It isn’t easy to be short of money any time of year having to tell your children they can’t have the newest toy all their school friends have just because there isn’t room in the budget for the latest fashion doll or video game.  But at Christmas having to say no is the most heartrending experience of all!  Especially with all the “Buy Me” advertising that starts a month in advance of the holiday.  This is especially true if you want your children to believe that there really is a Santa Claus. Compounding this is all the "Buy Me" advertising that starts months in advance of Christmas.

Fortunately there are programs to help out low income families (and seniors) during the holiday season, many of which have been making Christmas a little brighter for decades.

Christmas Assistance for Low Income Families

The Marine Corps Toys for Tots

is a very time honored and high profile Christmas program. Begun in 1947 by a Los Angeles area Marine Reservist, the idea rapidly expanded to reserve units all across the country; in 1948 the program was adopted by the Marine Corp proper. In the decades since, the Toys for Tots has expanded into all 50 states and distributed over 400 million toys to 188 million plus needy children. The Marine Corp Toys for Tots charity is the acknowledged and unchallenged leader in “bringing the joy of Christmas to America’s needy children”.

The Salvation Army

is the “evangelic part of the universal Christian Church” with a mission that includes “meeting human needs in His name without discrimination”. The Salvation Army volunteers are a visible and audible fixture during the holiday season, with their red donation kettles and ringing hand bells. Donations collected through these efforts allow the Salvation Army to provide an array of holiday programs including Christmas dinners, clothing and toys for low income families. The program also helps with financial assistance for basic needs along with the holiday aid. Volunteers also distribute gifts to those in hospitals and nursing homes and have shelters for traditional sit-down dinners. Very often families continue to receive aid even after the Christmas season.

The Angel Tree

is a Christmas program that focuses on the needs of prison families during the holiday season. Families with an incarcerated parent are all too often left destitute as prison population demographics all too sadly reveal that the poor are imprisoned in greater numbers than other social strata. Angel Tree was begun in 1982 by an ex-con who had witnessed local church groups distributing gifts to her fellow inmates in an Alabama women’s prison facility, those prisoners in turn giving the small gifts of toothpaste or blankets to their children. The Angel Tree program started with one tree in one shopping mall in Alabama upon which were hung angel -shaped paper ornaments with gift wishes of the children of needy inmate families written inside. The Angel Tree has since spread to the entire US and over 90 countries worldwide.

Volunteers of America

is a charitable organization devoted to helping the needy all through the year. They have a number of different programs nationwide, including “Adopt A Family at Christmas” and “Brighten A Christmas” which cover the basic needs of families in need at the holidays and provide gifts for children who otherwise would receive none. The VOA has had “sidewalk Santas” collecting donations for programs since the first appeal occurred in Los Angeles in 1900.

Shop With A Cop

is a program nationwide that is administered on the local level by various law enforcement entities including Police and Sheriff’s departments. The program provides for gifts for needy children at Christmas, pairing kids with a participating officer for a fun experience shopping for presents. The program not only provides joy to kids at Christmas but fosters good will between law enforcement and the disenfranchised. Contact your local Fraternal Order of Police organization for more information.

There are a vast number of local Christmastime charities, too numerous to list individually.

Among these are such organizations as Kansas City’s “Operation Breakthrough” which “adopts out” needy families: foster children: homeless children and families at Christmas time. Adopters specify the size of family they wish provide for. Gifts in the form of toys and clothing items for the children as well as funds to provide for a holiday meal are provided through the program. Parents are often also given gift cards by adopters to spread the joy a little bit farther.

There also is information available through agencies such as the United Way, which can be contacted for information about local and regionally based programs.

The 411 phone number is a nationwide resource accessed by dialing 411 on the telephone and which serves as a clearing house for not only Christmas program information, but year round assistance to the low income, elderly and disabled.