The world’s largest Salvation Army kettle, right here in Campus Martius

This Thursday, we’ll focus on being thankful for all the wonderful blessings we have in our lives.

This Friday, we’ll forget why we’re thankful and buy a lot of stuff that we don’t need. Luckily, many of us are fortunate enough to be able to do just that, and it can be hard to remember that many people in America don’t even have the means to put Thanksgiving dinner on the table.

Of course, Black Friday is all in good fun. But bear in mind that there are people, and even animals, who will spend this holiday suffering from hunger and cold. There are children, soldiers, elderly folks, and homeless people who, year-round, don’t have very much joy in their lives. If you could give them even the littlest bit of help, why wouldn’t you?

Trying to find the right charity to support can be overwhelming because there are so many worthy causes out there. If you’re looking to share your blessings with those less fortunate this holiday season, here are a few causes you might consider donating to.

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program

Who it benefits: Needy children

What it is: Toys for Tots is a program which aims to distribute new, unwrapped toys as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children. This charity seeks to bring holiday joy to needy children across all 50 states, and to unite the community for a good cause.

How to donate: Since Toys for Tots operates out of local communities, you have the option to deliver a toy at a local area drop location, host a Toys for Tots event, or volunteer at a local warehouse. You can also donate a gift by mail, or make a monetary donation online. Check out for more information.

Why it’s great: When it comes to gift-giving, it’s the thought that counts. But who wants any child to live without knowing the joy of getting a brightly wrapped package from Santa? Every child deserves to feel loved and cared about, and spreading the love to your community’s needy children is as simple as venturing into the toy aisle at your local supermarket.

Soldier’s Angels

Who it benefits: All service members who are active duty or retired, including reservists or guardsmen who are or have been activated for deployment.

What it is: Soldier’s Angels is a nonprofit that provides aid and comfort to the men and women of the U.S. armed forces. Their charitable projects are widely varied; they do everything from sending care packages to deployed military members, to making scarves, and assisting at veteran facilities.

How to donate: You can donate monetarily online or by check. You can also donate items like clothing and toiletries. Another great way to help out is by shopping through some of their online partners, who donate a portion of the proceeds back to Soldier’s Angels. You can find out more about your donation options on their website.

Why it’s great: The men and women of the military sacrifice a lot and get very little in return. Many of them will be spending the holidays overseas so that we can enjoy the holidays with our loved ones. Soldier’s Angels reached over 83,000 troops in 2010 alone, so this is a great way to make an impact.

PetSmart Charities

Who it benefits: Homeless pets

What it is: PetSmart Charities is a nonprofit organization that works to save the lives of homeless pets, raise awareness about animal welfare issues, and promote healthy relations between people and pets. They also have a program called the “Rescue Waggin’” which relocates adoptable pets from overcrowded shelters to shelters where they are in demand; since 2004, this facet of PetSmart charities alone has saved more than 60,000 dogs.

How to donate: There are a variety of options for donating to this cause. You can donate at the cash register of a PetSmart store, donate online, or participate in their special promotions such as this winter’s “Holiday Gifts that Help Homeless Pets,” a program which donates 10% of the price of certain gift items to the cause. Check out to learn more.

Why it’s great: Does it make you shudder to think of your favorite furry friend sitting out in the cold on Christmas day? PetSmart Charities is the largest funder of animal welfare efforts in North America. According to their website, they’ve provided $134 million in grants and programs to benefit animal welfare organizations – so they’ve saved a lot of furry lives. With conscious efforts to promote adoption, spaying and neutering, and emergency relief efforts, they advocate for the animal community year-round.

The Salvation Army

Who it benefits: People that are in need

What it is: The Salvation Army isn’t just a thrift store. They have a myriad of programs that assist with an array of causes, including providing emergency shelters, helping out veterans, and rehabilitating prisoners. Their Christmas charity program is perhaps one of the most notable, using donations to provide dinners, clothing, toys, and financial assistance to families in need.

How to donate: There are tons of ways to donate to the Salvation Army. Christmastime brings the famed “red kettle” where volunteer bell ringers solicit millions of dollars’ in donations in front of stores and on busy streets. You can find these kettles all around your community throughout the holiday season. You can also volunteer, donate goods, money, a car, or help out through a variety of other options. Check out their website for more ways to make a difference.

Why it’s great: The Salvation Army is an international organization with a message based in the Bible. Their ministries have reached millions around the world, and it’s a great way to help out a wide array of people, both in the United States and abroad.

Charitable donations are a great way to look past the superficiality of Christmas gifts and give a gift that truly matters. There are many charities that would appreciate your help, whether you volunteer your time and talents, give money, or donate items. How will you be helping others this holiday season? Let us know in the comments!

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