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I help parents provide holiday gifts for their children. Here are the 6 biggest toy donation mistakes I see.

Molly McGovern with a dogMolly McGovern.

Courtesy of Molly McGovern

  • Molly McGovern is the president and founder of Friendship Room, a nonprofit in Steubenville, Ohio.
  • McGovern also collects toys during the holidays, and Insider asked what common mistakes people make.
  • “Buying baby toys is more fun for donors,” McGovern said. “But [older kids] are most often forgotten.”

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Molly McGovern, the president and founder of Friendship Room in Steubenville, Ohio, about collecting toys for the holidays and the mistakes her organization sees. It’s been edited for length and clarity. 

Since we opened our blue doors in 2014, Friendship Room has been a house of hospitality that meets the immediate needs of anybody who comes to us. During the holidays, we collect toys for the children of our guests.

After nearly 10 years of helping parents provide gifts for their children, here are some of the most common mistakes we see in donations.

Only focusing on little ones

Buying baby toys is much more fun for donors than buying items for older children and teens, but these are the kids who are most often forgotten — the names who are left on angel trees. 

And a baby is so much more understanding! You can literally give a baby a balloon and they won’t know the difference, but an older child will. 

The teens deserve holiday presents, too.

Pre-wrapping gifts

Unless the organization you’re donating to specifies to bring wrapped presents, leave the item unwrapped. When donors bring us wrapped items, we have to unwrap them to make sure that they’re in good shape, appropriate, and check just what the item is before we can pass along to the recipients. 

Additionally, even though the gifts are donated, the parents of these children deserve to experience the magic of wrapping their own child’s present — of being the one who prepares the holiday celebration for their own child. 

We encourage our donors to also bring wrapping paper and tape to give the parents so that they can be a part of the gift-giving process, even if they can’t afford to buy the gifts. 

We want to make sure as much as possible that the parents of these children get to sign the cards, whether they decide to give the gift from them or from Santa Claus. But we do not believe that our names should be on these presents. 

Putting your own agenda on a gift

Even though we are Christians and model our organization after Servant of God, Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement, the holidays aren’t a time to attach an agenda.

To that end, unless specifically requested by a child, we ask that donations not be religious in nature. Sometimes people put notes on the presents that say “Jesus loves you.”

Not everyone we serve is religious, or even Christian! 

Donating items with missing pieces

So many times, I will get calls from donors who say: “I have very nice toys to donate,” then they bring us puzzles with five pieces missing.

I always have to assemble puzzles and board games and other sets to make sure they’re complete. I have to just throw them away if they’re not, which is what the donors should have done instead of bringing them to me. 

Some folks have said: “Well it’s good enough” or “It’s better to have something rather than nothing.” I say no! Just because people are poor doesn’t mean they’re stupid. 

Once, a donor said: “The child can just pretend the other pieces are there.” But that’s not OK. It’s not a materialistic thing; it’s a human thing. No one needs to be grateful for someone else’s castoffs.  

Thinking underprivileged kids don’t deserve brand names

We get a lot of criticism for this one, but if a child wants an American Girl Doll, they don’t want the knockoff. When my own children were little, I had the time and flexibility to scour Goodwill in the summer for gently used brand name items, but that was a privilege not everyone has. 

We ask our guests to tell us at least one gift their child wants specifically, and maybe we can make it happen. An Xbox, an American Girl doll, Air Force 1 sneakers, why not? 

People are so much more acutely aware of their own poverty around the holidays, especially children. So we want to provide that one moment that communicates that they are heard, valued, and that there is nothing wrong with wanting the same stuff their friends will find under the tree. 

Teaching our children that those in need are less deserving

A lot of times, people tell me that they’ve asked their children to clean out their broken stuff to make room for their new gifts and bring the broken ones down to us at Friendship Room for the poor children. But if your child doesn’t want it because it no longer works, no one’s child wants it! 

We need to look at the message we’re conveying to our own children. This is one of the biggest mistakes we make, because it delineates “them” from “us.” 

Even in trying to teach our children generosity of spirit, we’re telling them that these children are less than they are just because of their financial circumstances. That’s not the lesson they need.

Read the original article on Business Insider