Credit: Courtesy photo

Today, 10-year-old Jewell Jaussi understands that the holiday season is about giving. But that wasn’t always the case. 

“When I was younger,” she said, “I thought Christmas was just about gifts.” 

Something that helped her realize this is her family’s tradition of donating to the Light the World Giving Machines.  

“Giving Machines are just like vending machines, but instead of getting stuff for yourself, you’re (purchasing) something for others,” Jaussi said.  

Vending machines for donations 

The Giving Machines are part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ annual Light the World holiday initiative. The Giving Machines provide a unique opportunity for people to give to others, said Craig McIlroy, team lead for the Denver Giving Machines’ Organizing Committee.  

“There’s a lot that divides us and (the Giving Machines) bring us together in a common purpose,” McIllroy said. “I think everybody agrees we should help those in need.”  

How it works is people visit the Giving Machine — this year’s Denver machine will be located at Writer Square downtown — and select an item to donate to a charity. Upon selection, the donor is given a card-like receipt of their purchase. One hundred percent of every dollar contributed goes directly to the participating charities, and all overhead is covered through other sources, McIlroy said.  

This year, donors can choose from items that range in price from $5 to $250. A few examples include children’s bandages for $8, a kit of hygiene products for $30 and sponsoring a community garden for $250. Multiple donations can be made in a single transaction.  

The Giving Machines “are a great example of how anyone can give at any amount to come together and support our community” and Metro Caring’s mission, said Brandon McKinley, communications and marketing specialist for Metro Caring. 

Metro Caring is a Denver-based nonprofit that provides nutritious food to people while working to address the root causes of hunger. It is one of the local charities benefitting from the Giving Machine this year.  

A family tradition 

The Jaussi family — which consists of mother Heather; father Steven; Jewell; James, 7; and Adelaide, 1 — has been donating to the Denver Giving Machine since 2019.  

“I love this tradition because it brings us together as a family to go serve and help others in need,” Jewell Jaussi said. 

The tradition begins each year when the family visits the Giving Machine’s website to decide which items each family member wants to purchase for their donation. Then, donning their Light the World garb, the Jaussi family commutes from their Highlands Ranch home to attend the Unwrapping event in Denver, which is the Giving Machine’s annual launch and takes place near the Thanksgiving holiday. 

The drive home from the Unwrapping event is an opportunity to discuss the ways they have given back — a significant piece of the family’s tradition, Heather Jaussi said.

Envisioning the utility of their donation helps bring awareness of global issues, she added.  

“It makes such a difference to talk about these things as a family,” Heather Jaussi said. “We don’t always see or know what’s going on outside our realm. For example, when James found out there are places in the world that don’t have running water, it was eye-opening for him.”  

This discovery influenced James’ first donation selection in 2019. At only age 4 at the time, he chose a waterless toilet for Water for People, a nonprofit that makes high-quality drinking water and sanitation accessible to all.   

Jewell’s past donations include a goat, which helped feed families internationally; and as a self-proclaimed artist, she donated an art kit through the nonprofit, A Precious Child, because she wants others to also experience the joy of art.  

This year, Jewell has decided on donating diapers because “we have a 1-year-old sister and I know how hard it is to not have diapers,” she said.  

The Giving Machines come to Denver  

The Giving Machines concept got started in 2017 in Salt Lake City, and by 2018, it had expanded to five cities and raised $2.3 million for charities.  

They came to Denver for the first time in 2019.  

Between 30,000-40,000 people visited Denver’s machine in 2019 and again in 2021. The physical machines were not available in 2020 because of the pandemic, but people were still able to donate online.  

Last year, Denverites alone purchased 17,000 donations from the Giving Machine, raising $475,786. These numbers ranked Denver at fifth out of 20 cities in donation totals.  

The Giving Machines continue to expand to cities across the U.S., and will be available in 28 cities this year. Because of growing demand nationally, Denver’s sole Giving Machine downtown will be the only one in Colorado for the foreseeable future. 

McIlroy attributes this success to community engagement supported by local organizations, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Denver Mayor’s Office.

Participating charities 

For the Denver Giving Machine, each year, five charities local to Denver and three international charities are selected by a committee composed of Mayor Hancock’s Faith Council and the Giving Machines’ Organizing Committee.  

This year, the five local charities are: Metro Caring; A Precious Child, which empowers children in need to achieve their full potential; Doctors Care, which improves health access for low-income individuals and families; Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, which builds strength, stability and self-reliance through affordable housing; and the Village Exchange Center, which serves immigrants and refugees through community connection. This year’s three international charities are Water for People; iDE Global, which creates livelihood opportunities for poor rural households; and Mentors International, which transforms generational poverty into sustainable self-reliance. 

The Giving Machine’s donations “make a difference in peoples’ lives,” said Bebe Kleinman, CEO of Doctors Care. “So many people are struggling in crisis, and getting services to lower-income populations is a wonderful gift … provided by someone without expectation of acknowledgement. (It’s) pure generosity.”

The Jaussi family loves traditions, as well as serving others and giving back to the community, Heather Jaussi said. 

“The great thing about Giving Machines is it doesn’t matter your background, your faith or religion,” Heather Jaussi said. “Everyone can come together to give back, and I think that’s what our society needs most of all.”  

James and Jewell Jaussi smile give a thumb’s up in front of Denver’s Light the World Giving Machine last year. Courtesy photo