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3 Ways to clean out the toy box and give back this holiday

The holidays are just around the corner, and that means we have to take stock of all we have, those who have less and how we can help those in need.

In the spirit of giving more before taking more, we’ve rounded up three great organizations that can help you and your loved ones create new space and good will by giving toys to kids who may not have many. Nearly 14 million children in the United States — 22 percent of all children — live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level: $22,050 a year for a family of four. Just by donating a gently used plastic toy, you can make a world of difference in the life of a disadvantaged child and at the same time help keep non-biodegradable plastics out of our landfills.

More: Get your kids off the couch and involved in charity work

1. Second Chance Toys (SCT) was started almost a decade ago with the simple intention of giving back to those who were less fortunate. When founder Sasha Lipton saw plastic toys left curbside during her neighborhood’s Spring Clean-Up week, she saw a chance to recycle and redistribute the toys, creating a second life for toys that had a lot more love to give and a lot more smiles to make.

To celebrate their 10th anniversary, SCT has created a campaign called “Road to 10.” This is a 10-month-long countdown and fundraiser to raise $10,000 for their mission. This mission is vital. Children without toys are harshly deprived of needed emotional development, imaginative play and more. This season, more than 230,000 toys are needed for children across 500 sponsors. That’s a huge order. And with demand growing in key metropolitan areas, Second Chance Toys is counting on you to help collect toys by signing up.

2. Letters to Santa, a United States Postal Service-backed program, is approaching its 101st anniversary this year. How does it work? Children from all over the country write a letter with their wish list for toys. Postal workers separate the Letters to Santa, open them and separate out the letters of the kids most in need. After that, a system of checks and balances is put into place to ensure that the kids’ addresses are never made public or exposed. Then a “Secret Santa,” an adult who decides they want to anonymously gift toys to a child in need, selects a letter and a lucky kid for whom they want to buy gifts.

Up to 10 different children can be chosen per Secret Santa. The customer presents proper ID to the postal clerk and fills out the appropriate forms for tax purposes. Then, the Secret Santa buys the requested toys from the letter, wraps them and, preferably, boxes them, returning to the same post office. Once boxed, which can be taken care of at the Post Office, they pay for shipping of the wrapped gift(s). And voilà, a smile is born!

More: Top 10 charities that make you feel good about giving

3. Toys for Tots collects donations of new, unwrapped toys October through December, and distributes them as Christmas gifts in the collection campaign’s community. The goal? To deliver a message of hope, through a new toy at Christmas, to less fortunate youngsters, assisting them in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens, according to Toys for Tots.

Affiliated with the Marine Corps Reserve, the toys can be distributed by a Marine Corps League detachment or by another authorized group. Corporate sponsors include Toys R Us, Babies R Us, Hess, Disney, Hasbro and Macy’s. Local campaigns are held in more than 700 communities and throughout the U.S., as well as in Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. The unique thing: Toys for Tots’ ongoing relationship with the Navajo Nation, which started in 1947 and transformed in 1980. Today, the Toys for Tots program has benefitted over 80,000 Navajo youth, and also supports the First Lady of the Navajo Nation’s Literacy Program.

More: 21 Noisy toys to never get your kid for Christmas

So, with three different ways to give a child in need a smile this holiday season, the choice is yours. From recycling toys with Second Chance Toys, to donating new toys and possibly helping indigenous people with Toys for Tots, to sending a child exactly what they requested as a “Secret Santa,” you, and your community, can easily help a kid smile this holiday season. Remember, sharing is caring!

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