RE: Has anyone heard of an organization that donates car seats?
I was familiar with western PA while I lived out there.
Many of the car seat check places (places where a citizen can go to get their seat checked for a child) are run through safe kids, and they do typically have a fair amount of seats that have been granted (given for free) that they give if someone has an inappropriate, recalled, or otherwise unusable car seat.
They don’t advertise that they donate or give away seats, but if you find a car seat check in your area (on the safe kids website, there is a button on the right that says something about ‘events in your area’, and go to the event, talk with one of the CPS-Techs and they should be able to get you squared away with what you need.
(additionally, and this belongs someplace entirely different – from working with SAFE KIDS and NHTSA I have a handful of car seats, newer models, never used in a moving vehicle, used for classroom and demonstrations. For nothing asides the cost of shipping, we can discuss what kind of seat would be best for you and get one [if its in my collection] to you)
Additionally, be extremely wary of any second-hand car seat, because the safety seats do expire (there’s a date on them that someone in the know can educate you on), the plastic can degrade over time. They can be recalled and the owner may or may not know about it. Small impacts can cause the seat to fail in the event of a serious impact, and nothing is worth more than the safety of your little one.
Two other places to contact: Your local hospital (especially a maternity or children’s hospital), and your local police/sheriff/state police department. Out east, some ambulance departments and fire departments know where to find car seats when needed.