A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

9 Places to Donate the Christmas Gifts You Can’t Return

What can you do with the gifts you can't return but don't want? Donate them, of course!

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The joy of giving

The Christmas tree is stashed away in the basement until next year, you’ve hung a crisp new calendar on the wall, and all that’s left of the holiday rush are warm memories—and a growing pile of gifts that need to be dealt with in some way.

Giving and receiving presents at Christmas is part of the joy of the season. But what happens when you receive a gift you don’t want? Maybe you got two Kindles. Maybe the sweater from your sister is a little too snug. Maybe the kids got too many toys. You’ve written your thank you notes and tried to return them with no luck. Here’s where you can pass them on to make someone else’s day.

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Deliver food to your nearest kitchen or pantry

Instead of letting those jars of jam you received as a hostess gift languish in the cabinet, load up your trunk for a trip to the nearest homeless shelter or soup kitchen. While most homeless shelters and food pantries accept a variety of canned or dry food, if Santa gave you chocolates, candy, or specialty food items that you’d like to pass on, many food pantries accept these too. Call the shelter or food pantry in advance to make sure they can accept your specific donations. As for those tins of sugar cookies your aunt gifted you, you’re better off taking them to your office to share as most food pantries are unlikely to accept unpackaged food because of hygiene liabilities. Check out the Homeless Shelter Directory or visit Feeding America to find your nearest food pantry. Before you go, check your pantry for these 11 foods that never expire and consider donating any extras.

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Clothing hanging on a clothing rack in a shop or home closet.

Donate clothes to a nonprofit

That lovely scarf from Aunt Gertrude that’s just not your style? It could be the bow on top of a killer interview outfit for an unemployed mother down the street. Dress for Success accepts new or lightly used professional attire such as dresses, blazers, pants, peep-toe or close-toed pumps, and cardigans to low-income women who are entering or returning to the workforce. Note that donated clothes must be freshly dry-cleaned or laundered. But what about the casual Christmas sweater or the men’s thermal shirt no one in your family wants to wear? For casual clothing or clothing for men and children, we recommend getting in touch with your local Salvation Army. The clothes you donate there will go to people in your community who need them most. Here are more places to donate your old stuff where it will be put to good use.

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Graphic pattern and grey shade pillows on the bed with modern style reading lamp

Give your bedding to those who could use it most

While you can afford to cast off a fluffy duvet that doesn’t fit your aesthetic, there are families who don’t care about the color or pattern of their fresh new bedding this year. Deliver bedding to your local Salvation Army or homeless shelter. Make sure the bedding is spotless and freshly laundered—these tips on cleaning a down comforter will help.

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Take your electronics to a school or library

Call your nearest public school or library to ask about donating e-readers, speakers, or other potentially educational electronics. Public school classrooms often have limited computers and tablets on hand, and many teachers or school librarians could put your electronics to good use. If you prefer to remain anonymous, donate electronics through an organization such as Interconnection, Computers with Causes, Computers for Classrooms, or Global Giving. You could also try selling it online to make a profit.

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Box with different child toys on floor against white wall. Space for text
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Donate toys to foster parents or daycare centers

If you have extra toys in the living room after Christmas morning, you’re in the perfect position to continue spreading holiday cheer for kids in your community. Foster parents often need a variety of toys since they may care for children of all ages. To help a foster family, contact social service programs such as Together We Rise. to find out how to donate toys in your area. Alternatively, look up daycares in your city; the teachers in charge are often grateful for an extra bin or two of toys. (Call ahead to make sure they are open to donations.) Wherever you donate your toys, remember to sanitize any that have been out of their packaging. Here’s how to remove mold from children’s toys.

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Close view of Stack of children's books on a white background

Pass on your books to someone who will read them

Maybe you received a cookbook, but you hate spending time in the kitchen or maybe you were given two copies of one book. Regardless of why you have a stack of books collecting dust on the table, it will make you feel generous and organized to pass them on to someone who will appreciate them. Here are three places to donate those page-turners: Access Books passes on your children’s books to inner-city school libraries; Operation Paperback sends your books to troops overseas, and local libraries and assisted living facilities are often grateful for copies of titles that are missing from their shelves.

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279photo Studio/Shutterstock

Share your unused beauty products with women in crisis

Whether it’s the wrong shade of blush, a scented lotion that gives you a headache, or a bottle of designer shampoo that’s not quite right for your hair, there are several organizations willing to pass along your unused (or sometimes very lightly used) beauty products to women who are ill, homeless, or otherwise in need. Share Your Beauty accepts unopened, unexpired makeup, hair products, skin products, nail polish, and perfume samples. Simply box up and ship your items to: Share Your Beauty, Family-to-Family, PO Box 255, Hastings on Hudson, NY 10706.

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Donate furniture to families in transition

If you received a furniture item you intend to keep this year, it likely means it’s time to get rid of an old item to make space for the new. Some Salvation Armies will pick up your unwanted furniture, call 800-SA-TRUCK (1-800-728-7825) to find out if your local one will. Or try Operation Homefront, an organization that allows you to donate furniture to military families or Furniture Banks, which accepts gently used furniture for people transitioning from homelessness to a new place. You can also deliver furniture to your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Find out the 9 things thrift stores really don’t want you to donate.

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Fun Gamepad Video Console Gaming Game play Gamer player Headset Earphones Keyboard concept.
Alex SG/Shutterstock

Give video games to hospitalized children

It’s easy to get our wires crossed when it comes to game systems. Maybe your family received a game for Xbox One even though you have a PlayStation console. Or maybe someone in the family received a game they just don’t enjoy. Feel like a real-life hero by donating those games to Charity Nerds, who will pass on the fun to children experiencing long-term hospitalization. If your video games are not kid-friendly, consider donating to your local library, where other teens or adults can enjoy playing. Your unwanted gift not on our list?

Leandra Beabout
Leandra Beabout writes for Reader's Digest and a variety of national lifestyle, wellness and travel publications and brand websites. She covers all things books and words for Reader's Digest, and when she's not on deadline, you can find her curled up with a new novel or planning her next trip.