Parenting,  Self-Care

8 Ways to Donate That Cost Little or Nothing

If you’re like me, parenting a child with mental illness has left you looking for ways to donate without spending money. If you are truly my sister in this struggle, you’re tired. You have less disposable income than you did before your child was diagnosed. You’re pulled in a million directions every day, which means your time is limited.

JUST FOR YOU (and for me…okay, mostly for me, but I’m sharing it with you), I’ve compiled this list of ways to donate without money.

Donate without money

The good ole days

Back in the good ole days, I had a list of charities that got our Christmas donations every year. They ran the gamut, from St. Jude’s to food banks and everything in between.

Then life got complicated. My child’s illness hit our household like a ton of bricks. I am pretty savvy with a budget, but the numbers stopped making sense. All of the doctors, the alternative treatments, and supplements were quickly adding up. We weren’t prepared for any of it.

You may like: 6 Ways My Child’s Mental Illness Is Like Any Other Illness

Last year, I didn’t cut those checks, and it felt awful. I imagined St. Jude himself looking for that envelope with my check in it, flapping his wings as he hovered above the mail bag, looking disappointed when he couldn’t find my name. I thought of a hungry family arriving at the food bank, with an empty plate like Oliver Twist, but NO SIR YOU MAY NOT HAVE SOME MORE because that chick didn’t send her check this year.

Okay, so I’m a little dramatic.

Ways to donate without money

Our financial situation hasn’t changed; instead, I had to change the way I looked at charity.

We chose to focus on what we CAN give vs. what we can’t. I sat down and came up with the following list of 8 WAYS TO GIVE TO CHARITY THAT COST (ALMOST) NOTHING.

1. Dig out those gift cards.

I am an avid Target shopper. My favorite time to shop? When I get free gift cards as “instant rebates” in exchange for buying the things I was going to buy anyway (e.g. laundry supplies). I hoard them all year and usually use them for Christmas gifts.

This year, I’m giving them to charity. Did someone give you a gift card to a restaurant that you hate? Do you have a rebate card in the bottom of your bag? Now is the perfect time to put it to good use.

One segment of the population that is widely forgotten but is ALWAYS in need: parents of the sick children in children’s hospitals. Charities cater to the kids during the holidays, but those parents (especially parents of children with chronic illnesses) need everything. That $5 or $10 Target gift card can purchase underwear for a tired mother who hasn’t done laundry in days. That restaurant gift card could be the first decent meal for a stressed couple who has spent weeks at the hospital.

Donate without money - closet

2. Clean out all of your closets.

I found clothes that hadn’t been worn in years. Seriously, YEARS. After my children cleaned out their closets, we had bins and bins of clothes and shoes to donate.

We chose to split the donations between a charity that would give the clothing to its patrons and another that would sell the items. I like knowing that our things have new lives with new families, and some of those things were purchased to place under someone’s tree.

It doesn’t have to stop at home. I also reached out to a friend who has a toddler (at that age, they grow like wildflowers). She was on board 100%. When she cleaned out her daughter’s closet, she gave me an entire wardrobe of baby clothes. I picked up the phone and made a phone call; now, a mother in another state is so very thankful for that donation. I could hear the smile through the phone when she received the boxes.

That leads perfectly into number three, which is…

3. Get a group of friends together and pool resources.

Donate with friends

I don’t have much money to give this year, but I do have friends. I have co-workers. If we pool our resources, we can do great things!

You would be surprised how eager your friends are to participate in a group charity pool. It’s easy to ask 10 friends for $10 each; most people spend more than that on coffee. With that $100, you can make a big impact in someone’s life.

This is an area where you can donate without money by thinking outside the box. Giving Tree programs are abundant in most areas (this one is in Hawaii because WHY NOT). If you’re looking for one, check your local Salvation Army or a Prison Fellowship Angel Tree, which grants wishes specifically for the children of inmates.

Giving Tree programs have a simple concept: each ornament on the tree represents a needy family, and the family’s Christmas wish list is written on the ornament. If your friends choose to grant someone’s wish this Christmas, volunteer to be the organizer. Many of my friends are willing to fork over the dough to someone who is willing to do the leg work. Gather the toys from everyone, wrap them, and take them all to the drop location. That’s probably worth more to your group than the extra toy that you would have purchased.

4. Make it a family affair.

My time is thin, but I can always squeeze in a family activity. This time of year, we are all over-scheduled. The kids are taking finals. You and your spouse are both in the middle of the year-end crunch at work.

However, when there’s a family event on the calendar, it’s non-negotiable. To get it going, have a family meeting. Give everyone an equal share in the decision-making process. Allow everyone to consult their calendars.

Donate without money - volunteer

I’ll be honest here. If you’re a large family, juggling multiple people’s schedules, this one won’t be easy. If you all pitch in on the front end, everyone is fully invested, and it will be worth it.

My family has developed a relationship with a foster/transitional home. Every year, we volunteer for at least one event. The kids have been going there since they were very young; it’s a Christmas tradition. In years past, we took gifts for every teen when we volunteered; now that we’re trying to donate without money, we take a few small things.

5. Spend your dollar in strategic places.

If you’re buying Christmas gifts this year, you can shop with retailers that donate a portion of their profits to charitable organizations.

As a regular, workaday human, I sometimes laugh at the Gift Guides in popular magazines. Actually, I laugh at the prices. Forgive me for posting this particular list in an article about donating WITHOUT money. Some of the price points of the gifts are high; however, there are gifts on this list that start at $8:

22 Gifts That Give Back

Another option is shopping with charitable organizations directly. Charities such as Unicef and National Geographic have products that you can purchase online. The pickings aren’t slim; I found some gorgeous jewelry on the Unicef site for under $20. Check them out.

6. Donate your services/talents.

Many charities have an abundance of volunteers around the holidays. What they don’t have is you. Do you have special talents? Are you good at something? Put those skills to work!

I have a large car, so I could help transport seniors for a shopping trip. Because I knit, I make hats for chemotherapy units of oncology centers. Party decorations bring me joy; I’m sure there are foster children out there who would love to have a birthday party with some extra fixings. A big cake? Even better, because I also love to bake.

If you dig deep, you can probably think of something that is uniquely yours to give. Years ago, when I had very small children – and a huge diaper bill – I was in a similar position. I donated my hair. I cut off 12 inches of my hair; it was the first time I had such a drastic cut, but I never had any regrets.

7. Make someone’s day with a “comfort bag.”

This one takes a very small investment.

A comfort bag is filled with toiletries and small items of comfort, like fuzzy socks and snack foods. I don’t spend much because I purchase everything from the dollar store (including the bags themselves). That place is amazing! For less than $25, I can fill a few bags.

Once I’ve filled my bags, I hand them out to homeless women or take them to parents at the local children’s hospital. We’ve already talked about helping parents at children’s hospitals, but it bears repeating. Imagine receiving a bag full of toiletries when you haven’t had a spare moment to go home and bathe. Most parents are extremely appreciative.

8. Last but certainly not least: kindness

A kind word for your fellow human is free. So is a smile. If it’s someone in your circle, a hug might be appropriate.

It seems easy, right? In the middle of a formal luncheon the other day, I noticed that one of the honored guests on the dais was crying. At the end of the program, I found her and asked if she was okay. Turns out, she had recently lost 2 people who were very dear to her. I hugged that stranger as she cried again. I know how difficult holidays can be when you’ve lost someone. The way her face lit up, even through her tears, talking about her departed grandparents, warmed my heart. I couldn’t take her pain away, but I’m happy that we shared that special moment.

Almost everyone appreciates a genuine connection. Make “Good Will Toward Man” a personal mantra. It won’t cost you a penny.

Do you plan to donate with money or without money this year?

Did I leave anything off of the list? Let me know in the comments!



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