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Christmas is For Giving--How to Start a Charity Project at Work or With Friends

Updated on February 18, 2012

We are All Looking for Ways to Make a Difference

Most people say that they want to make a difference. During the holiday season, this feeling can become even stronger. We all want to do something, but it's hard to make the effort when our lives are so busy. What if there was a way to make a huge difference in a needy family's life without having to spend unreasonable amounts of time and money? It's not as hard as you think to start a holiday giving project at your company, your child's school, in your neighborhood, or among your circle of friends. And if your group is large enough, everyone can pitch in just a little and still make a huge difference in a needy family's life.

Getting Started

The concept for this project is simple. You first have to make the decision that you want to adopt a needy family for the holidays. If it is something you want to do at work, it's always best to get the blessing of your Human Resources department. In the best case scenario, they will be very supportive and allow you to promote the project via email, flyers, etc. If they are not supportive, (sometimes this happens because your proposal would compete with existing charitable projects), you may want to do it informally with work friends. Just be sure not to use company time and resources without the blessing of your company.

Once you have the go-ahead, you need to find a family. There are usually numerous local organizations that work with needy families and children that would be thrilled to have someone approach them with an offer to help. It might be a local YMCA, a health clinic serving low-income families, a family homeless shelter, or a church. These kinds of organizations will usually be able to recommend a family for you from among the many needy families they work with.

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Getting the Wish List

My workplace of 140 employees is able to provide complete Christmas gifts for families that typically have a single parent and about four children--we provide so many gifts that the family will not need to worry about anything. A smaller workplace might need to ask for a smaller family, or might only be able to get a few gifts per family member. A group of friends doing this project might only be able to buy gifts for one child or adult. A large company might be able to do two or more families. Be honest with the organization about what your capabilities are.

You should ask the organization if they have someone who can work with the selected family to obtain a "wish list" of gifts and household items that they need and want. It's nice to have a mix of items that they really need, such as clothing and household supplies, as well as some fun holiday gifts. It is important to tell the organization that while you will do your best to fulfill the family's wishes, you can't guarantee that you will secure enough donations to get everything on the list. In most cases, the families will be very needy and will appreciate whatever you can provide.

Method One - Create a Giving Tree

Once you have the list, there are a few ways you can proceed. If it is a work or school setting with a central location (such as an employee break-room), you can divide the list up into "tags" and create a giving tree (examples: "body lotion for mom", "book for 3-year old girl," "size 10 shoes for 5-year old boy.") Attach all the tags onto a tree or similar structure, or just put them loose in a basket.

You will need to put signs up or send out communications to promote your project. Give the project a catchy name ("The Sterling Company Adopt a Family Project"). Make sure to provide details such as when the gifts are due and whether to wrap them. If you ask for them wrapped, make sure to request that the tag is attached so you know what the gift is. Keep track of how many tags you started with so you know how many gifts to expect back.

You can also let people know that if they don't have time to shop for a gift, cash donations are welcome. You can use the money to purchase gifts for any tags that don't get taken. If your workplace allows it, you can hold a raffle to raise extra cash. In my office, there is a woman each year who donates a beautiful homemade quilt and we sell raffle tickets to raise money. We hold the drawing on the gift deadline day.

Method Two - Email

If you are working with a group of friends or colleagues who are not physically located together, you will have to coordinate remotely. Send the list out and be sure to keep the whole group informed about who has signed up to provide which gifts. You will also need to coordinate collection of the gifts.

Delivery Date!

The best part of this project is that you get to play Santa Clause at the end. Work with the organization to determine whether they will deliver the gifts to the family, or whether representatives from your group will be able to do it personally. This can be sensitive for both parties, so think carefully about whether you want to do this. In my workplace project, a few of us deliver the gifts to the case workers who then deliver to the family. It is still very gratifying because the case workers are very excited and appreciative on behalf of the family.

We always ask for photos of the family receiving and opening the gifts, which we then share with our entire company. It helps keep people motivated to keep participating in our project year after year. The organization also sends us a nice thank you note.

Christmas is about giving, and participating in a project like this helps make the season even more special. Good luck!

Sage Carter shares ideas, information, and advice for better living. Visit her at


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