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Grand Rapids’ Christmas traditions of charity

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By Shelby Corliss

Photo by Shelby Corliss
The Salvation Army Angel tree located inside the Gerald R Ford Museum.

The Christmas season is a time that many spend with their families, sharing traditions, opening presents, and eating holiday meals. Families invest in a Christmas tree and make memories as they decorate it. Parents make sure there are enough cookies and milk for Santa when he comes to town. Children wake up to half eaten cookies and presents; smiles and laughter often fill the room. Snow falls, the smell of peppermint is in the air, and rooms become cozier as families come together. The holiday season is supposed to be the happiest time of the year. It’s a time to give and expect nothing in return. But not everyone has a Christmas tree, or presents to put underneath it. Not everyone has a family to spend time with during the holidays, or even a meal to eat. Fortunately, Grand Rapids has many opportunities for people to give back this holiday season.

Toys for Tots is a program started by the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve. Their goal is to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year, and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children in the community. There isn’t a list of gifts to donate, but items promoting violence will not be distributed. There are many Toys for Tots drop off locations around the city of Grand Rapids. Fore more information, go to www.grand-rapids-mi.toysfortots.org.

Angel Tree is a program sponsored by Salvation Army and Wood TV 8. Angel Tree matches donors with children from families unable to provide gifts and clothing to their children during the holidays. For many donors, the personal connection to a child in the community has become a special tradition. Many businesses around Grand Rapids are hosting a Christmas tree that people in the community can come and pick a card from with the age and gender of a child. From there, they can shop for the child and bring their donation back to the same tree they picked from. For more information, go to woodtv.com/community/angel-tree.

Santa Claus Girls is sponsored by the Grand Rapids Press. It has been the goal of the Santa Claus Girls to see that no child in Kent County is without a gift on Christmas morning. The charity takes care of children six months to 12 years of age. Each child is provided with one new piece of clothing, one new toy, a new book and hats and mittens. The total value of the gift is about $25. Buying is done throughout the year with funds contributed by generous newspaper readers during the year. Each contributor will have their name published in the paper. Their 2013 donation goal is $200,000 and has yet to be reached. For more information, go to santaclausgirls.org.

ESP Employee Group is collecting much needed items for the Grand Rapids Home for Veteran’s this holiday season. Items will be collected every Thursday until Dec. 19 and then given to the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans on Friday, Dec. 20. All drop off locations are on the Grand Rapids Community College campus, making it easy to donate. Needed items include: gift cards to fast food restaurants, personal toiletries, pencils and notebooks, new or gently used clothing size 2x or larger, and blankets. For drop off locations and more information, go to this webpage.

Degage Ministries, located at 144 Division Ave., is a Grand Rapids shelter dedicated to making sure that every man and woman they serve know they are not alone. Give back this holiday season by donating items or giving your time.
Degage Ministries has a Christmas Store that is seeking donations. Gifts should range in value from $5 to $25. Unwrapped donations can be dropped off until Dec. 9. Items needed include: children’s toys, books, games for all ages, backpacks, winter clothing and accessories, flashlights, batteries, pillows, blankets, towels and sheets, small appliances (coffee makers, toasters, blenders), jewelry, and wrapping paper.

Giving your time can be one of the greatest gifts of all. Degage Ministries has a need for individuals or groups to volunteer during the holidays. If you’re interested in serving over Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years, contact Bonnie Mulder, Volunteer Coordinator at 616-454-1661 ext. 212 or at bonnie@degageministries.org.

Give back this holiday season, whether it’s by donating your time, money, or handmade gifts. There are countless ways to get involved in your community this Christmas, so get out there and do something. From giving children gifts they can wake up to on Christmas morning, to helping and serving those less fortunate than you in a shelter. Try something new, be selfless, and make a difference. You won’t regret it.

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