by Aidan Kang, CFA
Senior Writer
Grants
UPDATED: November 23, 2022

Christmas is just a few weeks away, and many people are scrambling to do their gift shopping. But for low-income families, celebrating Christmas can be a bit of a burden in terms of budget.

Even if you barely have money for your family’s everyday expenses, don’t worry—you can still celebrate the holidays with gifts, toys, and food. You can find Christmas programs that provide help for low-income families, such as toys, clothes, food, and bills assistance.

Christmas is about giving, joy, and hope. So, many people are extending their generosity by giving away money and in-kind donations for the holidays.

Now, not all families may qualify for Christmas programs, but it’s worth it to check opportunities. It helps to start as early as possible to know the requirements and criteria—and that’s why we’re here.

Below, you’ll find a list of Christmas programs for low-income families.

1. Marine Toys for Tots

If you have children aged 12 and below, you can request toys you can wrap as Christmas gifts for them.

The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in 1991, collects unwrapped new toys from October to December every year and distributes them to less fortunate kids at Christmas.

The foundation partners with local agencies, churches, and communities to launch campaigns to collect and distribute toys across all 50 states. Currently, the foundation has 800 Toys for Tots campaign sites.

Click here to find the nearest campaign group in your area to apply.

2. United Way

If you need financial assistance, especially this Christmas, you may reach out to The United Way.

The United Way is a nonprofit organization that partners with thousands of community groups, private companies, and individual donors and volunteers to help families across the world.

During the Christmas season, United Way is known for its Holiday Giving Tree program, which aims to distribute gifts to communities and provide assistance to low-income families.

United Way doesn’t provide direct financial assistance to families in need; instead, it works with community partners that do.

You can call its hotline 2-1-1 to learn about the available financial assistance near you. A trained resource and referral specialist will assist you in finding the help that you need.

You can also visit www.211.org or Find your local United Way.

3. Salvation Army

Toys, clothes, meals, and bills–when it comes to asking for help for the needy, you’ll always encounter the name Salvation Army. It’s an international organization that’s part of the Christian Church, providing various charitable services to people across 130 countries.

During the Christmas season, the Salvation Army goes all out with different programs:

  • Angel Tree Program, which provides Christmas gifts (toys and clothes) to children
  • Grocery and Food Assistance, which delivers meals to families going through some challenges
  • Bill-Pay Assistance, which helps families pay for their utility bills and rent to enjoy the holidays
  • Holiday Events, which host gift parties and other Christmas gatherings for children, especially children at the hospitals

You can contact the local Salvation Army near you to learn about its Christmas assistance programs.

4. Be an Elf

If you can’t afford to buy your children gifts this Christmas, you can write Santa a letter and send it to the USPS. 

Be an Elf is a nonprofit organization that partners with USPS Operation Santa to give gifts to families struggling financially.

You can write a letter as a family and explain why you need financial assistance this year. You can also have your children write their letters and what they want to receive on Christmas.

To keep the magic, address the letter to:

Santa Claus

123 Elf Road

North Pole 88888

The postal service sorts, scans, and publishes the letters so generous people can adopt them and help fulfill their wishes. There’s no guarantee that your letter will be chosen, but it’s worth a try!

5. Santa's Little Helpers

Want to make your kids happy this Christmas but don’t have the budget? There’s a Reddit community called Santa’s Little Helpers that could grant your wish.

Santa’s Little Helpers is a Reddit community that gathers resources yearly to help low-income families give their children a happy Christmas.

Registration opened on November 1 and will close on December 10, 2022. You can visit the thread to register your children who are below 18 years old.

When you apply, you need to provide your household details, such as how many children you have, their names, ages, and favorite things, hobbies, and interests. You must also explain why your family needs help.

Once your registration has been approved, you can create your Amazon wish list for your kids. You can pick items for them that cost up to $30 each, but your total wish list is limited to $75.

6. Catholic Charities 

Worried you might not have food on the table for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Catholic Charities USA has a range of programs during the Christmas season for low-income families. 

Its Christmas Food Basket program helps collect donations and distribute them as produce, turkeys, and other goods to needy families. It runs during Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as Easter.

Catholic Charities also has an adopt-a-family program, which connects needy families with donors who can provide them with clothing, toys, and more on Christmas.

You can find the nearest Catholic Charities to you here to learn about the help or services for you.

7. Meals on Wheels

Are you a senior who’s homebound for the holidays? You might benefit from gifts and warm meals delivered to you by Meals on Wheels.

Meals on Wheels is a nonprofit organization that caters to seniors in almost every community in the country. It has around 5,000 independently-run local programs that provide nutritious meals to senior neighbors, along with other services like health and companionship.

You can find a Meals on Wheels provider near you to get started. There’s an application process that will assess your need for meals and other services. Some programs may ask for a referral from your doctor or social worker.

8. Christmas Cops

If you need help getting gifts for your family this Christmas, you can contact your local police to check the events they might have this holiday season.

Each year, local police departments work with charities, schools, businesses, and local citizens to help low-income families receive gifts during Christmas.

For instance, you can register with the Rancho Cordova Police Department at the Kilgore Station at 2897 Kilgore Road in Rancho Cordova, CA, so you can pick up new toys and wrap them up for your children.

To apply, you need a valid ID, proof of address, and proof that your child attends the local school.

Other Christmas Cops programs are available in:

With the help of local schools, they find children in need, bring them for Christmas shopping, and treat them to meals.

9. Make-a-Wish Foundation

If you have a sick child aged 2.5 to 18 years old with a life-threatening illness, you can refer them for a Christmas wish granted by the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

The Make-a-Wish Foundation is a global organization that grants the wishes of children, not only during the Christmas season but throughout the year.

The child is eligible if diagnosed with a critical illness threatening their life. They must also not have received a wish from a similar wish-granting organization.

You can refer a child if you’re the parent or legal guardian, the child being treated for a critical illness, or a family member who knows the details of the child’s medical condition.

Social workers and medical professionals, like doctors, nurses, or physician assistants, can also refer a child.

You can fill out a referral form to see if the foundation can grant the child’s wish.

10. Prison Fellowship

If you’re a member of a church, group, or organization, you can help connect prisoners’ kids in your area. 

The Prison Fellowship Angel Tree program provides Christmas gifts and support for children whose parents are in prison. It aims to provide hope, show compassion, and make the children feel loved, especially during the holidays.

It’s a great opportunity to show them that while their parents are incarcerated, there are people in their community that care about them.

You can register here

11. Loaves & Fishes

Loaves & Fishes/Friendship Trays is a charitable organization that provides nutritious groceries and prepared meals to families in need throughout Mecklenburg County. During the holidays, they also give turkey and fixings to families.

You can contact Catholic Charities of the Department of Social Services or Veterans Affairs to get a referral, which is required to receive a week’s worth of groceries.

You can also get a referral from professionals who know your personal situation, such as:

  • Approved human services organization
  • Doctor’s office
  • Medical clinic or hospital
  • Health service provider
  • School, college, or university where your children attend
  • Church

They need to call (704) 523-4333 to make an appointment for you and provide your contact information and other specifics about your crisis.

You can also check the list of Loaves & Fishes mobile pantries here.

Are you qualified for Christmas assistance?

Christmas assistance programs prioritize families who need financial help. You might need to provide proof of income, proof of identification (parents and children), and/or referral from approved organizations or professionals.

You’re most likely eligible for Christmas assistance programs if you receive government aid from the following:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Section 8 Housing
  • School Lunch Program
  • Medicaid

Not all applications may be approved, and they receive many requests, so it’s better to try multiple programs to increase your chances. Most Christmas assistance programs are also in the form of toys, groceries, and clothes and are not free money.

How can you help needy families this Christmas?

If you want to serve the least fortunate members of society, you can give back to the community at Christmas instead.

The organizations in the list above are always looking for donations in cash and kind, as well as volunteers to help distribute Christmas gifts. You can easily find the Donate or Get Involved buttons on their official websites.

Other organizations that need generous people include

Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas Child is a Samaritan’s Purse program. The international relief organization distributes shoeboxes full of toys, school supplies, and personal care items to children worldwide to spread the Christmas spirit.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Get a shoebox. You can wrap it to make it sturdier.

2. Get your label to indicate whether the shoebox is for a boy or girl and the age range of 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14.

3. Fill the box with gifts, including a personal note and photo. Check out the gift suggestions to make sure you’re sending appropriate items.

4. Donate $10 per box through the Label Options or Ways to Give pages.

5. Bring your shoebox gift to a local drop-off point near you from November 14 to 21, 2022.

Alternatively, you can build a shoebox online, and the organization prepares the box for you. The online boxes are sent to remote regions.

Trees for Troops

Many members of the United States armed forces are stationed in remote locations and can’t come home for Christmas. The Trees for Troops is a Christmas Spirit Foundation program, which packs and sends Christmas trees to the troops and their families to bring the holiday spirit wherever they are in the world.

You can donate a tree in various ways:

1. Buy a tree from the official Trees for Troops locations and donate it to the program.

2. Donate money directly to the Trees for Troops online or offline.

3. Shop on AmazonSmile and select Christmas Spirit Foundation as your chosen charity. Amazon will donate 0.5% of the amount of your purchases to the CSF. You need to install the Smilematic Google Chrome extension to make this work.

Conclusion

If you’re struggling financially and can’t buy your kids gifts or meals for your family on Christmas, there’s still hope. You can find Christmas programs for low-income families and apply for assistance. Just be prepared to provide the necessary information and documents to prove your need. It’s also important to start your search early and take note of the application deadlines.

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