12/08/2011 04:18 pm ET Updated Feb 07, 2012

Making A Difference: The World of Giving -- Be a Santa Helper

Kids still write letters to Santa Claus in the hopes they will be answered on Christmas morning. While they probably no longer have visions of gingerbread men dancing in their heads, they do have hopes of receiving a toy, a book, a skateboard, a bicycle, an iPod, a smartphone... the list goes on and on. Many of these requests are the hopes and dreams of children whose parents don't know how they will be fulfilled.

While most children spend the month of December wondering what they should ask Santa Claus to bring them, many people are working to make sure their dreams come true. During this holiday season and with this tough economy, individuals as well as various groups are dedicated to making sure these requests being sent to the North Pole are fulfilled. You might ask how does this happen? Well, Santa has many helpers and this blog will highlight four programs.

The first program is through the United States Post Office. In 1912, the Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock authorized local post offices to allow individuals or institutions to use letters addressed to Santa Claus for philanthropic purposes. Many post office employees work diligently to insure that the tradition continues today. So if you are interested in fulfilling a child's dream of sugar plum fairies or more likely these days a Xbox, mp3 player, board game or pair of shoes, contact your local post office to get a letter that you can answer. If you know a child who might not have a present under the tree without a little help, send the letter to the local post office addressed to Santa Claus at the North Pole requesting help. To find out more, contact your local post office.

The second program is one we have all heard of: the Marine's Toys for Tots program, a nonprofit organization working to insure kids have toys at Christmas. Local toy collection began in mid-October and continues until mid to late December. You can drop off new, unwrapped toys in collection boxes in many businesses throughout your community. Toys are collected, sorted and distributed through a number of relationships Toys for Tots have with social service agencies, churches and other networks. If you would like to participate, either by having a collection box or requesting a toy for a child go to the Toys for Tots website and find your local distribution point.

A third program to remember is the Giving Tree. Most churches have a giving tree or an opportunity to provide a gift for a child as do most Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations. You can check them out locally by either searching via the Internet or your local phone book. Don't give up until you find a group to work with in your community.

Finally, Macy's has a program they initiated four years ago. During the holiday season, if you would like to support a charitable cause that helps children, you can take the letter your child has written to Santa to Macy's and mail it from the special Macy's North Pole mailbox. The Macy's Believe Campaign is an effort to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation. For each letter mailed from Macy's to the North Pole, Macy's will donate $1 to support making wishes come true for children who have serious life threatening illnesses. Macy's has committed to donating up to $1 million! And yes, the letters do indeed make it to the North Pole!

Many reading this will ask how else they can help? Here are five recommendations and tips you can do to add a charitable component to holiday shopping to play Santa and Make A Difference (M.A.D.):

1. Take a gift (or two) to a senior citizens center; call ahead to see what is needed. Often the elders in our community are overlooked but they need to be remembered.
2. For those "hard to shop for" individuals, charitable gifts on their behalf or in their honor, such as purchasing a cow, pig or chickens for an individual or family in a developing or third world country can be an excellent and meaningful choice. Check out Heifer International for some great gift ideas.
3. By purchasing your holiday cards and/or gifts through a charity or a charity gift catalog, you are supporting that charity and hence the mission of the charity! By utilizing charitable gift catalogs, it becomes an easy way to "kill two birds with one stone"... so to speak!
4. Stride Rite is running a Season Of Giving program this year. For every Robeez footwear purchased at Stride Rite retail stores (from 12/5-12/16), they'll work with their charitable partner, Kids in Distressed Situations to donate one pair of shoes to a child in need. K.I.D.S. brings hope to underprivileged and disaster-struck children by providing them with the gift of something brand new
5. Many holiday charitable gift catalogs are online... so once again, you can let your fingers do the walking! Check out UNICEF's Inspired Gift Program.

BONUS TIP: A lot of schools ask their students to "sell" items for fundraising drives through catalogs that support the school. Many of these "catalogs" target items that can be utilized during this time of year such as wrapping paper, candy, cookie dough, etc.

Christmas is a magic time for most kids and many others in our community. Let's work together to insure it is a magic time for all kids young and old. Remember, you can make a difference (M.A.D.)!