 Solano. Socks will be distributed to local shelters in time for the holidays. Or purchase a new, unwrapped toy and leave it in the 'Toys for Tots' barrel at Powder Box, 1757 Solano; Marvin Gardens Real Estate, 1579 Solano; and The Mechanics Bank, 801 San P Lisa