Christmas Help to Brighten the Season: Guide to Charity Assistance

Updated May 12, 2021
volunteers packing boxes for Christmas donation

The holiday season can be incredibly stressful, and everyone needs all of the Christmastime help that they can get. After all, the holidays can be a difficult time of the year for anyone, especially those who are in need. The stress of the season mixed together with financial woes can be a lot for anyone to juggle. Nonprofit organizations recognize this fact and do their best to offer aid to the people who need it the most.

National Charities

Although not everyone celebrates Christmas, having a low income shouldn't stop those who do from celebrating with joy, delight, and dignity. Many social service agencies and nonprofit organizations are able to assist those with genuine needs during the holidays, and some of these programs include the following.

Salvation Army Christmas Charity

During the Christmas season, volunteers with Salvation Army's red kettles are commonly seen in front of retail stores across the country. They ask for monetary donations to help provide assistance to local families. You can turn to the Salvation Army for help with Christmas dinner as well as providing toys and clothes. In fact, seasonal aid is available to local families, elderly people, those who have lost jobs, and others who may be struggling. If you or someone you know need help this season, contact your local branch of the Salvation Army to find out what help is available in your area.

Catholic Charities Christmas Connection

Catholic Charities is a network of organizations that assists individuals and families in need during the Christmas season. They provide gifts, clothing, and critically needed household items like dishes, pots, and linens. Local charities actually do the physical act of giving; for example, the Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida in Tallahassee has a Christmas Connection division that helps vulnerable people based on the recommendation of social workers in the community. The area's locals who are in need are instructed to call 2-11. All the Catholic Charities groups should be able to direct you on how you can be a recipient of their help if you need it. Find assistance by typing in your city, state, or ZIP code on their national website, then contact your local Catholic Charities office by phone or email. A representative should provide answers to any questions you may have and give you detailed instructions on how you can get the help you need.

Toys for Tots

If you're worried about your child not having a merry Christmas with a brand-new toy from Santa, Toys for Tots can step in to help. The organization collects toys and distributes them to kids who are in need to brighten their holidays. Request a toy by going to the official website and select your state. From there, you'll be given local directions on how to request and pick up the toy for your child.

United Way Christmas Bureau

The United Way provides a Christmas Bureau in cities across the United States that is set up to help low-income families. Thanks to donations of others throughout the holiday season, the Christmas Bureau provides a meal and gifts directly to you. To receive help, go to the official United Way website. Type in your ZIP code, then detailed information about your local United Way chapter should appear, including a phone number that you can call, a physical address where you can write to request help, and oftentimes a fax number as well. Simply call up your local United Way office and ask for help from the Christmas Bureau. Staff members should be very familiar with the program and should be able to provide detailed instructions on how to receive help in a timely manner.

Boy donates coins during holiday season

Be An Elf

If you have a child who is in need this holiday season, Be An Elf wants to help. Be An Elf provides food and clothes to kids in need. Rather than contacting the organization directly when you need help, see this list of Santa Branch Post Offices. The child should write to Santa in care of the local post office that is participating in the project, and the child who is writing the letter should mention all brothers and sisters to make sure that each family member receives help for the holidays.


Depending on your situation, the best gift you and your family could receive during Christmas is reliable transportation. Given the massive expenses associated with buying a car, it's often beyond people's financial means. Yet, Cars4Christmas works to provide people across America with car ownership; the charity accepts donations of cars from all around the country and then gifts them to people in need. You can submit an application to potentially receive one of these free cars here.

Christmas Spirit Foundation

The families of those who are enlisted in the military face many challenges throughout the year. They may also encounter practical problems with getting a Christmas tree and keeping holiday traditions alive while their family's living on a military base. Trees for Troops, which is a project of the Christmas Spirit Foundation, provide farm-grown, fresh Christmas trees to families from all branches of the military. If you are in the military and want to receive one on your base, contact your Morale, Welfare & Recreation (MWR) officer and ask him or her to make a request for a tree.

Project Angel Tree

Project Angel Tree provides toys to children of prison inmates. If you walk into your local mall or box store during the holiday season, you'll likely see an angel tree, which is a tree-shaped display with the names of local children, families, or individuals with special needs who could use a helping hand. Shoppers can choose a name from the tree and provide the things the person needs. The Salvation Army, as well as many other charitable organizations, organize Angel Trees at Christmas. You can request assistance from Angel Tree by registering on their website.

Other Ways to Find Local Help

Because people have a tendency to want to help out their neighbors before venturing out to contribute to national charities, you may be pleasantly surprised about how much help your neighborhood can provide. Sometimes the fastest, most immediate way to get help is simply asking a local charity for assistance, or information about groups in the area that can help you if they can't. The earlier you ask for help, the better your chances are of getting assistance before the holidays. Options that may be available to you include:

Your Local Food Bank

If you aren't sure where the closest one may be, Feeding America has a database where you can enter your ZIP code or state to find food banks near you. A few examples in major cities include the Atlanta Community Food Bank and the Saint Louis Area Food Bank. When you contact the food bank, don't be shy about asking for exactly what you need, and the representative should be able to explain what can be done to help you in your unique situation.

Local Children's Charities

If there is a child-focused charity in your area, there's a good chance that the group offers some kind of holiday assistance program. For example, Boston's Christmas in the City charity plays Santa to underprivileged children and even hosts a Christmas party for kids who're living in homeless shelters. The Houston Children's Charity also hosts a seasonal celebration children in need in the community. While there isn't a centralized directory of children's charities, calling your local United Way office is a good place to start to find out if there is a similar group in your town.

Nearby Churches

Many churches, no matter their religious affiliation, provide assistance to individuals in need during the Christmas season. For example, Calvary Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky's annual Christmas Project helps 175 families (on average) in their community. Visit local churches and speak to the preacher or an outreach representative regarding your needs. Some may refer you to programs that can help you, or the church itself might be willing to assist you. If you aren't sure where to identify churches to contact, the World Council of Churches directory may be a good starting point. However, there are many, many churches in each community that will not be listed here.

Lions Clubs International

Given that there're more than 47,500 chapters throughout the world, the Lions Clubs International organization has an enormous footprint. The Morenci Lions Club group in Arizona is one example of a group that has a holiday program focused on providing charitable assistance, and there are others. To see if help might be available to you through this group and its members, use the online directory to identify your local Lions Club group(s). Contact the local club and ask for help at the holidays. Many Lions Club members are likely to be eager to help you, so don't be afraid of asking for exactly what you need.

Local Financial Opportunity Center (FOCs)

These FOC centers are part of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). They are career and personal finance service centers designed to assist individuals and families in need in various locations. Services vary, but some offer holiday season assistance. For example, the CSL Christmas Assistance program in Kansas City "provides Christmas gifts and meal baskets to families in need." View their service map to find a local option and reach out to inquire about programs in your area.

Wish-Granting Charities

If there is a wish-granting charity in your area, it may be a resource for finding assistance during the Christmas season. For example, Chicago's Grant a Wish, Inc. sponsors "a holiday program that provides holiday wishes to needy, disabled and abused children for the Christmas holiday every December." Check this list of wish-granting organizations to identify potential resources near you.

Military and Veteran Organizations

If you or your spouse is in the military, a number of organizations are available to help. Contact your local Armed Services YMCA for toys for kids and baskets of food through Operation Holiday Joy.

filling holiday donation boxes

Everyone Deserves to Have a Happy Holiday

Most of us need a helping hand at one point or another, and it's good for both the giver and receiver to remember that they're not alone in their moments of need. No matter what challenges may be in your path, you shouldn't have to worry about missing a meal or denying your child a great Christmas present. There's always a helping hand available to support you by providing a healthy meal and ensuring that your child has gifts to open on Christmas morning, so don't hesitate to reach out to the resources around you to make sure that you and your family have the happiest holidays possible.

Christmas Help to Brighten the Season: Guide to Charity Assistance