7 Places to Look for Help if You're Struggling Financially This Christmas

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  • Soaring prices have made it difficult for many Americans to cover the essentials this year.
  • If you aren't able to pay for food or gifts this Christmas, find out whether these programs could help you.
  • United Way, Santa's Knights, and the Salvation Army are just a few options to turn to.

There are organizations across the country ready to help with food, gifts, and more for the holidays.

If you're not able to pay your bills and aren't sure how to put food on the table, it's a horrible situation to be in. Even more so during the holiday season when trying to make things special for loved ones puts more demands on wallets that are already overstretched. If you're in this situation, know that you are not alone. This year, soaring living costs have put pressure on the bank accounts of many Americans, and lower-income families have been harder hit.

There are no easy answers, but there are some potential sources of help. Here are seven of them.

1. Salvation Army

The Salvation Army has several holiday initiatives, including Christmas dinners and food baskets for those who might otherwise go hungry. Its Angel Tree program provides gifts for hundreds of thousands of children every year. The project collects information from participating kids, including proof of ID and residence, clothing sizes, and a toy wish.

The Salvation Army prides itself on supporting people year-round through food pantries, rent assistance, homeless shelters, and more. If you're having trouble putting food on the table or covering the essentials, reach out to your local Salvation Army branch whatever time of year it is.

2. Marine Toys for Tots

Run by the U.S. Marine Corps, Toys for Tots collects new, unwrapped toys and distributes them to those in need. The project operates in 800 communities across the U.S. Sign up for gift assistance this Christmas at your local campaign website.

3. Santa's Knights

Santa's Knights is focused on New York City, but its Letters to Santa program operates throughout the country. Children (or their parents/guardians) can use the site to write Santa a letter and ask for small ($20 to $50) gifts. Those able to help can then pick up the requests. In spite of the name, the project operates year round, running martial arts and fitness classes for kids.

4. Local religious organizations

Various churches and religious groups organize assistance and activities in the holiday season. You don't have to be religious to qualify for help. See what your local church is organizing on and around Christmas, particularly in terms of activities, food pantries, or soup kitchens.

5. The Christmas Tree Project

The Christmas Tree Project gives fully decorated trees to those in need. The Colorado-based organization originally began with just one tree on Craigslist, but has now grown into a full forest. You can request a tree via its website, where you'll need to answer a couple of questions.

6. Food pantries and soup kitchens

If you aren't sure how to put food on the table this Christmas, talk to your local food pantry or soup kitchen. Many of them have specific Christmas programs, and if they don't, they likely know who does. Be aware that you may need to book in advance, and some projects ask for ID.

7. United Way

The United Way (2-1-1) is a free directory of information about local resources. If you need help with food, rental assistance, employment, education, health care, or other issues, it's worth getting in touch. Visit its website or call for free to speak to a trained volunteer. United Way has a number of projects aimed at making people's lives better, whether that's during the holiday season or any other point of the year.

If you need help, act now

The challenge in December is that both money and time are extremely tight. All the same, if you're able to take on extra hours at work in the run up to Christmas and New Year's, it could be worthwhile. There are a lot of unknowns around the job market in 2023, but it's relatively strong right now. Earning a bit of extra cash won't be an option for everybody, but if you can, it could help you cover some holiday costs.

If you're not able to increase your income and have a credit card, the temptation to use it for Christmas expenses is entirely understandable. But if you don't have enough money to pay for gifts and food, try to find ways to make the holidays special without taking on debt. Some of the organizations above could help, in addition to any federal assistance you might qualify for.

Sadly, there is a lot of demand for financial and other assistance this Christmas, so if you need help, the sooner you reach out the better. Whatever your financial situation, I hope you're able to celebrate with people you care about.

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