Holiday 2020 Giving: Drive-Throughs & More Ways to Donate During Pandemic

Try virtual giving, gift cards, and more to support those most in need

Make a donation on your smart phone

Getty Images / Carmen Murillo

The season of giving is upon us, and this year especially, the need is great. National charity groups are stepping up and finding new ways to bring joy and comfort to others while keeping the pandemic in mind. 

A U.S. Census Bureau report shows that 14.4% of U.S. kids younger than age 18 are living in poverty, with about half of those living in extreme poverty. That means their family earns about $13,000 a year for a family of four. Such dire straits leave little to no room for gift-giving or having extra on the holiday dinner table. And that’s why so many people jump in this time of year to really make a difference.

Because of COVID-19, charity events such as food drives and coat drives are evolving to help ensure donating and receiving items are safe and easy. Here is how some national organizations are changing their processes for the 2020 holiday season.


Toys for Tots & Team Up

Toys for Tots, a national charity led by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, is partnering with New Jersey-based in a virtual toy drive that will double the number of toys that are distributed. When you purchase a gift at, through Dec. 31, the organization will match that gift, up to $100,000 in total. That means more gifts reach more children who might otherwise not have anything to unwrap during the holidays.

Boxes of toys for Toys for Tots and Donate A Toy

Toys for Tots and Donate A Toy

Toys for Tots will still have in-person drop sites across the nation, though donors should check with local campaigns to see what modifications might be in place because of COVID-19.

“With people reluctant to visit physical drop-off sites, this unique program empowers both corporate gift-giving and consumer donations to brighten the holidays for less fortunate children across the country, right from their computer or mobile device," said founder Anthony Lombardi, in a press release.

Toys for Tots has distributed 584 million toys to 265 million children since 1947.

Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas Child, run by international group Samaritan’s Purse, has been collecting shoeboxes filled with toys and other items and sending them to children in need around the world since 1993. To date, more than 178 million children in more than 150 countries have received a shoebox.

The group plans to run operations similar to the way they have in the past, with thousands of drop sites across the United States ready to receive the donations. People wanting to donate can find the drop site nearest them, choose a gender and age for which to shop, and fill a shoebox with items from toys to personal care and crafts. Some items, such as candy and toy guns, are prohibited (see the full list).

Samaritan’s Purse will alter their processing side of the operation, requiring participants to check temperatures before and wear a mask during their shifts. Social distancing will also be observed, and participants are encouraged to check back with their local group to ensure other guidelines have not been implemented at the time of processing. Collection generally runs the final two weeks of November to ensure gifts arrive on time.

The Salvation Army Red Kettles

The Salvation Army, which assists approximately 23 million Americans annually, says people should expect fewer bells to be ringing outside stores this holiday season. According to its website, the service organization expects up to a 50% decrease in red kettle funds this year because of several factors, including:

  • Consumers carrying less cash and fewer coins
  • More online shopping, which means less foot traffic in shopping areas
  • Unemployment rates
  • Recent closures of some brick-and-mortar retail stores

They also project they could serve up to 155% more people this year. With increased need, the organization is offering easier ways of giving money, including:

  • Donating digitally with Apple Pay or Google Pay at any red kettle across the country
  • Asking Amazon Alexa to donate by saying, “Alexa, donate to The Salvation Army,” then specifying the amount
  • Giving any amount by texting “KETTLE” to 91999

Bell ringers will be required to follow local safety protocols for COVID-19.

The organization also will continue its Angel Tree partnership with Walmart, putting up Christmas trees in select stores with tags that can be used to shop for children in your area. The partners are calling this year’s program Rescue Christmas 2020 in light of the increased need for holiday heroes. Search for your nearest participating location for both in-store giving and online. Web warriors can click through and will be directed to a list of toys and other items requested by children in your area that can be purchased from the comfort of their couch. The Salvation Army will take care of delivering the gifts to registered families in time for Christmas morning. 

Winter Coat Drives

Much of the nation has already logged some chilly days—and even some snow. A couple of national charities make it their yearly mission to collect coats for children who otherwise might go without. 

Coats for Kids Foundation

Coats for Kids Foundation has been collecting and distributing coats since 2004, and in 2001, they  joined as a service with Operation Warm. The group collects and distributes only new coats (nothing used), and mittens and hats when they can, through a variety of national and local partnerships. While other, more regional drives focus on the holiday season, Coats for Kids/Operation Warm operates from October through March. 

Local charities frequently partner with the group, holding their own drives, with each one looking a little different. In the past, coat drives culminate in a big event with children and families trying on new coats and finding the perfect covering to keep cozy. This year, COVID has forced some changes.

A Drive-Through Service

For instance, an affiliated coat drive currently under way in Tyler, Texas, is a drive-through only affair. PATH (People Attempting to Help) worked with Coats for Kids and Participants to gather the items, and participants made appointments to pick up their coats via drive-through. Children didn’t have to be in the car to get a coat, and no one was allowed to try anything on. 

The group works with many local charities to sponsor drives. If you aren’t sure whether your area has a participating drive and want to help with a donation, visit the Coats for Kids website

Operation Warm

Operation Warm also works with schools, public libraries, mental health and health care agencies, homeless centers and more. The group offers a list of ways to create a drive this season and make it memorable and safe for your organization. 

Food Drives

Food insecurity in the United States remains an ongoing problem. According to the the 2019 Household Food Insecurity report from the United States Department of Agriculture, 13.7 million US households were food insecure at some point in 2019.

The national group Feeding America, a nonprofit that is a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks, says that because of the effects of COVID-19, more than an estimated 50 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020, including a potential 17 million children.

COVID restrictions have led food banks at all levels to alter how they operate, and Feeding America encourages local organizations to instead host virtual food drives. Anyone from a single individual, a family, a school, a business or a community group can host a virtual drive and have the proceeds benefit a local food bank.

Interested in setting up a food drive where you live? Feeding America has tips. You can also check out the group’s online catalog, which shows exactly how much food you can provide for set donations. 

Consider Donating Money

Gathering online donations instead of canned goods cuts down on the time and resources it takes to sort and distribute items in person. Food banks that operate year-round can usually buy food for much less than most of us would pay at the store, according to Feeding America. Collecting money on their behalf increases buying power and allows such organizations to feed more people in need. 

Going virtual is a big change for many charitable events this year, but whether online or in person, the spirit of the session shines on.