Thanksgiving

Here's How to Volunteer in Miami This Holiday Season

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

Nobody’s ever accused the good people of South Florida as being “great models of humanitarianism.” Or, even, “people I would trust to watch my car without stealing it.” But that rap is not entirely deserved, and especially this time of year a great many of us in Miami are looking for ways to help our fellow South Floridians. This goes double in 2020, when so many have hurt so much, and volunteering our time seems extra important. But sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, so we’re helping the process along and showing you a number of spots around South Florida where your help would be absolutely welcomed.

MUVE yourself to help restore the environment

The Frost Science Museum’s Museum Volunteers for the Environment (MUVE) have a socially distanced park restoration day slated for November 22. Groups of eight people at a time will work one hour shifts from 8 am to 1:30 pm at Virginia Key North Point Beach Park. Volunteers will be working to remove non-native vegetation and debris from the park, helping in some small part to bring the original landscape back to the island.

Fight food insecurity in South Florida

Feeding South Florida, our region’s leading domestic hunger relief organization, is offering two ways for volunteers to help out this holiday season. First, those with some time and organization skills can take part in FSF’s Thanksgiving Food Frenzy. During the frenzy, groups can earn points by running an in-person food drive, conducting a virtual food drive, volunteering in person at Feeding South Florida or Feeding Palm Beach County, and even promoting the program on social media. And the winners earn the title “Ultimate Thanksgiving Hero.” Those who may not have the bandwidth to compete can instead opt for the Adopt-A-Family program, where a $25 donation provides a Thanksgiving Box to families in need.

Find homes for unwanted pets at the Humane Society

Admit it: Cuddling  adorable cats and dogs barely seems like work. And at the Humane Society, you can volunteer to do said cuddling, or any other number of tasks that aid in the organization's goals of finding homes for stray pets.  Volunteers do everything from administrative tasks to walking dogs to planning events and community outreach. So, even if you’re not a pet person, the Humane Society has a volunteer role for you. But, honestly, once you see those little faces you’ll want to spend more time here than at home.

Help homeless families during the pandemic 

Homeless families have been hit especially hard by COVID-19, with children shut out from school meals and forced to find places to attend virtual school. The Lotus House, which has been helping homeless women and children since 2006, has worked especially hard to serve those who need it most during the pandemic. Volunteers now can do everything from helping kids with virtual school assignments to teaching college prep courses to serving hot meals for three hours a day. The Lotus House, however, is stressing it needs in-person volunteers who can commit to one day a week.

Be a big brothers or big sister

Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of the most time-honored ways of volunteering, where you act as a mentor and role model to kids born into unfortunate situations. In addition to the usual adventures and life lessons, this year during the pandemic Big Brothers Big Sisters has also developed a COVID-friendly distance learning program where you can teach kids from afar. 

Help build the Underline 

If you haven’t noticed the urban park and art space going up under the Metrorail tracks between Brickell and Dadeland, well, clearly you haven’t made the most of your traffic time on US-1. The new Underline aims to be Miami’s trademark green space by the time it’s completed, bringing bike lanes, fitness equipment, and public art to a city that’s neglected its parks for decades. Volunteers with the Underline offer their services doing everything from free yoga classes to pro bono legal work, all contributing their special skills to the project’s goal. 

Wrap gifts for United Way

In one of the lowest-impact volunteer opportunities in South Florida, United Way and Rosemary Square in West Palm Beach have teamed up to offer a gift wrapping station between Anthropoligie and Yeti in the square. All proceeds from the station—which features custom designed wrapping paper from artist in residence Sarah LaPierre—go to support the United Way. Volunteer groups will be limited to five people, with stanchions used to make sure everyone stays properly distanced. Oh, and you’ll need to be able to wrap with a mask on, too, because those are required.

Volunteer in the Everglades

There is no better way to get to know South Florida’s most unique landscaping than taking some time to volunteer in Everglades National Park. The Volunteer-in-Parks program allows you to do anything from working directly with park rangers to taking part in complex restoration projects. The program is one of the best in all the national parks, earning the coveted George P. Hartzog Award for going above and beyond to increase awareness. Volunteering is especially nice to do this time of year, when the Glades aren’t sweltering and the mosquito population is down.

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Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer for Thrillist. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.