Holiday Help for Low Income Families

Updated February 21, 2017

Though holidays are meant to be a time of joy and happiness, families who struggle financially often find that the holiday season is a particularly trying time. Low-income families not only face challenges with standard holiday fare like gifts and food, but winter holidays come with the added burden of increased heat and utility bills. A wide variety of assistance is available to low-income families through local, national and private organisations and charities.

Housing Assistance

The holiday season is a particularly crowded time for most shelters, but to combat the influx many shelters offer additional beds to accommodate whole families. Local charities operated by non-profit groups or churches are often willing to take in additional families during the holidays. Some private charities or businesses also run family-sharing programs in which families volunteer to host a struggling family during the holidays or on a short-term basis until more permanent options become available. Contact a local church or state agency to inquire about a family-sharing program in your area. Some states like Massachusetts enforce a winter moratorium on utility companies that prohibit electric companies from shutting off power due to delinquent payments; even if your state does not enforce such a law, contact your utility company to inquire about a holiday grace period in the event that you are unable to pay a utility bill.

Food and Clothing

Local charities or public-service organisations increase food and clothing drive efforts prior to the holiday season to ensure that families are fed and clothed throughout the colder months. Contact your local food pantry to inquire about food deliveries or pickups. Many independent organisations also organise temporary food and clothing drives during the holidays. Local schools, churches and grocery stores may offer food and clothing services to low-income families during the holidays. Many of these drives are sponsored by a larger charity that handles dissemination of goods to registered families. Groups like the Salvation Army and American Red Cross accept requests via phone or an online request form for food and clothing assistance during the holiday season.


One of the challenges of holiday assistance for low-income families is the additional burden of purchasing gifts and nonessential items in order to celebrate. In additional to advocacy work, United Way operates more than 1,000 local charitable branches that organise gift drives during the holiday season. Similarly, the United States Marine Corps sponsors local toy drives called Toys for Tots in which individuals or companies donate unwrapped toys that are then distributed to local families in need. Many private businesses also conduct their own gift drives in the form of secret Santa programs. The business contacts local charitable groups to identify low-income families in need and creates request lists based on family profiles. Employees than select anonymous request lists and purchase the requested gifts, which are then distributed anonymously to the families.

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About the Author

Hannah Wahlig began writing and editing professionally in 2001. Her experience includes copy for newspapers, journals and magazines, as well as book editing. She is also a certified lactation counselor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Holyoke College, and Master's degrees in education and community psychology from the University of Massachusetts.