Here’s How to Volunteer in DC This Spring

From Chesapeake Bay clean-ups for Earth Day to food pantries and animal shelters, there are plenty of ways to lend a hand.

If there’s a civically-minded city in the United States, it is undoubtedly our nation’s capital. Whether you’re looking to donate time or resources to causes that will promote racial equity, in search of causes that will allow you to spend more time in the great outdoors for Earth Day and beyond, or feeling passionate about supporting emergency food and critical supplies donations, there are plenty of ways to organize and participate in volunteer activities.

There are countless organizations seeking willing and eager volunteers to donate their time and effort, so to help you find a cause (or causes) that match your interests and skill set, we’ve rounded up a list of worthy opportunities for you to explore.

Rock Creek Conservancy
Rock Creek Conservancy

Get outside and do good

Pandemic or not, nature has more than persisted—it has thrived. And it's up to us to ensure that trend continues. If you’re looking to spend more time on the National Mall during the warmer months, you can volunteer with the National Park Service. Or, if that sounds a little too crowded for your liking, take an adoptable four-legged friend out for a run by volunteering with the People and Animal Cardio Klub.

For those tired of living in a concrete jungle, lean into preserving nature all around us. Casey Trees is a great organization dedicated to increasing the number of trees in the area and they could use your help. Team up with The Chesapeake Bay Foundation by learning how to reduce your impact on the Bay using the footprint calculator or mark your calendars for the upcoming Bands in the Sand fundraising concert. Smaller waterway preservation organizations also offer great options for stewardship. Potomac Conservancy has plenty of events that you can sign up for as fits your schedule. Rock Creek Conservancy also maintains an active calendar with opportunities for you to get involved.

Chesapeake Climate Action Network also has advice for how to continue your activism right now—including writing to your representatives; taking part in DC, Maryland, and Virginia-specific campaigns; or attending rallies to fight climate change. Sign up via the survey to offer your support on actions like organizing CCAN members or writing letters to the editor.

United Way of Central Maryland
United Way of Central Maryland

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 opportunities, which range from food drives to community house cleanups. You can also check out family-friendly events to help instill a love for community activism in the youngest members of your clan.

You could also volunteer with venerated Northstar Tutoring, which has been providing free tutoring services to kids in the DC area for decades. You can donate, volunteer, or even enroll your own student for some extra outside-the-classroom learning opportunities.

Eat out for a good cause

Who knew that eating a meal at one of DC’s best restaurants could also mean giving back? Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate works to promote racial justice and equity through food and founders Tim Ma and Kevin Tien have teamed up with dozens of chefs across the DMV, including Yuan Tang of Rooster and Owl, Jong Son of Tiger Fork, Kristen Essig of Dauphine's, Annie Coleman of Tail Up Goat & Reveler's Hour, and Nikkie Rodriguez of La Bodega, just to name a few. You can support Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate and nonprofits dedicated to addressing racism of all sorts by donating directly to the nonprofit, or attending one of the many food-centric events that the team hosts throughout the year. Just keep an eye on the organization’s calendar and keep up your appetite.

Sanctuary DMV
Sanctuary DMV

Support anti-racist practices and racial equity

If you’re striving to make the world around you a little more just, there’s no shortage of organizations that need your support. You could donate to the DC chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals, a nonprofit that cultivates, supports, and promotes Asian American leaders. To learn from one of the longest-standing nonprofits in this space, look into the DC-based Organization of Chinese Americans, founded in 1973, that includes more than 50 chapters and affiliates around the country to empower the next generation of AAPI leaders.

And because neither oppression nor its solution can exist without intersectionality, be sure to continue to support other equity organizations. For example, the Black Lives Matter DC chapter has been tirelessly speaking out against injustice for years, and the organizers are seeking support in the form of supplies for protestors and legal funds. Sign up online to stay plugged in about ongoing opportunities to bring about change.

Ayuda provides legal, social, and language services to low-income immigrants to help navigate the immigration and justice systems and access the social safety net. Similarly, Sanctuary DMV invites volunteers to join their community campaign in support of inclusive neighborhoods by calling your representatives and displaying the sanctuary logo in your home, among other opportunities. 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.

United Way of Central Maryland
United Way of Central Maryland

Help feed the city’s hungry

Buying groceries or delivering hot meals to those who need it is a popular way to give back around the holidays. But these organizations need support all year. Nonprofits like Martha’s Table, So Others May Eat, the Capital Area Food Bank, Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen, and many more 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. If you’re looking to get more involved in the actual gardening aspect, check out Cultivate the City, where you can learn how to develop your own green thumb as a volunteer.

Support survivors 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. The nonprofit needs volunteers to cook and deliver meals, donate and move furniture to survivors’ new homes, fundraise, and provide administrative support.

Calvary Women’s Services is another wonderful organization to support, with programs designed for women who are survivors of violence and trauma, are living with mental illness, or are in recovery from substance abuse.

Offer career coaching to women in need

While Dress For Success Washington DC is known primarily for collecting donated professional attire to women in need, the organization also provides fabulous career coaching to women. The team also offers resume writing tips and job leads, and is always in search of volunteers to support these services.

Humane Rescue Alliance
Courtesy of Humane Rescue Alliance

Help DC’s animals in shelters

There are few things better than spending a weekend or afternoon with a fuzzy friend, and thankfully, there are plenty of animal shelters that need your assistance. Help out Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, the Humane Rescue Alliance, City Dogs Rescue and City Kitties, and DC Paws Rescue with their various efforts (which are particularly pronounced during kitten and puppy season). If you’d rather participate virtually, The Humane Society of the United States lists many volunteer opportunities that can be performed from home, including calling legislators and writing letters in support of animal rights.

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 unfortunately dominated the news in recent 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.

Help all generations

For those who are good with kids or like to lend a hand to older neighbors in need, there are a number of ways to give back. CASA for Children of DC relies on volunteers to advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children in DC family court. 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 also needs volunteers to process donations, count inventory, and assemble the cases. The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project invites volunteers to participate in safe and fun play spaces, where they can give children some much needed playtime and mentorship. On the other hand, if you’d like to help out the senior citizens of the DMV, spend some time with We Are Family DC, which needs volunteers to deliver groceries to our older neighbors.

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Elsie Yang is a contributor for Thrillist. Follow her on Instagram.