The holidays can be a tough time of year for many families. It puts stress not only on parents, but on their pocketbooks, as well.

But what if your budget is so tight that you have to choose between keeping the lights on and buying presents for your kids?

It’s a reality that all too many families face in our country every year. And it’s one that mine dealt with for many years, too. Fortunately, there were ways for my mom to provide holiday celebrations for my sisters and me without making those choices.

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How to Get Free Christmas (and Other Holiday) Gifts

The most well-known organization that provides Christmas gift donations to underprivileged children is Toys for Tots. The organization was established by the Marine Corps Reserve in 1947, and it’s been collecting and distributing gifts since. You can select your state and county on its website to find out who is running the distribution in your area and whether you still time to sign up.

Another organization that regularly provides assistance to parents for the holidays is the Salvation Army. It does this primarily through its Angel Tree program. However, some sites also do direct gift distribution in their area if a large portion of the population lives below the poverty line. You can find and get in contact with your local Salvation Army organizers on its website.

Another place that fixed- or low-income families might be able to find holiday gifts for their kids? A local church.

In most cases, you don’t have to be a member of the church — or even religiously affiliated — to ask for help.

Churches are often more than willing to help with providing holiday cheer for your family, regardless of your religious affiliation.

How Christmas Gift Donations Helped My Family

When I was growing up, my mom was either on a fixed income or not making much money at all. But because of organizations like these, I never went a Christmas without gifts under the tree. If you or your family is in a situation like this and is facing the possibility of being unable to celebrate the holidays with gifts, reach out to these programs.

Meanwhile, if you’re in a position to donate to one or more of these organizations — or to ones like them in your area — please do. It makes all the difference to children like I was.

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Places You Can Donate To

There are many organizations that aim to provide children with the holidays that they deserve, but they need your help.

  • Toys for Tots: As mentioned earlier, this organization is the run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve. It gives new toys, with your help, to children whose families can’t afford them.
  • One Simple Wish: This organization connects you directly to wishes uploaded by children in foster care. It gives you a short sentence of information behind each wish. It gives and accepts donations at any time of the year, including birthdays and holidays.
  • SantaCAN: This registry allows you to purchase gifts requested by youth in at-risk foster care in Los Angeles.
  • Partnerships for ChildrenYou can sponsor a specific child and buy gifts directly related to him or her. If you don't have enough time, you can make a general donation and the company will take care of giving out your gift.
  • Samaritans Purse: This is an evangelical Christian organization that helps victims of war, natural disaster, poverty, and disease worldwide. A donation of $25 will purchase a shoebox filled with children’s essentials for the holiday season.
  • GreaterGoodWhile you won't exactly be purchasing gifts directly for those in need, a portion of the proceeds from your purchases will go to a cause of your choice. The options range from fighting hunger to helping veterans to rescuing animals.
  • Be an ElfAnswer underprivileged kids’ letters to Santa and grant their Christmas wishes with no charity or middleman involved. Your gift goes straight to that child.
  • The Ali Forney CenterThis agency, which provides care for homeless LGBT youth, has a holiday gifting service that you can participate in. It may be the only gift some of those young people will get this year, the center says.
  • Covenant House: The Covenant House provides housing and resources to homeless children and teenagers who are in this situation due to abuse or sex trafficking. Its gift catalog is representative of necessities for the youth it cares for in over 31 cities nationwide.
  • Nationwide Children’s Hospital: This organization also has a wish list for kids and teens spending time in the hospital over the holiday season. It particularly needs gifts for teens.
  • Ronald McDonald HouseDonate toys and essentials to your local chapter to help children and families in nearby hospitals this holiday season.
  • Family Giving Tree: You can grant the specific wish of a child living in abject poverty via this virtual giving tree.
  • Operation Christmas Spirit: Help a military family in financial need this holiday season. You can give specific gifts or donate funds and this organization will do the shopping for you.

Additional reporting by Kelly Meehan Brown.