They beg for weeks and write letters to Santa, and when your kids finally unwrap that mound of toys under the tree, it's sure bliss. But once the high wears off, many of those must-haves drift to the bottom of the toy box, never to see the light of day again.
Before Santa stops by this year, free up space for your children's new favorites by donating the gently used toys that no longer grab their attention. You'll teach kids the spirit of giving, brighten someone else's holidays and help keep the season green.
According to Ecolife.com, of the 40 million toys thrown away annually, 13 million are put into the trash, destined for the landfill. Forget recycling. Because toys are typically made from a mix of metals, plastics and electronic components, they are incredibly difficult to recycle and not typically accepted at recycling facilities, according to the site.
To ensure that your donation makes the biggest impact, be creative and think beyond the usual options. Thrift shops run by nonprofits, such as Goodwill and The Salvation Army, readily accept donations of gently used goods, but they likely have a steady influx of toys around the holidays. Instead, consider sending your stash to smaller and possibly overlooked thrift shops that benefit local community groups. Many will even haul away your donations for free. To find charities in your area and to schedule a free pick up, visit www.donationtown.org.
Don't limit your sights to thrift shops. From your pediatrician's office to local police and fire departments, there are plenty of other groups that could benefit from your child's unwanted toys. Contact local churches, libraries, grade schools, day care centers, children's hospitals and foster care programs -- or post an ad on the website of The Freecycle Network (www.freecycle.org), a green grass-roots collective that acts as a digital curbside. Members list items they wish to part with, but with one catch: It must be free, and it must be local.
A few more giving options:
--Loving Hugs accepts donations of new and gently used stuffed animals to send to children in war zones, orphanages, refugee camps and hospitals around the world. The nonprofit also sends stuffed animals to areas affected by natural disasters such as the 2009 flood in Manila, Philippines, and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Visit www.lovinghugs.org for a list of accepted stuffed animals and shipping instructions.
--Stuffed Animals for Emergencies chapter members collect new and gently used stuffed animals, toys, books and blankets to be redistributed to emergency organizations, children's services, hospitals, homeless shelters and other places that help children during times of crisis. For information on how to donate and a list of local chapters, visit www.stuffedanimalsforemergencies.org.
--Second Chance Toys rescues unwanted plastic toys, which don't biodegrade in landfills and distributes them to children in need through local community organizations. The nonprofit collects toys twice a year -- during Earth Week in April and during the holiday season. They only accept plastic toys that are clean and in working order. Visit www.secondchancetoys.org for collection dates and locations.
--In the current economy, shelters are in high demand and often strained to meet the basic needs of their clientele, let alone provide extras such as toys and stuffed animals. During the holidays, your child's hand-me-downs will find a welcome home at a single-parent shelter, women's shelter or temporary housing for at-risk teens. To find a shelter in your area, visit www.homelessshelterdirectory.org.
--Don't overlook your local animal shelter. Though not all children's toys are acceptable for dogs and cats, durable stuffed animals and basic plastic toys such as balls and Frisbees make great playthings for pets. Visit www.petfinder.com for a list of local rescue groups.
Before donating, be sure to inspect toys thoroughly for signs of wear. Stuffed animals and other plush playthings should be clean and in good repair. As a courtesy, give them a quick run through the washing machine and dryer before sending them on to their new home. Those with lingering odors, stains, holes or loose stitching should not be donated.
Plastic toys should be clean with no broken or loose parts that could pose a choking hazard. Be sure the batteries work in electronic toys, as organizations that accept donations may not have the funds for replacements.