A little more than five years ago, Lisa Tomasi had friends involved in Haitian earthquake relief efforts who were in need of supplies, but it proved difficult for her to send anything other than money.

Beata Becla, ThinkStock

She soon found the same problem existed for charities within the United States. That drove her to launch a website where people can now go to buy actual goods and send those, instead of money, to the causes of their choice.

YouGiveGoods (yougivegoods.com) is based in Chester and has a fulfillment center in North Brunswick. Tomasi said the goal of the site is to improve upon the normal donation or collection bin process for toy, food, school supply, or other drives by expanding them from a local to a statewide, nationwide, or even worldwide reach.

She said the average donation is somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 to $60 worth of items — a significantly higher per-donor value than most so-called "box drives" because in those cases, those who give are limited to just what they can physically carry.

"Around the holidays, it goes up much higher than that, probably closer to $80 or $90," Tomasi said. "Again, that's a lot more than people would drop in a donation box."

Visitors to the YouGiveGoods website have three basic options: to start their own drive, contribute to an already existing drive, or contact the organization for more information. Those who want to initiate a drive of their own must fill out some screening info, give the reason why they want to collect donations, and specify how broad they would like the cause's scope to be.

Most prominent on the site right now is a collection for victims of the recent wildfires in Tennessee, but local efforts include drives for homeless shelters in Newark and battered women's shelters across the Garden State.

"What we're doing is using technology to make those drives more efficient and have greater impact," Tomasi said. "It's a very busy time of the year. People would love to go volunteer, and I encourage them to do that, but sometimes time just doesn't make that easy."

She said that with her organization, donors don't have to worry about where their money is going; they will know how much they spent and what they spent it on, and will get receipts for everything.

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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