My kids outgrow toys almost as quickly as they blow through light-up gym shoes and blow out the knees of athletic pants. In the back corners of our closets of shame are stacks of unopened holiday presents, complicated Lego sets, and board books I’m holding on to for the third child I will never have.
While I’m doing a far better job deactivating the birthday gift-splosion, we still have too many corners and bins and storage space filled with itty-bitty baby onesies, once-loved-now-forgotten dolls, strollers no one will sit in and too many toys. It’s time to release the guilt and over-gifting and pass on our bounty to neighbors who are truly in need.
I polled moms on the places in the city and suburbs where they love to donate their children’s toys, clothes, and gear. Here are eight organizations that get their highest marks.
Cradles to Crayons
One in three Chicago children lives in a family with an average annual income of $24,000. Cradles to Crayons provides the essentials that those 200,000 local kids need to thrive in school and at play. Deliver donations of new and gently used items needed specifically by kids in Chicagoland to one of 48 local drop-off centers.
You can also host a collection drive at your school, faith-based group or in the neighborhood. All donations are packaged by volunteers for kids in need.
Bernie’s Book Bank
Chicago and many surrounding suburbs
Get a lot of bang for your child’s donated books! Bernie’s Book Bank crosses the literacy divide for low-income children by providing each kid with 12 books a year for 12 years. Your donation of books for kids aged birth through sixth grade helps create a library for children who live in homes where there’s not likely to be a single thing to read.
Read how the 3.5 million redistributed books (this year alone!) are making a difference in local children’s lives only five days after their donation, scour the dozens of drop-off sites, then cry all the happy tears as you sort through your family’s shelves.
Want to help this organization make an even bigger impact? Organize a book drive.
Family Tree Resale
Chicago and Wheaton
Not only is Family Tree the most organized, clean resale shop I’ve ever seen, I am proud to say it is the loving endeavor of my community-minded childhood best friend, Elizabeth Basa.
Any school or organization can join their voucher program. When members of those communities shop at or donate to Family Tree, they accumulate vouchers, which are then returned that organization’s kids and families in need so they can shop for free in the stores. With more than $120,000 in resale vouchers distributed, your donations get twice the love here.
The Kid’s Pantry
What began as a couple of moms sharing kid’s clothing to stretch their own budgets has evolved into a warehouse-sized space with semi-annual completely-free giveaways to families in need. They accept “anything a family needs to take care of their children,” maternity wear, plus fun items that shoppers can use for their family holiday gifts.
Donations are accepted at their hub in the Christian Life Church in Mt. Prospect.
Cornerstone Community Outreach
Cornerstone’s family shelters have served 25,000 homeless families since 1989, providing a safe space to accommodate families of all kinds, meals and case management. CCO accepts donations of goods to their Sheridan Park location on weekdays.
Community Crisis Center
This shelter and safe, nonviolent space for people in crisis tends to the needs of parents and children with homework groups, playgroups, parenting support, advocacy and individual counseling, and has additional services for those who’ve experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse.
Contribute children’s toys, books, and clothing to the center, which also requests cold-weather gear like coats, hats, boots, and gloves. To arrange a drop-off or host a drive, contact the center.
Share Our Spare
This organization aims to disrupt the cycle of poverty by turning “extras” into “extraordinary opportunities” to serve low-income families. Share Our Spare collects gently used and new baby and toddler items and redistributes them to parents in need.
Pack up what you have from this handy list of needs and drop-off at their River West warehouse.
Twice As Nice Mother and Child
This “middle mom” ensures that your donated toys, books, convertible booster seats, maternity wear, diapers, formula, and other essentials get to families in need by partnering with local social service organizations.
Plus, they make it really easy to be of service with pick-up services available within 25 miles of the Gurnee location (or you can drop off right at their office) and a diaper drive toolkit for your school or block party.