Here’s How to Volunteer in DC This Spring

Earth Day opportunities and more.

As the cold recedes and the fight to control the COVID-19 pandemic continues to show progress, DC is finally beginning to look and feel like its old self. But as we move forward to a new normal, we’re still looking for ways to give back. 

Recent headlines may catalyze you to donate to causes that will stop hatred and violence against Asians, or the warming weather may encourage you to find causes that will allow you to spend time outside. Of course, there is an ongoing need to support emergency food and donations of critical supplies, as well as plenty of ways to virtually organize and participate in online activism. 

Whether you want to pitch in from home or you’re willing to safely venture out to lend a hand, there are countless organizations seeking helpers, so we’ve rounded up a list of worthy causes where you can donate your time or resources.

Get outside and do good

Nature has done quite well even in the face of the pandemic, 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 of us tired of living in a concrete jungle, Casey Trees is a great organization dedicated to increasing the number of trees in the area.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been inviting folks to bring the Bay home with webinars, educational videos, and coloring pages. You can get involved by learning how to reduce your impact on the Bay using the Bay footprint calculator or join their virtual fundraiser to Walk the Watershed.

Smaller waterway preservation organizations also offer great options for socially distant stewardship. Potomac Conservancy is hosting virtual gatherings for volunteers. Anacostia Riverkeeper has virtual trainings and cleanups to help you become a volunteer water-quality scientist. Rock Creek Conservancy suggests doing a solo trash cleanup or removing English ivy from your property and planting native species in its place.

Chesapeake Climate Action Network also has advice for how to continue your activism right now—including writing to your representatives, taking part in the Digital Climate Strike, or attending a training to build skills to be a better volunteer. Sign up via the survey to offer your support on actions like organizing CCAN members or writing letters to the editor.

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 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.

Order takeout for a good cause 

Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate is looking to promote racial justice and equity through food. 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 ordering one of the team’s weekly to-go meals via Tock.

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 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. While the organization’s physical offices are closed, volunteers are still needed  for teleworking tasks such as translation and pro bono legal representation. 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.

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 feed the city’s hungry 

One of the most popular ways to give back during any 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. Check out Martha’s Table, So Others May Eat, the Capital Area Food Bank, Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen, and more for opportunities to lend a hand.

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 it needs volunteers to support these services.

Help DC’s animals in shelters

Many animal relief groups have paused most volunteer efforts inside shelters, 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, and DC Paws Rescue. 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.

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 it needs volunteers to support these services.

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 in recent months and 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

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. 

The Homless 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.
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