Thousands of shoppers plan on visiting stores, in the next few days, in search of Black Friday deals. And, it is a perfect time for The Heart of West Michigan United Way to kick off its Holiday Giving campaign.

"We like to say around here, 'turn Black Friday into Feel-Good Friday,'" says Maribeth Groen, the marketing manager for HWMUW. "If you are out taking advantage of those deals, just pick up extra items. It can be craft supplies or toys for kids of all ages. There are so many options. Just, pick up a few things and find your favorite non-profit to donate it to."

Groen describes the holiday season as the perfect time for charity, as people and families look for ways to volunteer or give back to their communities.

"It is a great chance. You know a lot of families are getting tired of their gift exchange and are looking to start a new tradition. So, maybe you can adopt a family and go out and shop together," said Groen.

"We asked the agencies out in the area, what is going on and what opportunities do you have. We have over 37 opportunities with 20 agencies, that can be found in our Holiday Giving Guide. Some of the volunteer opportunities include delivering gifts to Santa Claus, making meals for families at the Ronald McDonald House, helping out at the Secret Santa Workshop at elementary schools, which is a lot of fun."

One of the agencies the United Way has partnered with is Family Promise of Grand Rapids. Family Promise provides emergency shelter to families, with kids, who have become homeless.

"These families are at a point where they really have nothing," says Cheryl Schuck, executive director. "We try to still make the holidays fun for the kids and the families. We try to get them things they not only need but are fun for the kids. So, we have a great Christmas Store on December 8th and 9th that we provide for our families.

The Christmas Store gives parents the opportunity to personally pick out gifts for their children. Right now, the agency is in need of donations and volunteers to help sort the donations, as well as, help with the event.

"Our goal is to connect people. Our goal is to make community out of this. We all need each other to make this work and the holiday is the perfect time to figure that out for everyone," says Schuch. "Giving feels great and it easy. But, sometimes the receiving part is hard. We've seen families go through the Christmas store and come back the next year to help out and to donate and to give.

Family Promise is currently accepting donations of toys for kids of all ages and also small household items. United Way is also collecting new and gently winter gear now through December 1 as part of the Spread the Warmth collection drive. Groen says items can be dropped off at any West Michigan Art Van store or Habitat Restore location in Grand Rapids.

"I think with the business of the holidays, it is so easy to get stressed out and lose the meaning of Christmas. This kind of takes you back and make you think of what the true meaning of the holiday is," she said.

The United Way also has a Volunteer Center that can help match individuals or groups with a volunteer opportunities.

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