ORLANDO, Fla. - Those bell ringers and red kettles from the Salvation Army are familiar sights during the holidays, but they're just one way you can donate to charity this time of year.
A lot of people keep track of donations currently for tax breaks later on.
But as Congress scrambles to solve our debt crisis, some lawmakers say our country should get rid of that tax break completely. That's why you want to make this year's donations really count.
And donating is really a win-win for everyone. When you give things like cash, clothing, and food, you're helping others and also saving money when it comes time for your taxes.
"No matter what your situation in life, there's always somebody that has a worse situation going on," says Eric Holm, a local business owner and board member at the Salvation Army in Orange County.
Holm says your donation can make a huge difference this year.
"Gifts for the children at Christmastime, to winter clothing, clothing to go to work in, clothing to go to school," says Holm.
The Salvation Army is also asking people to set up their own red kettles on the charity's website.
"The key to the success of that program is you e-mailing out to your friends and saying, hey, support my red kettle, we can make a difference in this community," says Major Mark Woodcock of the Salvation Army.
But it's not just our community that needs help. Last month, Superstorm Sandy rocked the northeast, tearing towns apart, and leaving families with nothing.
The Red Cross of Central Florida says money is the best thing you can donate right now. That's because it gives storm victims the freedom to buy anything they need to rebuild their lives.
"Whatever it is that people need, those needs are going to change over time," says Karen Hagan of the Red Cross. "What they needed on day one is different, what they need on day 14."
It's also a busy time of year at the Goodwill of Central Florida. In addition to money, toys, and furniture, organizers say the best things you can donate are heavy coats and jackets.
"As the weather gets colder, people need more outerwear, and that becomes a highly demanded item," says Bill Oakley, the President and CEO of the Goodwill of Central Florida.
But remember, no matter what you donate, it's all tax deductible.
And the Goodwill has a tool to help you stay organized. On its website, there's a guide that gives you an estimated value of the items you donate -- everything from clothing and shoes, to furniture and books.
Then, when you file your taxes, you can use those numbers to get a general idea of how much your donations are worth.
"Our interest is in making it as convenient and painless as possible for our donors to go through that process," says Bill Oakley with the Goodwill.
Remember to always get a receipt when you donate, so you have proof of what you gave. And keep in mind that these charities are looking for items that are in good condition, and not items that you would otherwise throw out with the trash.
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