My adult daughters usually can’t recall what mom and dad put under the tree after a few months have passed, but they both remember in vivid detail what we did for people whose names we will never know.

Over the years we’ve given out Christmas boxes to low income families, made sandwiches for the homeless and stuffed stockings for a women’s shelter. Last year we joined the Basketeers ( and had fun filling a laundry basket full of household items to help abused women set up a new home. The best part was going to the collection centre and ogling the wonderful baskets — most far better decorated than ours! We’ll do better this year.

That’s the sermon, now here’s the advice — if you’re thinking of putting a shelter at the top of your holiday list start planning now as most of them like to have holiday donations in hand by early December.

You don’t have to spend lots of money in order to make a difference. Here are a few suggestions.

• Re-gift without guilt. Avoid the disaster of giving a present back to the person who gave it to you by redirecting it to a shelter. I have a lovely wrapped cosmetic bundle I’ll never use and my daughter has a new kettle she got at a wedding shower. Both are going into this year’s Basketeers offering.

• Use your points. Last year I cashed in Air Miles reward points to buy theatre tickets with drinks and popcorn. Everyone needs a little treat in the holiday season.

• At your office party suggest adopting a local shelter and have everyone bring something to contribute instead of a gift exchange.

• Check with the shelters to find out what they need before you donate.

• Don’t forget the gift receipt. This will be appreciated if an item doesn’t fit or the recipient needs an iron more than a hair dryer.

Giving to local shelters is helping someone make a fresh start, something particularly appropriate in this season of renewal.

Alison’s Money Rule:

Feed your soul this holiday season by focussing your charitable efforts on a local shelter.

– Alison Griffiths is a financial ­journalist, author and host of Maxed Out on the W Network. Write to her at

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