Holiday Giving Dos and Don'ts

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Giving back has always been a part of my routine during November and December. Between canned-food drives, giving-tree donations and adopt-a-family programs, I've been blessed to experience the joy that charitable acts can bring to your life, even from a young age. The importance of giving back to the community you live in, either by donating goods or volunteering for a worthwhile charity, is something I hope to instill in my own family someday.

However, thinking back to my childhood shopping trips with my mom to pick out donation items, I realize that while my intentions were good, rarely was I ever thinking about the families’ true needs. I wanted to donate cute clothes and baby dolls, but something like a winter coat would be much more useful to a family in need during the winter months in my home state of Ohio. So my team and I at ConsumerSafety.org put together a list of dos and don’ts to help you make smart donations this season of giving. 

Donate the necessities

While a first-aid kit or a package of diapers seems like a dull gift to you, to those who can’t afford these life necessities, it can mean a holiday season with less worry and struggle for a family. So think about the things that you might take for granted in your weekly, monthly or seasonal shopping trips. Items like seasonal clothing, extra pairs of socks or underwear, basic medical supplies, personal hygiene products, warm bedding, or baby care items can be a greater gift than you might think. Donate the necessities, and if you still feel like adding a touch of holiday cheer to your gift, small toys, chocolate or other non-perishable treats will always be an accepted token of the holiday spirit. The Durham Rescue Mission is also accepting donations.

Donate diversely

Poverty can affect all walks of life, but we often see the same donation items being given that identify with the “traditional” American culture and not always the cultural items of real Americans in need. For example, it’s common to see donations of canned corn and cranberry sauce around Thanksgiving, but not all American Thanksgiving meals look the same. Consider donating non-perishable foods from the ethnic food aisles in your grocery store. Or when donating personal care products like shampoo and conditioner, find hair care products for the opposite hair type as you. The donation centers will allocate these more specific items to those who would most appreciate them. America is a cultural and ethnic melting pot, so we should be donating to feed that melting pot. You can make a person feel like they belong with just a simple, out-of-the-box donation item. Consider giving your unique items to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina this holiday season.

Make a flexible donation

Money always seems like an easy out. It’s the type of gift you give someone when you can’t think of anything else to get, and it certainly requires less leg work to give money than to go out and find a gift. However, in the case of charitable donations, a monetary gift can sometimes be better than donating items. The charity you give to knows its community and the families that it serves much more than you do, so a monetary donation can give the charity the freedom and flexibility to help those people on a much more personal level. They can buy the necessary items that a family needs without waiting for those specific items to be donated. Undoubtedly, there are also items that people donate infrequently. So by donating money, you can help the organization purchase those items that aren’t donated as often but still needed by the community. Haven House Services accepts both monetary donations and “wish list” items to support those in need in the local community.

Don’t donate junk

This last tip really sums up what not to donate – junk. As winter grows closer, we get out our warmer clothes and pack away summer gear, and it’s perfectly natural to want to donate our unwanted used items. It’s a way to recycle your used goods and hopefully benefit someone else in need. However, think about the people receiving your donations before you donate. If you wouldn’t give the product or clothing article to a close friend or family member because of its condition, don’t donate it.

  • Avoid donating clothing with stains or tears.
  • Don’t donate food items past their expiration date.
  • Don’t donate cloth toys that are difficult to sanitize.
  • Avoid donating used safety items like bike helmets or sport pads that might no longer be up to code.

When in doubt call the charity and see what they allow. Every charity and state has different rules on donations, so a quick double check will save both you and the charity some time.

The spirit of giving can be thrilling during the holidays, but donating smartly and safely makes it even more special for both you and the recipient of your gifts. So, make an effort to connect with your community this holiday season whether it’s through your church, your child’s school efforts, or a local organization. Donate what you can – your time, your money or your gifts. All are welcome and appreciated. Happy holidays, everyone!


As a Health & Safety Investigator for ConsumerSafety.org, Caitlin uses her background in Industrial Design and her passion for health and wellness to educate consumers. She strives to help people make smart decisions affecting their personal health and that of their families.

Categories: Giving Back