Events

How to Volunteer in DC This Holiday Season

When you sit down to write out a list of gifts for friends and family, don’t forget other ways you can contribute this holiday season. Sure, giving back could mean donating to a food pantry or picking up an extra coat or toy for someone who needs it, but there are plenty of ways to really get involved through volunteering your time this holiday season. Whether you’re looking for something to do on your own or make it a group effort, these DC organizations have an opportunity that will warm your heart and help the community.

Serve the city’s hungry for the holidays

One of the most popular ways to give back during the holiday season is to serve hot meals to those who need it. In DC, there are plenty of opportunities to do that on and around Thanksgiving at organizations like Martha’s Table, Miriam’s Kitchen, So Others May Eat, and more. But remember, these organizations often get the most support during the holidays, so be sure to check back to support them year-round.

If you’d rather be behind the scenes while fighting hunger

You don’t have to be in the kitchen serving food to help prevent hunger in DC. The Capital Area Food Bank is the District’s largest of its kind, and it needs volunteers to help sort and pack food, work in the organization’s garden, and distribute free produce at farmers’ markets.

For those who rave about all of the city’s farmers’ markets

You can always donate to FRESHFARM, the organization that runs most of DC’s farmers’ markets, but you could also volunteer at your local market (most of which run all year long). At the markets around DC, Maryland, and Virginia, volunteers help run operations and educate shoppers. Not only are you helping to promote shopping local, but you’re directly helping local farmers during difficult winter months because these markets are producer-only.

A volunteer experience you can only get in DC

If you’re a DC resident, chances are you don’t spend too much time on the National Mall. It’s full of tourists and there are very few good spots to eat. But it’s worth the trip when you’re there to volunteer by cleaning up the grounds or giving tours of monuments. Whether you want to head out on your own or wrangle up other Washingtonians for a group activity, there’s a way you can help out with the National Parks Service.

For the readers 

Whether you want to bury yourself in the shelves or work with your neighbors to teach computer skills, there’s an opportunity to volunteer at DC Public Libraries all across the city.

And for the National Treasure enthusiast

If you want to take it up a notch, opt to volunteer at the largest library in the world. You can work as a tour guide to great guests and fill them in on all the library has to offer -- and maybe even sneak in a National Treasure reference or two. If you want to get involved at the library from the comfort of your own home, check out the library’s online transcription project.

Help DC’s animals in shelters

If your DC apartment is too tiny for a furry friend, volunteering with animals could be the perfect solution. Organizations like Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, the Humane Rescue Alliance, City Dogs Rescue and City Kitties, DC Paws Rescue, and more shelters around the DMV offer opportunities to volunteer in the shelter, foster animals, or donate money or supplies.

Take a child under your wing and make a “big” difference

Whether you are actually a big brother or big sister isn’t a prerequisite for this program. But if you want to prove you’re an amazing role model, Big Brothers Big Sisters could be the perfect fit. The organization pairs volunteers with high-risk kids so they can provide mentorship, encourage higher aspirations, boost confidence, and promote educational success.

Get your pom-poms ready and inspire kids

Girls on the Run encourages young girls to lace up their sneakers and hit the road to be healthier and more confident. If that sounds like something you can get behind, you can volunteer as a coach to cheer on a team of your own all year long or spend a day volunteering at events like an annual 5K run, a sneaker fitting day, and more.

Plan activities for DC’s homeless children

As a volunteer for the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, you’ll be placed in a homeless shelter around DC where you’ll plan weekly activities for children. Whether you’re into arts and crafts or playing games, you’ll have a chance to plan fun activities and hang out with some great kids.

Provide support for those experiencing domestic violence

My Sister’s Place was the first domestic violence shelter in DC, and it continues to help survivors. They provide emergency shelter, host events, and help survivors transition into new housing. As a volunteer, you can host activities for women and children, man the front desk and welcome people into the space, prepare dinner, or work on the various fundraising projects My Sister’s Place does every year.

Put your style to good use

If you’re a makeup artist, fashion stylist, or just your average shopaholic, you can put your skills to good use with Dress For Success. The organization collects gently-used professional clothes and gives them to women in need so they are confident to join the workforce and gain financial independence, and as a volunteer you can sort donations, style clients, or teach makeup classes on how to apply makeup that is appropriate for the workplace.

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Liz Provencher is an editorial assistant and a former DC dweller. You can email her or follow her on Twitter.