Events

How to Volunteer in the Twin Cities This Holiday Season

During the season of gratitude and giving, is there any better time of year to consider giving back to your community? Many organizations struggle to advertise when they need help, especially when funding is limited. To help connect the dots, we have rounded up plenty of options for causes around the Twin Cities that can use your helping hands now, or at any time of year, to build a better community. If you still can’t find anything on this list that calls to you, head to Hands on Twin Cities or Volunteer Match to search from hundreds of other opportunities.

For those concerned about homelessness and surviving the cold weather

Homelessness is a growing epidemic in the Twin Cities. AEON is one of the best organizations working to solve this problem by preserving and building affordable housing for communities in transition from experiencing homelessness, and nearly 95% of donations go to support operations. PRISM provides holistic services, healthy food, and weather appropriate clothing. Elim Lutheran Church opens cold shelters this time of year,. Bridging provides necessary housing items for people transitioning out of homelessness. If you’d rather volunteer directly in a shelter, reach out to St. Stephen’s, People Serving People, or Simpson Housing Services.

For those passionate about helping the elderly 

One of the most overlooked communities year-round is the elderly. Little Brother partners younger volunteers with older folks to help them find and enjoy social engagement. Neighbors Inc. provides gift assistance for seniors who may not be able to exchange gifts with friends and family. Other great organizations include MN Seniors, Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, and Volunteers of America Minnesota and Wisconsin, all of whom find people to visit less mobile elderly in senior homes. If you’d rather fly solo, simply stop by the nearest senior center to you to share your gifts; musical performances are especially appreciated.

For those passionate about food justice and feeding the hungry

One in eight children in Minnesota is at risk of experiencing chronic hunger. Second Harvest Heartland connects food to people in need, providing more than 89 million meals and 32 million pounds of fresh produce to over half a million people in the state. Loaves and Fishes is another great option for group volunteer projects. The Sheridan Story generally focuses on packing meals for kids so they can eat over the weekend. Appetite for Change is a fantastic option for anyone focused on creating intersectional good, where you can help them educate students on urban farming and leadership, or work on-site in the restaurant incubator. Campus Kitchen is a model of food efficiency, repurposing leftover cafeteria food to provide over 1,000 meals each month to organizations around Minneapolis. And Open Arms Minnesota cooks and delivers nutritious foods to those suffering from life threatening illnesses.

For those passionate about education and literacy

Education is a field that is perennially looking for volunteers. From January through May, the Minnesota Urban Debate League is seeking some to judge debates between the 1,200 students they serve across Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Minnesota Historical Society hosts History Day every year at the University of Minnesota and you can be a judge of student research projects. The East Side Freedom Library houses non-circulating research collections and needs volunteers for educational programs. If you’re passionate about music, consider contacting the Walker West Music Academy, an innovative school that trains students of all ages in music of the African-American tradition. Urban Ventures always needs help with after-school programs and coaching opportunities. Give the gift of a lifelong love of reading through Reading Partners. Or consider going straight to the source and volunteering through Minneapolis Public Schools or St. Paul Public Schools.

For those concerned about current immigration policies

Few subjects are as heated right now as immigration and refugee resettlement. The International Institute of Minnesota needs ongoing help with a number of services for new arrivals to the U.S., including employment placement. The Minnesota Council of Churches provides similar services and has long been a trusted first point of contact. The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota always needs help providing free legal advice to those caught in between systems. Advocates for Human Rights needs volunteers in a similar capacity, but also offers opportunities for less technical roles like observing court proceedings. Contact the International Education Center to help teach English as a Second Language (ESL) programs.

For those dedicated to making this a happy holiday season

Events targeted towards the holidays are often the first time people get experience with hands-on volunteering. Through the end of November, Free Bikes 4 Kidz needs volunteers to clean and fix donated bikes for Christmas gifts. Operation Christmas Child or Toys for Tots are justifiably famous gift-giving charities that have robust local outposts. Interfaith Outreach is an inter-religious way to offer gifts, or Hospitality House Youth Development subsidizes the cost of holiday gifts so parents can shop for items their kids want. There’s the upcoming Not So Silent Night Holiday Market, which benefits YouthLink MN. Best of all is that many of the goods for sale benefit local causes and all are locally made, like Larissa Loden’s gorgeous jewelry company which donates 5% of all profits to support Cookie Cart.

For those who like to drink their beer and do good, too

One of the coolest trends in the rise of our urban breweries is the vast amount of community engagement they have spurred. Finnegan’s is the one that started it all, donating profits from every beer sold since its 2000 inception to community organizations and hosting ongoing Community Action Nights and Reverse Food Truck events. One of Minnesota’s most famous breweries, Surly has ongoing events ranging from blood drives to food deliveries through its program Surly Gives A Damn. Dangerous Man Brewing has a similarly robust program that hosts events all year; it’s an approachably low-key involvement that allows volunteers to show up as they’re available via their email list. For the more physically active, the Brewery Running Series raises funds for local organizations, lets you run a short race, and gives you free beer privilege (we call that a win-win-win).

For those who want to support diverse communities

As governmental aid for immigrant and refugee communities continues to dwindle, organizations servicing such groups need more help than ever. For the East African community, consider the African Development Center, which includes a bank, community center, and educational classes on finance and business. The SEAD Project helps the Southeast Asian diaspora and also has a satellite office in Laos. And there are a host of groups working with the local Latin American community: Consider La Oportunidad, which hosts youth and literacy programs; CLUES, helping with food distribution, ESL teaching and mentorship; or the Latino Economic Development Center, which hosts several key fundraisers throughout the year to provide vital scholarship money to Latino students.

For those concerned about climate change

If you’re more of an outdoorsy type, consider working with local environmental causes. Start with the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, which has a list of environmentally-focused organizations seeking volunteers. Help keep local green spaces fresh by volunteering with the Minneapolis Parks Organization or Hennepin County. The Women’s Environmental Network has a host of ways to get involved in environmental causes with a group of like-minded ladies. For larger scope projects, the Minnesota DNR is always looking for people to help clear trails, gather seeds, and identify species. A more low-key way to help out is through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which has several ideas that citizens can implement on their own. If giving back is a more a resolution for 2020, reach out to Great River Greening, which hosts targeted restoration events every spring and fall at sites around the Twin Cities.

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Becki Iverson is a Thrillist writer and is passionate about supporting local causes and has volunteered for more than 10 years for dozens of projects around the Twin Cities. You can follow her wide-ranging passions on her blog, Compendium, or via Instagram or Facebook.