During the holiday rush, it's easy to get caught up in (and stressed-out over) the buying and giving of expensive gifts to family, friends and co-workers.
If there's one thing that the retail industry would have us believe, it's that holiday cheer doesn't come cheap: Advertising and gift guides advise us to buy luxury gifts for significant others and parents-in-law to show them we and pricey high-tech toys that kids will really love.
But for the 15 percent of the U.S. population living at or below the poverty line, the reality of the holiday season looks much different. Their wish lists aren't filled with items from the Apple store or Bloomingdale's -- the poverty-line gift guide reads more like a Costco shopping list full of basic survival and household items.
The nine items listed below are commonly requested from charity gift-giving programs. Here's your complete holiday "gift guide" for a family living in poverty.
Operation Breakthrough, a childcare and social services organization based in Kansas City, Missouri, helps poor families in the area, and asks donors to help out with funds for the family to enjoy a simple Christmas meal, which they often cannot afford themselves.
Throw blankets or comforters may not seem like a gift item, but for a family that has little to no disposable income and rising winter energy bills to deal with, they're a welcome gift. The MEND Poverty holiday donation program in California's San Fernando Valley recommends buying blankets or space heaters as gifts for parents in their "adopt a family" program.
Another basic necessity that can go neglected when a family barely has the money to get food on the table, cleaning supplies -- especially larger items like vacuum cleaners -- are practical, much-needed gift items for poor families. Community Warehouse in Portland, Oregon accepts donations of basic household goods, including mops, brooms and vacuum cleaners.
MEND's adopt-a-family program also recommends dishes as gifts for parents.
Socks may be inexpensive, but they wear out easily and often need to be replaced from season to season, which can be a financial burden for some families. Warm, good-quality wool socks can make an excellent gift. Massachusetts residents can donate winter clothing like sweaters and warm socks to the United Way of Central Massachusetts.
For children's gifts, many holiday donation organizations suggest coats and outerwear, in addition to toys. Winter coats are expensive clothing items for low-income families, and for families living in extreme poverty, may even be unaffordable. Donate new or lightly used children's coats to your local branch of the Salvation Army.
Small appliances like microwaves, toasters and space heaters also make it to the top of many low-income parents' wish lists. These items are practical but can be unaffordable for a family struggling to pay their rent. If you're in the New York area, donate to Lantern Organization, a group that provides affordable housing and support to low-income families.
Another not-so-glamorous but important item, sheets can be a luxury in a low-income home. Having nice, clean, new bedding can make a little difference in someone's comfort level each night. Many local charitable organizations accept donations of new sheets and bedding.
Grocery Store Giftcards
One thing families living in poverty need and will likely appreciate more than anything else is knowing where the money for their next trip to the grocery store will come from. If you're not sure what to give to a family that's struggling financially, a giftcard to Target or Walmart is a safe bet. Washington, D.C. area residents can donate grocery store gifts cards to the YMCA Alexandria, which will use them to purchase meals for low-income families.