The holiday season has arrived. Many families are looking forward to spending quality time with family, spreading joy and sharing Christmas gifts. But, the time of year can be difficult for those separated from their loved ones, especially for the hundreds of West Michigan children in living in foster care.

"Holidays are a reminder of separation from families, for that reason, we try to make the holiday season extra special for our children, ensuring that they feel love and comfort during this joyful, but difficult time," said Kylene Dalton-Koons LMSW, the director of residential services for D.A. Blodgett - St. John's.

The organization serves roughly 1,000 children in Kent County. They are all in the foster care system because they've been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Eighty of those children, ages 6 to 18, live in the 'on-campus' residential program. Each year, DABSJ employees work to collect presents and make the holidays as merry as possible.

"We really want to create some excitement around Christmas and give them the joy the holiday brings," said Dalton-Koons. "We reach out to our community to help provide these gifts for the kids. Every kid gets to fill out a personalized wish list. So many things in our kids' lives are beyond their control. We want them to be able to say, "this is who I am," "this is what I like to do," and express that. We have donors that really support us in giving what we need. We would like to give these kids an opportunity to talk about what they want."

Some items on those wish lists include: twin bedding, Target or Meijer gift cards, M[P3 players and headphones. Dalton-Koons says the goal is to make Christmas morning as special as it can be.

"We want kids to experience just what it would be like in your family. We send kids to bed early the night before, so Santa can come. We have things baking in the oven the morning of Christmas. We have stockings, open presents and have a Christmas meal, just like we would in any other family would," she said. "They are excited. They love it, They're joyful and I've heard them say 'it's the best Christmas ever.'"

She says those who want to give, but who find their hearts bigger than their budgets, can do so in other ways.

People can donate their time through volunteering and mentoring. Dalton-Koons said they are also in desperate need for foster families.

Those interested in contributing can do so by calling 616-451-2021 for specific gift ideas, or drop off donations to 2355 Knapp St NE or 805 Leonard St NE in Grand Rapids.

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