For a number of people, the holiday season represents more than presents, Christmas carols and family reunions. There is also an element of social responsibility, often expressed through Christmas charity programs. Whether it is time spent in a homeless shelter's soup kitchen or contributions to a toy drive, many people feel a sense of personal satisfaction knowing they can help others during the holidays. There are a number of programs which welcome donations of time, money, or material goods.
Perhaps the most familiar Christmas charity program in the United States is provided by the Salvation Army, a Protestant denomination organized during the mid-19th century. Volunteers can agree to spend a few hours ringing bells and monitoring a donation kettle outside local stores. The Salvation Army also operates an Angel Tree, which allows participants to select cards listing the specific needs of local children and families. An Angel Tree sponsor purchases and wraps the gifts, then returns them to a Salvation Army worker who coordinates delivery to the needy child.
The United States Marine Corps also runs a charity program called "Toys for Tots." Participants in the Toys for Tots campaign are asked to purchase new toys and donate them to local centers operated by Marine reservists. The toys are eventually distributed to needy children through other established charities and local social welfare offices.
One popular Christmas charity program is called "Operation Christmas Child," a shoebox gift ministry operated by Samaritan's Purse, a charity founded by evangelist Billy Graham's son Franklin. Individual churches interested in the Operation Christmas Child program can contact Samaritan's Purse directly to receive training videos, promotional items and other necessary materials. Participants obtain empty shoe boxes or small craft containers and fill them with toys, personal hygiene items, clothes and school supplies. These boxes are eventually shipped overseas and delivered to children following a brief religious service.
Some people may prefer to donate their time or talents to a local charity such as a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. A number of churches also provide meals for the needy on Christmas Day. Many cities have organized volunteer centers which can match a volunteer's interests and skills with an appropriate program. Even people who enjoy shopping for Christmas presents can use that skill to buy gifts for local nursing homes or rehabilitation facilities.
Participation in a charity program should not adversely affect other personal holiday obligations to friends and family. In fact, some families have been known to select a suitable Christmas charity and donate the money which would have ordinarily gone towards personal presents. Others agree to volunteer their time together in a local soup kitchen or church-sponsored Christmas meal program. Co-workers or friends could also plan participation in a local program as a way to give back to the community.