Here’s How to Volunteer in DC This Holiday Season

Mentor kids, walk dogs, and clean up your parks.

A global pandemic and widespread racial injustices have devastated millions of Americans this year. Many of us want to help others in need this holiday season but don’t know where to begin. We’ve rounded up nearly two dozen nonprofits who need our help feeding the hungry, supporting Black lives, aiding foster kids, and more. Many charities have volunteer programs that can be completed at home or have implemented safety measures in light of COVID-19 so you can feel comfortable lending a hand.

Help feed the city’s hungry 

One of the most popular ways to give back during the holiday season is to buy groceries or deliver hot meals to those who need it. And due to the coronavirus pandemic, the need is even greater this year. Nonprofits feeding the hungry need volunteers to distribute food, sort and pack donated food items, work outside in a garden and cook meals. Many even have calendars that show available time slots and activities for which they need volunteers. Martha’s Table, So Others May Eat, the Capital Area Food Bank and Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen.

Help DC’s animals in shelters

Many animal relief groups have paused most volunteer efforts inside the shelter, but still need people who can post on social media, assist with administrative tasks, and distribute pet food. Help out Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, the Humane Rescue Alliance, City Dogs Rescue and City Kitties, DC Paws RescueThe Humane Society of the United States lists many volunteer opportunities that can be performed from home, including calling legislators and writing letters to the editor in support of animal rights.

Make a “big” difference with kids

School closures have left many kids without adequate mentoring and other support. Donate to or volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the National Capital Area. In addition to seeking mentors, the organization needs volunteers to help with fundraising, outreach and more.

Support victims of domestic violence 

The first domestic violence shelter in DC, My Sister’s Place provides emergency housing, hosts events, and helps survivors transition into new lives. While some volunteer activities have been suspended due to COVID-19, the nonprofit needs volunteers to cook and deliver meals, donate and move furniture to survivors’ new homes, fundraise and provide administrative support.

Offer career coaching to women in need 

While Dress For Success Washington DC, was known primarily for collecting donated professional attire to women in need, the nonprofit has put clothing donations on hold due to the pandemic. But it’s still providing career coaching to women, offering resume writing tips and job leads and needs volunteers to support these services.

Attend a virtual food festival

DC Central Kitchen, which provides culinary job training and community meals, has suspended its volunteer program due to COVID-19, but you can support it by purchasing a ticket to its virtual 2020 Capital Food Fight. Watch four chefs duke it out with their knives in this virtual cooking competition viewers can watch from home.

Support Black Lives Matter

The murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery sparked widespread protests around the country in support of black lives. If you haven’t already contributed to the cause, there’s still time to do so in 2020. Join the public Facebook group of the DC chapter of Black Lives Matter to respond to the latest request for volunteer opportunities, many of which can be performed from home. The needs range from copy editing to research and documenting police misconduct. 

Stand up for free speech and civil liberties

With more than 1.5 million members, the American Civil Liberties Union fights against police brutality, threats to free speech, and the mistreatment of immigrants, all of which have dominated the news over the last four years. The ACLU’s DC chapter needs volunteers to help secure voting and immigrant rights, reproductive freedom, protect free speech and more. Fill out this form to join the cause.

Support anti-racist practices and racial equity 

Anyone with a legal education or experience should reach out to the Baltimore Action Legal Team, which assists residents who protest against racial and economic injustice. The group seeks volunteers to staff the jail support hotline, observe court proceedings and serve as legal observers.

Help low-income communities get access to housing and education 

The United Way of Central Maryland and the United Way of the National Capital Area helps underserved residents become self-sufficient by addressing food, healthcare, housing and other basic needs. The site’s dedicated volunteer page lists the latest volunteer opportunities, which include running a book drive for a local hospital, cleaning up neighborhoods and distributing food and winter coats to families. The nonprofit also lists several ongoing virtual opportunities, including tutoring students, reading to the visually impaired and scanning and editing books. The United Way of the National Capital Area can also match volunteers with opportunities.

Help kids in the child welfare system 

CASA for Children of DC relies on volunteers to advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children in DC family court. And the need for youth advocacy is even greater now as COVID-19 has left vulnerable children more isolated. CASA volunteers visit with kids, gather information on a child’s life and document findings for court hearings to determine how to best help a child in need. Comfort Cases assembles care packages with blankets, stuffed animals, and pajamas to kids who enter foster care. The Rockville-based organization is limiting volunteers to small groups, but still needs volunteers to process donations, count inventory, and assemble the cases. They ask that volunteers bring a mask and wash their hands before the shift.

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Julekha Dash is a Maryland writer who covers food, travel and design with bylines in USA Today, American Way, Architectural Digest, Eater, Fodor's, and others. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram and check out her Contently portfolio