Five new ways for your community to help this holiday season

The season is coming for food drives, organized to make sure that struggling people in our communities have a good Thanksgiving dinner and a more stable source of food long after the holiday is past. That's great. More than 12 percent of American households have days when do not know where their next meal is coming from. So a food drive is a wonderful thing, and I thank all the good hearted people who will be contributing to one.

Because I believe that a good heart is a gift that keeps on giving - I'm asking you to do something else as well. Please consider organizing a second drive to help your less fortunate neighbors with products that keep them clean and comfortable - products many people in poverty simply cannot afford:

1. Diapers

You could collect diapers and give them to your local diaper bank or food pantry. One in three low income mothers reports that she can't afford enough diapers to keep her baby clean, dry and healthy. This can lead to diaper rash or more serious infections. Because child care centers require parents to provide diapers, poor parents are sometimes unable to access child care. That means parents cannot work, and toddlers miss out on early childhood education. The National Diaper Bank Network provides a toolkit for anyone who wants to do a diaper drive. A great thing about holding a diaper drive is that it's an opportunity to educate your community about an issue that's often hidden.

2. Socks

Similarly, a sock drive can help educate your school, office or faith community about a painful reality of homelessness. Typically homeless people suffer from foot problems, including infections, frostbite and injuries causes by rubbing from ill-fitting shoes. Diabetics, alcoholics and people taking HIV medication are at high risk for neuropathy.

New socks can help keep feet clean to get infection under control, provide a barrier of warmth to protect against frostbite and give a layer of protection to feet damaged by rubbing against shoes. Programs that serve the homeless can never get enough men's tube socks.

3. Toothpaste

About 17 percent of kids aged 2 to 17 do not go to the dentist every year. A drive can at least make sure that every child in your community has the tools for good oral hygiene: toothpaste, toothbrushes and dental floss. Doing this collection will also be a way to educate more fortunate kids about how important regular brushing is.

4. Underwear

Often people in extreme poverty can get donated used clothing. But used underwear (like used socks) gets thrown away. Particularly for homeless people, this makes hygiene difficult. How can you keep your body clean if you don't have access to a shower or laundry and you have only one pair of underwear? Hold an underwear drive, and your local shelter will be happy to distribute what you collect.

5. Cleaning supplies

Food stamps and other safety net programs do not pay for cleaning supplies - often the most expensive things in the grocery cart. Collect dish liquid, bleach, detergent, sponges and mops. Bring it to an organization that provides affordable, transitional or supportive housing. You will make someone's home much more pleasant for the holidays.

These drives are fairly easy to organize - and they make a big difference to people who receive these items. The learning experience may be as important as the aid you give. Being poor is like being caught in a sandstorm - you get hit from every angle, all the time. It is critical that more caring people understand just how many basic needs our neighbors must forego. Having an additional drive to focus on a basic need in addition to food will help your group give the most important gift of all - empathy.