GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The holiday season is the perfect time to give back to the community in a meaningful way. If you are overwhelmed by the thought of finding the perfect giving or volunteering opportunity, the Heart of West Michigan United Way can help lead the way.

Each year, the nonprofit releases the Holiday Giving and Volunteering Guide. The organization compiles a comprehensive list of numerous events, volunteer opportunities and more. 

Every year people want to give back. But, sometimes it's hard to know how, says Maribeth Groen, marketing manager for Heart of West Michigan United Way. "When you are doing Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping just take a look at our wish list and add one thing to your cart," she says.

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This is the 4th year the non-profit has held this campaign. Some examples of opportunities include helping elementary students shop at Santa Workshops, donating a holiday dinner to a family in need, or delivering gifts to seniors. Some of the food pantries and community centers have Christmas stores in which parents earn credit to purchase gifts for their children by volunteering at the center or at their child's school.

Jim Visser, the executive director for D.A. Blodgett - St. John's says his organization has been fortunate to benefit from this annual campaign. Last year, DABSJ was able to provide gifts to more than 500 children in foster care.

"Our focus is really on kids that have been abused and neglected here in Kent County," he said. "There are a variety of ways people can help us. That's with providing stocking-stuffers, like most kids often get. We also have needs for general gifts. So, clothing is an important part of that, but also blankets toys, board games and those kind of things. Really, most of the folks get matched directly with children so we can provide a wish list and clothing sizes and those kind of things."

Those interested can drop-off week all gift donations during "drop-off week" That is December 9-13. Donations can be dropped off at 805 Leonard St. Grand Rapids. People can also call DABSJ directly  at (616) 451-2021 or send an email.

"A lot of times we think about doing this during the holidays. But, 2 months from now and 6 months from now, these agencies are still going to be in need of help and donations," says Groen. "So, we really hope it inspires people to do more year-round."

She says volunteering is also a great way to teach kids that Christmas is about giving and not receiving.

Visit the Volunteer Center to find the right experience for you and your family this year.

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