Charitable Giving Suggestions (not money) for awesome DC Charities at Christmas?

Photo by PoPville flickr user available_photons

“Dear PoPville,

My small 30 person office wants to do something really great for a local DC charity over the holidays.

In the past, we’ve tried just raising money (and since our office is not big, we don’t tend to raise very much money) so this year, we’d like to try something different that might actually make a positive impact and brighten holidays, like, making a bunch of sandwiches and give them to a shelter? Would it be better if we did a blanket drive? Something for veterans or children? Looking online for local area charities can be extremely overwhelming with all of the various options. Is there anywhere you can think of that would appreciate something besides a check?”

58 Comment

  • Volunteer at DC Central Kitchen!

  • Due to economies of scale, the gift that makes the most impact for legitimate charities is cash. For example, while it feels nice to give a can of beans you bought for 50 cents to a food bank, they could purchase more cans wholesale with a cash-equivalent donation. So rather than pooling together for a tangible gift, why not reach out to a local charity and volunteer your time, together as a group, to help them out? Make sure you coordinate first, though!

  • Food and Friends!

  • A book drive for the DC Books to Prisons Project
    You can collect dictionaries, Westerns, art books, and other books they need and donate them to be shipped to prisoners. They operate out of Foundry United Methodist Church at 16th and P NW.

    • I’ve been told the most requests this group gets are for dictionaries, self-help books, and elementary writing/reading primers. Apparently they can’t keep them on the shelf.

  • dcdon

    lots of animal shelters need blankets and towels. reach out to your friends and neighbors and maybe even the offices around you to collect them.

    • I was thinking of this as well. It’s a gift that doesn’t cost the charity to support, something they really need, and something many people have extras to donate.

  • A few years ago, my small office signed up for one of those “Angel Tree” programs, which allows you to “adopt” a family and get gifts for the children. I could’ve sworn ours was through a children’s law center, but the current place I work participated in a gift drive via So Others Might Eat (SOME).

  • Donate gently used work clothes to dress for success (women) or career gear (men). If you also do a collection, the smaller monetary amount will have a big impact for the organization’s operations.

  • Christ House:
    Green Door:
    Both have wish lists of items they need, from clothing, toiletries, furniture, etc.

    • While these may be terrific charities, I would just be extremely careful about anything that has a specific religious background or affiliation. It’s extremely unlikely 30 employees share the same faith or feelings toward faith, and as a supervisor I would be very sensitive about alienating any of them, even if they don’t raise any objections. Several charities such as Bread for the City offer volunteer opportunities for groups, though, that you may want to check out.

      • christ house in a wonderful place (wellness center). i am NOT a religious person at all and have volunteer in their kitchen for many years. nobody preaches to you (which i like). it is about cooking good food for the residents and staff as well as the volunteers who sit down and enjoy a meal together.
        just a great community to be involved with.

      • Yeah, I thought about that too, though Christ House isn’t formally linked to a religious organization. I certainly understand the sensitivity about that, though.

        • Yes, but by it’s very name it’s overtly Christian.

          • If you have a problem with something being overtly Christian, then you should not do a charitable project under the aegis of Christmas, which is a Christian feast day. Pick a different time, to spare both yourselves and the people who celebrate Christmas.

  • binpetworth

    So Others Might Eat (S.O.M.E.) has a shoebox program where they ask folks to decorate shoeboxes and fill them with toiletries and other necessities that they give out to families that eat at their food kitchen.

  • My household has sent care packages to service members using One service member is typically the point person for a group, and they post a request detailing the items they need/want. For instance, even if they have access to a PX (and many do not), the PX will often run out of basic hygiene and comfort items. So, many folks request personal hygiene items, socks, snacks, or shelf-stable meals they can microwave when the mess hall is closed. It was fun putting the boxes together. Perhaps your office could read through the postings and find a few groups for care packages. It felt kind of random to send stuff to strangers, but from what I understand, the people who receive them are happy to know they are still remembered on the home front.

  • Ally

    Safeway has nice pre-packaged paper bags with pre-set food amounts for the food bank. I think it’s $10. Not super hands-up, but would be an easy thing for everyone to commit to buying one. Safeway handles the delivery of them to the charity.

  • The Washington Humane Society could certainly use donations of blankets, towels, dog toys, cat toys, etc. Even used (but clean) towels/sheets/blankets would be helpful! Their website has a huge list of in-kind donations they could use (including stuff as basic as bleach, office supplies, baby gates, and batteries).

  • HIPS ( does a hot chocolate and candy cane drive where they collect these items to take out on their van to individuals on the streets. They are great!

  • Wow, this is a great list of suggestions. Thanks for compiling! I’ve been looking for a place to donate some unwanted books and I love the idea of the shoebox gifts.

  • A Wider Circle is awesome and accepts almost everything. They’re also doing family sponsorship drives for the holidays, which could be a good office activity.

    Here’s an email I received from them this week:

    On the service side, the holidays do have a bit more intensity here. We coordinate a few programs for both Thanksgiving and the December holidays, and we could use some help!

    For Thanksgiving, there are 125 families for which we still seek to find sponsors. Sponsoring for Thanksgiving simply means preparing a bag of Thanksgiving-related non-perishables and a gift card so the family can go to a local grocery store (Safeway, Giant, Shoppers Food Warehouse, Whole Foods) for its perishable items. These bags can be dropped off at A Wider Circle any time between now and Friday, November 21. Please email [email protected] if you or your company/group wants to help.

    And if you want to help for the December holidays, we have about 1,000 families in the region still needing sponsors. Help can include individuals, groups, or companies sponsoring families, doing mass collections of gifts to be dropped off here, or helping at our “North Pole.” The more of us who engage, the “merrier”!

  • MARTHA’S TABLE goes out every day (365) and provides a hot meal and sandwiches (PBJ and any meat and cheese) to people in need. You can also prepare a small bag with fruit, cheese, bars, etc. I am sure they would be happy to receive any donations you may have.

  • If you have a car and want to get to know all sections of DC, volunteer with Food for All-DC to help deliver bags of groceries to homebound residents. They meet every Saturday morning at 9:00 am to pack up the bags and then go out on deliveries. No training and no commitments – just show up.

  • I think some have touched on this, but be sure to check the web sites of whatever organizations you might be interested in – they often have a “Wishlist” of things they need – sometimes directly linked to Amazon (or other sites) for easy ordering.

  • epric002

    lots of charities (including the Washington Humane Society!) have wishlists on Amazon so that you know exactly what items they need/how many and have an easy way to purchase them. if you agree on a charity perhaps you could all chip in for one larger/more expensive item? you can also sign up to use amazon smile so that a portion of all your purchases goes to a charity of your choice. good luck!

  • Buy gifts for a needy family or foster children through DC Child and Family Services.

  • I used to organize a suit drive at my old employer. You can partner with groups (i forget them now) for mens and womens gear. Get the tax forms from them and collect the items and have one large pick up at the end.

    It is a very nice feeling to think someone using your gift to make their own way, and no longer need charity.

    • Would you know if this is more geared towards business attire? I have some dressier church-lady suits that I would like to donate to someone that would welcome them.

      • If a job applicant came in wearing even a a 2010 dress/suit – would you really take them seriously? Honestly – you know that it is a dated outfit, and therefore someone from a non-mainstream background. If you’re willing to take on some from outside the stream – it doesn’t matter what they wear.

        If you’re not willing – you immediately see what they’re wearing and cancel them out right away.

        No one is fooled by “dress for success” clothes. (Though it is better to not show up in hoochie clothes.)

        • Wow! I still have suits from 2010 and am a very successful professional who receives compliments regarding my attire on a regular basis. You sound very shallow.

          • victoria isn’t the one being shallow. she’s just being honest. let’s not fool ourselves about this.

          • She specifically called out 2010 – not 1990. So yes, she is being shallow considering she herself probably has clothes that are 4 years old.

        • Seriously? I’m not judging an applicant by the cut of their suit but by their qualifications for the position. I’d expect them to come in dressed appropriately – what that looks like varies with the kind of organization, whether it is a junior or senior level position, etc.

          And I believe classic clothing stands the test of time and looks as good this year as it did last year, and the year before, and the year before.

          • I agree with you and I’m an industry where fashion and “looking the part” are very important to win new clients. I would NEVER judge an applicant by the cut of their suit either. Oh wait, you’re qualified but because your suite has 4 buttons and 2 side vents, I can’t hire you….

          • lapels on mens’ suits don’t stand the test of time. nor do shoulder pads in women’s suits. this isn’t about overtly “judging an applicant on the base of their attire” its about the subconsious affect attire has on peoples’ perceptions.

            you can argue it’s not fair, which I would agree with, but that doesn’t make it less so.

        • Victoria, what do you do for a living that the people you work with would even know the year of a suit?

          My short answer is “Hell, yes.” Assuming I even noticed. I have *ahem*decades*ahem* in the professional world and don’t know of any industry (outside of fashion or things aimed at youth) where the exact age of clothing is notable.

          Even if your dichotomy is approximately correct, it’s missing a part: giving credit to an applicant who is trying to meet the industry’s norms.

      • Anonymous – try Dress for Success. They accept women’s work clothes (from the skin out, not just suits) for women transitioning into the work force. Career Gear does the same for men, but I’m betting “church lady suits” are for women.

        • Thank you! I appreciate your response! The “church lady” suits are definitely for women! 🙂 I brought the question here though, because I’m not clear that they’re appropriate donations for Suited for Change and Dress for Success — which I think are geared towards interview suits. These are very nicely cut suits, dated — but classics, in silkier fabrics and brighter colors than I would wear to an interview.

  • In most cases, cash is the best donation since agencies know exactly what they need and can buy it more economically than you can. But you could have a fun fundraiser. I once had a $1.00 dinner potluck (that was way back, so maybe make it $5.00 now.) Everyone brought a dish that only cost $1.00 to make, then contributed the cost of a fancy restaurant dinner to the cause.

    But yes – Humane societies and rescue groups definitely always need sheets, pillows, towels & blankets.

    If you really want to invest time – I would ask one of the family service agencies or shelters about organizing a group trip to one of the museums. Most DC residents from the – what to call it – economically disadvantaged? – social groups don’t even know there ARE Smithsonian museums, and have never visited.

    How wonderful to take kids & parents to Natural History museum on Metro, show them how to get there, show them it is free and help them get over the intimidation factor (which is MAJOR).

    • victoria, those are great suggestions! When I worked in NYC, I was able to get funding to use with kids on the MTA — the subway, the bus, and commuter trains. The kids and there families were very enthusiastic as they learned about different places that they could access with just subway/bus fare, and it was great to hear the kids tell other kids about their ability to access these previously unfamiliar options. The kids even got excited about learning to read and use maps. I agree with you — the intimidation factor when visiting some places can be HUGE — and it’s a real thrill see people break down those barriers for themselves.

  • One of the best holidays we had as a family (about 30 ppl) included building shoe boxes for the homeless. We contacted SOME and received a number of individuals matched with who we were (10 kids packed boxes for five girls, five boys. Adults packed for adults). The packages for the adults included: deodorant, lotion, socks, gloves, hats, soap, toothbrushes/paste and a scarf, the kids boxes were much the same except they included a doll or car/truck..

    • You know all those free samples you can get, or hotel toiletries (but not the partially used ones)? Those make good additions to shoeboxes for the homeless.

  • Agreed that for most places cash does the most good. But the DC Diaper Bank would be very glad to get diapers, wipes, and a few other baby items, and these are a huge help to poor families (you can’t send your kid to daycare without diapers so you can’t easily look for a job or do other important stuff, but they are expensive and WIC and Food Stamps don’t cover them…plus kids who sit in wet diaper are more likely to cry and are therefore at greater risk of abuse).

    Their website has some great tips including ones specific to office drives:

  • The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project is an AMAZING organization! They needs various types of donations (school uniforms, toiletries, toys, books, gift cards, etc.) throughout the year and have an Amazon wishlist. They also collect toys for the kids at the holidays similar to other “adopt” efforts, so that the homeless parents are able to give gifts to their children. A couple of years ago, I organized a holiday outreach effort for my company where we bought the kids’ gifts and also participated in their holiday party at DC General – so we donated craft supplies, games, decorations, and snacks, and also got to play with them. It was the best holiday celebration I’ve ever had! It was also nice that there were various ways for my co-workers to get involved: volunteering their time versus (or in addition to) purchasing things.

  • The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project!!! Email them for ideas like gifts for a shelter grab bag, or a clean-up of the various playrooms. The kids are amazing, the org is fantastic, and you will feel so so good about yourself.

  • Here’s another vote for DC Diaper Bank. If you’re looking to do something other than cash, diaper drives work really well in offices, and you can make it competitive (if multiple departments are involved)! More info is at

  • Here’s another thought, maybe as an add-on to a hands-on project – select a charity that everyone can agree on, and see if they are signed up for Amazon Smile, and designate it to receive a percentage of any online shopping folks may do during Nov/Dec (starting at

  • I’ve done a hat & gloves drive for the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, a great local charity.

    They may have different needs this year so I recommend contacting them directly.

  • I’ve also worked with Homeless Children’s Playtime Project and think it is a wonderful organization. Have both purchased gifts for individual children and organized a hat & gloves drive. This was a few years ago so definitely contact them to see what would be most helpful this year.

  • KIPP DC: they do amazing things for underprivileged kids- helping them get to and through college. They dispel the myth that demographics define destiny. Check out

  • LAYC – Latin American Youth Center, located in Columbia Heights is a non-profit organization that accepts jackets/ coat donations to give to kids/ adults in need, and also toys for the holidays! Its worth checking out

  • Playtime Project!

Comments are closed.