It's been a tough couple of years for everyone but, even if some of us have had to make do with less, there are others who have been hit even harder. Whether it's right in your own neighborhood or overseas, there are at least two ways I can think of that dollar stores can help you to help others during this season of giving without inflicting too much pain on your pocket book.

First, consider adding a few grocery staples to your shopping cart the next time you're in the dollar store and drop these off at a food bank. Set a dollar amount on what you want to donate, whether it's $10, $5 or even just a couple of bucks worth of food items, it all makes a difference. Food banks generally need things like pastas and sauces, canned goods like tuna, stews, soups and canned fruit, oatmeal, rice and so on. My local dollar store has brand-name items like Stokely baked beans, Hunt's spaghetti sauce and Puritan stews and I like to be able to give these. However, when you're hungry, any brand is a good brand. If you live near a 99-cent Only Store, their focus is on food and they always have a large selection of grocery items to choose from.

The second way I like to contribute is what Dollar Tree calls Tree Box Giving. The website is full of ideas for spreading Christmas cheer to those struggling through tough economic times, trying to rebuild from natural disasters or serving overseas in the military. There is a list of themes for building your tree box including Christmas Morning Surprise, School Success, Support Our Troops, Personal Care Basics and Disaster Relief, as well as lists of suggested items you might want to include for each different box. There's also a printable PDF file with the lists and tree box labels for kids' gifts.

Many churches and other organizations fill shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, which is a similar idea that sends gifts to children in other countries who wouldn't otherwise have gifts. The idea here is to decide whether you want to give to a boy or a girl and the age group and fill the shoe box with items such as tooth brushes, soap, school supplies, wrapped hard candy and small toys. The website has all the details.

Spending ten bucks or less at the dollar store is all it takes to give a child, or someone else in need, a lot of happiness and yourself the warm fuzzies.

Marlene Alexander is a freelance writer and dollar store diva. She writes tips and ideas for home decorating using only items from the dollar store.


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