Thanksgiving

Here’s How to Volunteer in Atlanta This Holiday Season

Mentor kids, deliver food, and clean up your parks.

Although sensationalized by insane Black Friday sales, ugly sweater contests, unforgettable trips to visit family, and never ending conquests for the perfect gifts, the holidays are much more than a season of excess, shopping, and celebration. The closing months of the year can also be an opportunity to appreciate our safety and wellbeing, so in addition to all of the holiday hooblah, be sure to pay your good fortune forward by giving a helping hand to a fellow Atlantan who’s going through a hard time. Especially considering that we are still several months deep into a global pandemic, there are plenty of ways in which you can volunteer your time, money, and energy to help others. Online platforms like Hands on Atlanta and VolunteerMatch are great resources for finding ways to help out around the city, ITP and OTP, but those databases can be a bit overwhelming. If you need somewhere to start, any of the options below are perfect ways to give back a bit in Atlanta this holiday season.

Drive seniors to their medical appointments

Many seniors are unable to drive, so they look to their family and friends for transportation to the doctor’s office, the grocery store, and everywhere in between. With I CARE, safe and friendly drivers can volunteer the time, car, and gas to offer seniors free rides to their medical appointments. When volunteering with seniors, it’s incredibly important that you don’t put them at risk of catching COVID-19, so be sure to mask up and social distance even when you’re not volunteering. If you’re unable to safely serve as a driver, I CARE takes donations as well.

Care for Atlanta’s pianos

Across the city, you’ve probably seen one of Play Me Again Pianos’ colorful neighborhood installations that reflect Atlanta’s rich music scene. The public pianos, which are free for anyone to play, capture the city’s creative spirit, but they still need TLC every once in a while. With the threat of COVID-19, it’s especially important that these living artworks are cleaned and disinfected regularly. You can volunteer as a piano steward on a weekly basis and help maintain one of those beautiful creations and if you’d rather financially assist Play Me Again Pianos, they are accepting donations in the form of money, studio size vertical pianos, and storage space.
 

Support LGBTQ youth

Lost-N-Found Youth is an organization that has pledged to end homelessness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and all sexual minority youth. In addition to offering crisis support and transitional housing, LNFY operates a thrift store in which proceeds help fund their outreach efforts. All that is required of you to volunteer is that you pass a background check, and then you’ll be ready to pitch in with the street outreach team, at the youth center, or the thrift store. For a more socially distanced method of support, you can easily donate to LNFY through its website, which will help fund shelter, clothing, and food for homeless LGBTQ+ youth seeking refuge there.

Clean and refurbish used bikes

Imagining your childhood without riding bikes may seem foreign to many, but not all families can afford to supply their children with bicycles. That means that during the initial lockdowns at the start of quarantine this spring, several children were unable to go outside for a bike ride when that’s all that any of us really could do at the time. Enter Free Bikes 4 Kids ATL, a nonprofit whose sole purpose is to clean and refurbish used bikes and then donate them to kids in need. By volunteering to clean or work as a mechanic, you can boost FB4K’s forces leading up to their annual GiveAway Event and even help distribute bikes on the big day on Saturday, December 5.
 

Fight voter suppression

After making work and travel arrangements, the last experience anyone wants to have on election day is arriving at the polls and being informed that you’re ineligible to cast a ballot, but it can happen for a variety of reasons, some as simple as not possessing an accepted photo ID. Spread the Vote is dedicated to removing that obstacle from voting, and volunteers can help by doing tasks like providing transportation to the DMV or ordering birth certificates. As previously reported, Georgia’s critical runoff elections are looming over the horizon, so help make voting as simple as possible in January and beyond.
 

Go for a morning run to help homelessness

Or a jog. Or a walk. Your speed doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Back on My Feet needs volunteers to help support homeless people striving for independence. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, people battling homelessness and addiction gather for a run in an effort to set and work towards goals, strengthen physical and mental health, and build community. Volunteers can commit to running at least once a week or contribute in other ways like fundraising or working a water stop. Even during this pandemic, now is the best time to get involved with the organization because on Sunday, November 29, Back on My Feet Atlanta will be FundRacing during the 51st annual AJC Peachtree Road Race, so go ahead and rack up those miles.
 

Play soccer at a MARTA station

The new soccer fields at the East Point, Lindbergh, West End and Five Points MARTA stations aren’t just cool hangout spots. When you pay to play a game of pick-up or compete in the adult leagues, you’re actively contributing to Soccer in the Streets’ community betterment programs. Your fee helps kids play in urban soccer programs and funds the development of SITS’s expansion to MARTA stations across the city. Rules for participating in the ongoing adult soccer league have been adjusted to fit COVID-19 health and safety, so keep up with SITS’s Facebook page for updates.

Show some love to your local animal shelter

Even if you’re not considering adopting a pet anytime soon, there are still other ways to support your local animal shelter. Due to COVID-19, many animal shelters have been forced to not allow volunteers on-site because pooches can catch the coronavirus too. Luckily, shelters like Paws Atlanta have recently started accepting and training new volunteers, so don’t wait too long to apply to work as an administrative volunteer, animal transporter, cleaner/organizer, and much more. The no-kill shelter in Decatur is also selling a 2021 calendar to raise funds, and it comes complete with shots of some of Atlanta’s most adorable pets.
 

Provide healthcare equipment for people with disabilities

Friends of Disabled Adults and Children (FODAC) is a Stone Mountain-based organization whose goal is to give people with disabilities the health care equipment they need at little to no cost. If you have unused medical equipment like walkers, wheelchairs, or hospital beds, you can donate them to FODAC to be refurbished and distributed to those in need. As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, those that survive COVID-19 can still be left with long-term health conditions, so every donation is extremely valuable as we head into another cold season. For those who don’t have any medical equipment to give away, you can still support FODAC’s mission by shopping at their thrift store.
 

Teach English to non-native speakers

Those looking to learn English can enroll in LaAmistad’s English For Successful Living program, a volunteer-driven effort that provides affordable English instruction. Volunteers are trained by certified ESL professionals, but you don’t have to have any previous experience teaching to join the cause. As long as you’re a native or fluent English speaker over the age of 18 with a strong internet connection, willing to commit to a 10-week program, and excited about working with people from different cultures, you can help immigrants learn English in one of LaAmistad’s virtual classrooms.

Preserve the beauty of Piedmont Park

Piedmont Park, Midtown’s sprawling 185-acre green space, is one of the most gorgeous public places in the city. Piedmont Park was Atlanta’s certified go-to for escaping the confines of quarantine earlier this year, and with the possibility of future lockdowns in 2021, it’s up to us to make sure that it remains the clean, outdoor respite we’ve come to love. Volunteers can assist in its preservation in biweekly clean-up sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-11 am.
 

Empower victims of sex trafficking

Organizations like Wellspring Living are working hard to counter sex trafficking in Atlanta. Wellspring Living aims to offer transformative care for sex trafficking victims, and you can assist them by serving as a participant volunteer who interacts directly with program participants or as a retail volunteer who helps out at one of their upscale resale stores.
 

Tutor kids with incarcerated parents

Parental incarceration disrupts family dynamics and can be detrimental to the children involved. For over three decades, Foreverfamily has been the torchbearer for strengthening family bonds affected by imprisonment, and its monthly family visitation program is crucial to its mission. Opportunities for volunteers to help with the visitation program have unfortunately been suspended due to COVID-19, but this holiday season, volunteers can serve as virtual tutors for participating children or create digital birthday cards for children and their caregivers.

Improve Atlanta’s environmental health

CHaRM, also known as the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials, is a facility on Hill Street that provides a one-stop-shop for people looking to discard their waste in a mindful fashion. Whether you’re trying to get rid of an old mattress or the half-full paint cans in your garage, CHaRM is the place to go, but there are still restrictions on what you can and can’t bring. Not much has changed in operations at CHaRM since the onset of the pandemic, but those interested in recycling at the Hill Street facility must make an appointment online in advance.
 

Reduce the financial burden of communication for troops deployed overseas

International calls can get expensive, and not even our military can avoid steep charges. That harsh reality inspired Brittany and Robbie Bergquist to start Cell Phones For Soldiers, a nonprofit that helps those serving in the military communicate with their loved ones without breaking the bank. You can help by recycling cell phones, both new and used, at the nearest drop-off location or by donating money for calling cards.

Build affordable, energy-efficient homes

Gentrification and affordable housing were already unyielding concerns for BIPOC Atlantans, and then 2020 rolled around and brought an even bigger threat to secure housing—COVID-19. Just as it has done in years past, Habitat for Humanity continues to fight displacement by responsibly revitalizing neighborhoods. Their homebuyer program gives first-time homebuyers the opportunity to build and buy an affordable, energy-efficient home in Atlanta with a 30-year, zero-interest mortgage. Register for one of Habitat for Humanity’s volunteer orientations, and you can take part in this affordable housing initiative by actually helping build someone’s home.
 

Promote civil rights while protecting your health

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights sits right beside the World of Coca-Cola and has given tourists and Atlanta natives alike a better understanding of civil rights struggles in America and around the world since its opening in 2007. To help combat the spread of COVID-19, it made the valiant decision to keep its doors closed for most of 2020. Since September, the museum has reverted back to “normal” operations with new health and safety guidelines, but it could still use some financial support after such a long hiatus. If you’re passionate about civil rights, shop the National Center for Civil and Human Rights’ groovy assortment of face masks. Protect your health and the public’s social consciousness.
 

Answer questions about HIV/AIDS

At AID Atlanta, sharing knowledge is also a form of service. The organization combats the spread of HIV infection with educational programs, a confidential hotline, free HIV and STI tests, and HIV/AIDS-related care. AID Atlanta invites volunteers to the AIDS 101 Awareness and Action seminar so they can be informed in and give appropriate service when volunteering. After completing the training, you can answer calls to the Georgia AIDS & STD Infoline, assist with AIDS 101 seminars, and participate in AID Atlanta’s community outreach programs.
 

Keep impaired drivers off the road

SafeRide America recognizes the need to keep impaired drivers off the road, whether that concerns drunk drivers or drivers with temporary disabilities, and they have created a system that gets them and their vehicle home safely. Monetary donations allow SafeRide to offer rides to impaired drivers who can’t afford travel fare, making the roads a little safer over one of the busiest times of the year. This year has been heartbreaking enough—your contribution can help prevent families from enduring an utterly devastating holiday season.

Donate to a city-wide rent fund

Unless you were able to stretch—or flip—that $1200 stimulus check into multiple rent payments, you’ve likely struggled to pay rent this year if your job was heavily affected by Atlanta’s COVID-19 response. If you’ve been financially solid throughout all of the madness, you’re unequivocally fortunate, so consider donating what you can to the Gateway Center, who has been offering emergency rental assistance to Atlanta residents throughout the pandemic.

Pump nutritional resources into one of Atlanta’s food deserts

The financial hardships from the ongoing pandemic have made communities in food deserts, like the Westside one that PAWKids serves, suffer even more this year. The Killer Mike-backed and LaTonya Johnston-led nonprofit enrichment program services residents of Grove Park with basic food supplies, toiletries, and hygiene products. To contribute to PAWKids’ cause remotely, you can donate money, gift cards, snacks, pre-cooked meals, and other much-needed household items.

Help Atlanta fight COVID-19

One profession that deserves an insurmountable amount of praise for its work throughout 2020 is the brave group of frontline health care workers who have combatted COVID-19 firsthand. Simply expressing appreciation or buying meals for them—many of whom may be working with underlying health conditions themselves—can help keep Atlanta’s heroes going strong. Emory University held a highly successful digital fundraising campaign to feed frontline workers earlier this summer, and now it is raising funds to better equip them to continue to fight against the coronavirus, advance research efforts, and increase Atlanta’s access to testing.

Volunteer at the Funk Heritage Center

About an hour outside of Atlanta is the Funk Heritage Center at Reinhardt University, which tells the story of early Appalachian settlers and Southeastern Indians through education and exhibitions of art and artifacts. You can, of course, visit and donate to the center but there are also volunteer opportunities for people who would like to docent, help with administrative work, or even assist with maintaining the Lou Reeta Barton Northcutt Walking Trail and Native Garden.

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Joshua Robinson is an Atlanta-based contributor for Thrillist who thinks we should all take some time this holiday season for community uplift. Follow him on Twitter @roshjobin.