It’s been less than a month since the Giving Machines opened for donations. As of Monday, Dec. 16, they’ve raised more than $3.2 million from 10 locations for nonprofits worldwide. That’s more than the final total from last year’s five machines, which was more than $2.3 million. The previous year, with one location, the Giving Machine raised $550,000.

Social media is full of stories about people donating to nonprofits through the machines. There are kids using their allowances. There also are families who decided to cut back on their own gifts in favor of donating, and people waiting in long lines to give. Here are a few of those stories:

Giving back

For Jessika Thompson of Lehi, the Giving Machines are an easy way for her family to give back to the community at Christmastime. Two years ago, her family decided they were too focused on presents. So they decided to limit gifts in favor of helping people in need.

“We told our kids that we wanted to try something new for Christmas, which was, from here on out, we would give only three presents, outside of their gift from Santa,” she said. “Something they wanted, something they needed, and something meaningful to them. And with the money we saved from buying fewer gifts, we could then provide gifts for a struggling person or family, to help them out with their Christmas, or provide service instead of the gifts. So this year, we decided to make our donation to the Giving Machines.”

Lori Chadwick of Pleasant Grove said donating to a nonprofit through a Giving Machine makes her feel like she’s part of something big.

Discovering connections

One of the best parts of the Giving Machine was that they could choose from a variety of items that had meaning to them and with which they felt connected, Thompson said.

“As someone who loves painting and loves to create, when my husband told me there were art supplies that you could purchase at the vending machines, I literally almost started to cry,” she said. “I pictured a child, not having the luxury of having access to pencils, paper, paints and craft supplies, and knowing how important that was for me growing up. It was something I had never really considered donating before and it made me really emotional.”

Their children also found personal connections. Her 9-year-old daughter Elsa plays soccer, so she chose to help send a child to a soccer camp. Her 4-year-old, Leith, who’s in preschool, picked out a backpack to donate.

“I loved that everyone in our family, no matter what age, could pick something to donate that they have found meaningful in their life, and could donate that to another person,” Thompson said.

How it works

Each Giving Machine location features several nonprofits. For each of those charities, there are a number of items to buy. For Community Action Services and Food Bank at the Orem location, people can purchase take-home meals for a child, a box of fresh produce, a holiday meal for a family, or 100 or 250 meals. Prices start at $5.

The Giving Machines are popular attractions, and sometimes the lines can be pretty long. Thompson said when her family went to the location in University Place in Orem, there were about 100 people in line.

“They had volunteers in line that handed out menus of donations so we could browse and see what they had before it was our turn at the machines,” she said. “They also handed out stickers to kids in line, and were there to answer any questions people had.”

Chadwick said she was impressed by the machines. “I love that there is such a huge variety of things to buy,” she said. “I can buy something as simple as a lunch for a child for only a few dollars to something big like a goat for a family. It is a great way to serve others this time of year.”

How they’re doing

In the first three weeks at the Orem location, the Giving Machines have raised more than $657,859 with $265,025 of that money going directly to Utah Valley charities. Other fun facts and numbers for the Utah Valley machines so far include: 

  • 24,722 total transactions
  • 4,410 donations of Three Chickens to families around the world
  • 3,347 children will receive Take Home Meals
  • 2,215 families will receive water purifiers around the world
  • 1,434 boxes of fresh produce will be delivered to local families
  • 1,346 people will receive warm blankets.

Thompson said she loved how easy it was to give. “Sometimes, in our busy lives, I think it can be hard to search out the people who really need help in your community and figure out what resources are most needed and where. So to be able to go to a vending machine and pick out things that you know are needs, and knowing they will get to the people who really need them is really helpful. It was definitely a learning experience for my kids, and one they won’t forget. We will be making this a Christmas tradition in our family.”

The Giving Machines will stay open through the end of December so that you can have your own #lighttheworld experience. You can find them in:

  • New York City
  • London
  • San Jose, California
  • Gilbert, Arizona
  • Orem, Utah
  • Laie, Hawaii
  • Manila, Philippines
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Denver, Colorado