Every night, more than 1,000 children in the greater Madison, WI area go to sleep without permanent shelter. As the days shorten, these children often worry that Santa might not visit because he has no chimney to slide down. Santas Without Chimneys is an annual event designed to raise awareness of poverty in our communities and deliver personalized gifts DIRECTLY to those children in need. It's also a ton of fun for everyone involved.

Frequently Asked Questions

When does it start? Can I still enroll? In 2023, applications will be open as of November 6 and will be accepted until December 15. If it is after that date, please e-mail us at SWC@SantasWithoutChimneys.org. Families with any child attending an MMSD school should contact their school social worker. Families with no children in MMSD may contact us at SWC@SantasWithoutChimneys.org to discuss enrollment. Case workers and social workers outside of MMSD are also welcome to contact us about potentially eligible families or unaccompanied youth.

When are donated gifts due? Those who have signed up to sponsor a child or family should please have the gifts to us by Friday December 8, 2023 if the family is listed as needing an "early" delivery, or Monday December 18, 2023 for families needing a "regular" delivery. We also gladly accept general gift donations starting approximately Nov 6 and going until December 22 at any of our drop-box hosts. Thank you!

How does it work? Starting in November, diligent social workers throughout the Madison school district and other local community services sign up their eligible families and submit each child's wishlist. We then post the lists on our website so that people in the community can see what sorts of things are being requested or, if they want, sponsor one or more child(ren) whose wishes they will fulfill! In either case, unwrapped gifts are then brought to drop-boxes around town and more of our elves ferry them back to the SWC Workshop so that they can be matched to a specific child, wrapped, and delivered. Click here for more details.

Why do you request unwrapped gifts? I love wrapping! We're glad you do, because we'll have plenty of work for you! However, we do prefer to receive the gifts unwrapped so that we can be certain we're not giving duplicates and to make sure that siblings receive roughly balanced sets of gifts so nobody feels left out. Even if you've sponsored an entire family, we still like to add our own little touches like books and a blanket. We appreciate your understanding! We do have many, many wrapping opportunities at our Workshop throughout the season: please feel free to sign up on our Volunteer page.

Are donations tax deductible? Yes! As a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, all donations to Santas Without Chimneys are tax deductible. If you'll need a receipt for your donation, please plan to bring it to us in-person or contact us to make other arrangements. Thank you!

How is this different than other gift drives? Madison is fortunate to have several fine programs helping families in need! Many of the others work on a larger scale to help families with needs beyond (though potentially including) homelessness, and may have age restrictions, offer a limited number of toys, and/or require that families commute to pick-up sites during a specific time. Santas Without Chimneys delivers gifts to children of all ages directly where they're staying. Our model of soliciting wishlists from the specific and very vulnerable population of homeless children in our community means that we have a good understanding of who each child is as an individual and can put together a carefully-curated package of gifts just for them. We also welcome applications that include wishes from adult children who have developmental disabilities if they wish to participate, as well as or including adult children who are completing a high school degree or equivalent.

When we say that we provide "personalized" gifts for every child on our list, what does that mean? Here's a peek at what...

Posted by Santas Without Chimneys on Thursday, December 4, 2014

How do sponsorships work? Most importantly: no matter what, all of the kids are going to get presents! You needn't worry that "unsponsored" children will go without. Sponsoring a child just means that instead of giving us a general gift that we'd then match with a kid, you're planning to get presents for that specific child. This helps us know that all of their wishes are taken care of, and allows us to focus more on the rest of the kids on our list. More details available here!

Where can I drop off items? We have many drop-boxes throughout the Madison area! If you own or know of a business that would like to host one, please contact us. If you'd prefer to come by the Workshop with any gifts, you may also use our Volunteer page to book a timeslot so that we're sure to have someone there for you.

How does my family sign up to receive gifts? Families with one or more children enrolled in Madison public schools work with their school social worker to apply. Other families should please see our eligibility page for information about how to enroll!

What if my family doesn't celebrate Christmas and/or have a Santa tradition? That's completely fine! We're an entirely non-religious organization and don't want anyone to feel left out. If you'd prefer delivery on another date and/or that "Santa" not be involved, please be sure to let us know so we can help make your family's experience wonderful!

What volunteer opportunities are available?

  • Drop-box pickups: once or twice per week, stop by a local business or organization, pick up any donations they've received, and bring the gifts back to our central location. Families welcome!
  • Donation organization: Familiarity with popular brands/media helpful. Families welcome!
  • Select presents: Match wishes to available donations! Again, familiarity with popular brands/media is helpful. Adults prefered to help maintain our families' privacy, though we can accommodate teens and well-supervised children.
  • Wrap presents: What it sounds like! Once the presents are selected for individual kids, they get wrapped and labeled and tied up with a bow. Families welcome!
  • Deliver presents: All of our gifts are delivered either to school before break or directly to where our families are staying. When going to a family's residence, we require at least two adults to be present, ideally one dressed as Santa (we welcome Santas of all genders and races!). We have Santa suits available, or you're welcome to bring your own! Families are welcome, though we appreciate knowing which school(s) any children you'll be bringing attend so that we can plan their deliveries carefully.
  • Feeding the elves: while we do love our cookies, elves also appreciate heartier fare. If you'd like to help keep our Workshop fueled, please let us know!
  • Hosting a drop-box: if your Madison-area business/organization would like to host a drop-box, please contact us through Facebook or at swc@santaswithoutchimneys.org. In general, they have an 18x24" footprint but we'd be happy to work with your space! We also are happy to provide boxes for internal drives, where your location is not listed publicly.
  • Hosting a gift drive: this is a great one for the kids! Whether at school, church, as a birthday party, or whatever other creative ideas they might have, we love to hear about kids who have decided to help out our cause and raise awareness among their peers.
  • Sponsor a kid/family: described more at length here, this can also be a nice opportunity for a club or work group to pull together and get gifts for either one child or a whole family of them.

Thank you!