The holidays are the perfect time of the year to gather the family and give back in the community.

With so many organizations, however, it can be difficult to find the perfect fit for your brood of budding volunteers. Northwest Indiana offers several opportunities that fit with a variety of interests, availability and goals.

Pat Huber, president and executive director of the Crown Point Community Foundation, suggests donating blood during the holidays. In fact, while blood donors are needed throughout the year, they often are most needed during the holidays when donations typically decline, yet the demand continues or increases.

Opportunity Enterprises

Liz Metts, development director with Opportunity Enterprises, says the organization is always looking for volunteers, and during the holiday season, its Simply Amazing Market is a great place.

The market, which features gifts and treats made by program participants, helps support programs that work to maximize self-sufficiency and enrich the quality of life for individuals with disabilities.

Northwest Indiana Cancer Kids

For those who want to raise money for an organization or give in lieu of gifts, the Northwest Indiana Cancer Kids Foundation (NICK) donates hundreds of dollars in gas cards every month to families traveling for treatment.

The organization, which provides support to families of children fighting cancer, uses donations for a wide variety of purposes—but all important in their own way, says Donna Criner, founder of the organization.

"We pay NIPSCO bills, we buy tires and brakes, and we just bought a new bed for a little 6-year-old who was sharing a twin bed," she says. "We buy diapers. So many things—whatever they need."

This season, NICK will spend about $8,000 distributing gift cards to help families buy gifts or other necessities during a time of year that can be difficult.

Family Food Donations

"Of course, there are various food pantries that need our support," Huber suggests as well. "Families should shop together and take the food to the food pantry together. It is a great way to teach and encourage children."

Emily Cutka, communications and special events manager at the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, says there are plenty of ways for everyone to get involved over the holidays. "Hosting a food and fund drive is a great way to get involved and support the food bank, and kids can get super creative and make posters or flyers to promote the drive," she says. "This is a great and simple way to bring people and communities together in the fight against hunger."

Families can also connect with local pantries and soup kitchens, which are staffed with volunteers and often looking for extra help. If looking for one in a particular area in the region, Cutka suggests visiting FoodBankNWI.org/get-help to search for a local agency.

Four-Legged Friends

For families that love animals, Stephanie Anderson of the Humane Society Calumet Area says volunteers are needed at the shelter on holidays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to help with cleaning.

"Families are welcome to come distribute toys, treats and blankets to shelter animals at our Christmas for the Animals event on Dec. 17 at 4:30 p.m.," she says.

"Donations of toys, treats and blankets for dogs, cats and rabbits are appreciated."

The rescue shelter also needs volunteer Santas for Santa photos Dec. 18 and 19 at Paws Resale Shoppe. "Santas commit to a two-hour shift taking pictures with kids and/or pets," Anderson says. "All proceeds from photos go to caring for animals living at HSCA."

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