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15 great ways your family can help others this holiday season



Many of us are operating at full throttle these days as we rush through the stores to find the items on our kids' holiday wish lists and plan for elaborate family dinners and get-togethers.


For those who are struggling to make ends meet, however, the holidays can be one of the most difficult times of year. Buying gifts and extra food is just not in the budget. Some families are worrying about more important things, such as where they will sleep that night, or where their next meal will come from.


The holidays are the perfect time to extend the great spirit of giving beyond our homes and give together as families. There is no better way to impart altruism to our kids than to donate or volunteer together. And we can make a real difference in our community.


Find an activity to make a yearly custom for your family with one of these ideas that will help make the holidays brighter for those in need this month.


Gift Tags for Mary's Place

Mary’s Place throws an annual holiday party that features Santa, gifts, and food and drink. The event’s highlight is a Santa Store, a place where parents can select gifts for their kids — and kids for their parents. You can buy gifts for the party by getting a gift tag (email giving@marysplaceseattle.org). Options are tags for toys, tags for adult gifts, or tags for shoes. With the shoe tag, you give a $20 donation toward a pair of shoes. With the other, you bring an unwrapped gift, attached to the tag, to the Mary's Place Donation Center at 9 South Nevada St. by Friday, Dec. 7.  (Donation center hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.)


Fill stockings with toys for kids experiencing homelessness

In an annual event put on by the U.S. Coast Guard, happening this year on Friday, Dec. 7 and Saturday, Dec. 8, volunteers fill handmade stockings with gifts and essentials for over 3,000 homeless youth in the area. If you are a U.S. citizen, the deadline to register as a volunteer is Dec. 1. (If you aren't, it was Oct. 17.) If you would like to help pay for the stockings, you can donate through Paypal.


Donate to a toy drive

The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, a nationwide program, has boxes in offices and businesses large and small all over town. To find one near you, use this tool. Be sure and make your (unwrapped!) donation at the beginning of December. All the boxes have to be delivered to the Toys for Tots warehouse by Dec. 11. The Toy 'n' Joy drive, now through Dec. 15 at Bartell Drugs stores, supplies the Salvation Army with gifts for more than 4,000 local children. And through Dec. 16,  MattressFirm locations are collecting toys for foster children in Washington.


Adopt a family in need

Adopting a family is a powerful way to give. Kids see the variety of ways that others need help when they fulfill a needs and wishes list from a specific family. Expect to buy gifts and groceries, or gift cards. Check out our roundup of ways to get involved with Adopt-A-Family programs.


Help foster kids at Treehouse

Treehouse, an agency that helps foster kids, has a number or holiday-specific volunteer opportunities. It is looking for volunteers 12 and up to help prep the “Wearhouse,” a store for foster kids where they shop for free for new and gently used clothing. It is also looking for volunteers aged 10 and older to write thank you notes.  More information here.


Also, Treehouse will get you all set up to hold your own donation drive to help foster kids. Here's how that works.


Help out with the Phinney Neighborhood Association's Winter Festival

The Phinney Neighborhood Association's winter festival and craft fair is Saturday, Dec. 1 and Sunday, Dec. 2, with a host of jobs to be done before, during and after. Sign up here.

6532 Phinney Ave N, Seattle, 98103


Donate your kids' outgrown coats

If your closet is home to coats, hats and gloves that your kids have outgrown, put those items to good use this winter by contributing them to a local drive. Donating cold weather gear is an easy way to directly benefit kids in your community. These places are currently seeking gently-used outerwear: YouthCare or WestSide Baby in West Seattle, Clothes for Kids in Lynnwood or Eastside Baby Corner in Issaquah.


Donate to the Seattle Union Gospel Mission

The folks who use the Seattle Union Gospel Mission's services have a long wish list, which you can see here. The Mission also maintains several Amazon wish lists. Top priority right now: cold-weather clothing. Or you could just donate money.


Help out nonprofits that work with youth

Several nonprofits post their wish lists online, so you can pick an item that means something to you and make a difference. Cocoon House, which works with homeless and at-risk youth in Snohomish County, needs gift cards, clothes, recreational gear and more. Here's the list. The Atlantic Street Center works with low-income children and youth of color in Seattle. They take donations or you could contact them for an up-to-date wish list.


Help fight hunger

Helping out at a food bank or kitchen is eye-opening experience as children are witness to others – some their own age – who are living with severe poverty. Volunteer activities at a meal site include providing food, cooking or serving meals and cleaning the kitchen. Many local churches offer free community meals; check out those nearest you for ideas. Call ahead for age requirements. If you can make more of a time commitment, join the "Meal Team" at Teen Feed, which serves meals to homeless youth in the University District and accepts volunteers of all ages.


Host a food drive for Hopelink

Hopelink has handy online resources for people to host their own food drives. Collect a variety of much-needed food items for needy families in Bellevue, Kirkland, Northshore, Redmond, Shoreline and Sno-Valley. Hopelink serves more than 3,000 families each week. Drop off your collected goods to one of their Eastside centers before Christmas. For more information, visit hope-link.org.


Donate to the Wellspring Family Services for families living with homelessness

Wellspring Family Services has an Amazon wish list for the families it works with.  You could also encourage your kids to participate in the Kids helping Kids program, which encourages kids to collect change to donate. Wellspring also accepts gently used clothing, toys, books and sports equipment.


Participate in a Giving Tree

Many community centers and YMCAs offer giving trees, with gift tags containing toy ideas for children in need. Check your neighborhood spot to benefit a child in your immediate area. Friends of Youth has giving trees in University Village, Redmond Town Center and its Youth Service Center in Kirkland.


Adopt a classroom

The Adopt-A-Classroom website offers a way to search for an underserved classroom in your community, along with its specific needs. So does DonorsChoose.


Help the environment

The King Conservation District has several all-ages volunteer opportunities in December, where families will learn about restoring streams and wetlands and have fun too. While this doesn't necessarily benefit local families in need, it is a great way to spend some time volunteering together with your kiddos. For more information, visit kingcd.org/volunteer/index.php.

Editor's note: This article, updated in 2018, was originally published in November 2012.

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