Here's How to Volunteer in Miami This Holiday Season

Teach English, hang with cats, and get food to those who need it.

Volunteers at Feeding South Florida
Feeding South Florida | Feeding South Florida
Feeding South Florida | Feeding South Florida

We all know that there’s no “I” in team, but there are two in Miami. And while our general local disposition can sometimes skew a little selfish, let’s face it: If we don’t keep our beaches clean, it’s going to put a serious cramp in our boat selfie game. Also, it’s the holiday season right now, which means we’re supposed to be focused more on giving than receiving. With that in mind, there are plenty of ways to get your hands a little dirty with the totally selfless goal of helping the local community around South Florida. From teaching English and sorting food to hanging with cats, here are the best ways to lend a hand around South Florida this holiday season

Volunteers at Food Rescue US - South Florida
Food Rescue US - South Florida | Food Rescue US - South Florida

Rescue food to help feed those who need it

Ever wonder what happens to all the leftover food at grocery stores or big events? Fortunately, in Miami it doesn’t all go to waste—that’s where Food Rescue US South Florida comes in. This local nonprofit’s mission is to reduce food waste, feed the food insecure, and help the environment by keeping edible food from decomposing in landfills, where it ferments into harmful, planet-warming methane gas. Want to help? All you have to do is sign up and download the Food Rescue app where you’ll be able to select pre-coordinated pickups from local markets, restaurants, and hotels, and deliver them to local shelters and food pantries. Most rescues take less than an hour door to door and can be scheduled at volunteer's convenience. Volunteers are also needed for the Food Rescue US monthly food distributions in local underserved areas and for the large-scale food rescues during events like Dolphins games, SOBEWFF, and Formula 1. Got questions? Email their Site Director, Ellen Bowen, for more information at ellen@foodrescue.us.

Take part in a Volunteer Eco Action Day

On December 18, an Eco Action Day is taking place at Castellow Hammock Park & Preserve. Volunteers and Miami-Dade County naturalists will work together to help protect and restore natural areas at the nature centers around the park. Tasks may include gathering data, garbage collection, light landscaping, cleaning of animal enclosures, invasive plant removal, and assisting with animal care. Register to join here.

Entrance to Miami Beach Botanical Garden
Miami Beach Botanical Garden | Miami Beach Botanical Garden

Learn about bees while participating in an apiary cleanup

Join beekeepers, Daniel Calzadilla and Riki Bonnema, for a morning with the bees on Saturday, December 17 at Miami Beach Botanical Garden. Start off the morning with a little discussion about beekeeping and gardening for pollinators and then you’ll get to help clear the apiary of any debris and weeds. You may mulch walkways and help with any other garden work that’s needed to keep the bee area beautiful and healthy. It’s recommended that you wear comfortable clothing you don’t mind getting dirty and closed-toed shoes, and note this volunteer activity will include kneeling, standing, and other physical movements. Learn more here.

Volunteers with The Refugee Assistance Alliance
The Refugee Assistance Alliance | The Refugee Assistance Alliance

Volunteer to teach English to refugees

The Refugee Assistance Alliance is looking for experienced English language teachers to help newly settled adult refugees in South Florida improve their English skills, so that they are able to become self-sufficient and comfortable in their new communities. Volunteer teachers will meet with their students twice a week for up to an hour either in person or over Zoom. You’ll have the freedom to share your availability before being matched with your student. It’s a commitment of at least 12 weeks and teachers from all over the world are welcome to participate. Learn more about the program here.
 

Photo courtesy of Wonder Paws Rescue

Wonder Paws—an animal adoption organization started by a female restaurateur and her daughter—just opened a sparkling new headquarters on Federal Highway in Ft. Lauderdale. And with the new facility comes a big need for volunteers to aid in their mission of placing stray cats and dogs in loving homes. Part of the building is a Cat Café, where humans can cuddle with kittens they might want to adopt. There’s also a volunteer HQ, alongside a retail space where you can buy (or help sell) pet apparel, leashes, and more.

Florence Fuller Child Development Centers
Florence Fuller Child Development Centers

The Fuller Center in Boca Raton aims to provide holistic education for children up to five years old, plus after-school programs and day camps for kids already in school. For teenagers, the center also offers a skills-learning program ranging from project development to basic work aptitudes. Sign up to tutor a younger child in essential subjects, or act as a mentor and role model for teens, teaching them what they’ll need to succeed in the real world.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade
Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade

The Boys and Girls Club of Miami-Dade is once again accepting volunteers after their COVID-era freeze. Right now, they’re seeking people who can help coach and facilitate after-school sports programs in both basketball and football as well as those who have experience with robotics to help with their hands-on STEM/Robotics programs.

Friends of Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
Friends of Hugh Taylor Birch State Park

North of all the madness on Lauderdale Beach you’ll find the serene wilderness of Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, a swath of seaside nature so rare and valuable it has an entire non-profit devoted to keeping it pristine. The Friends of Birch State Park offer plenty of ways for you to help their mission, whether it's clearing dead brush from the island in the middle of its picturesque lake or cleaning out nature cabins so youth organizations can use them for environmental education. You can even spend the day driving a tram around the park, shuttling other volunteers and breathing in the spectacular scenery.

The Surfrider Foundation is best known for its frequent beach clean-ups and dune restorations, but the ocean conservation organization does other important action items, too, and those lesser-known programs need volunteers to grow. The Blue Water Task Force will see you and your group traveling to new locations each week, gathering water samples so they can be tested to determine where resources should be focused. Surfrider also maintains the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program, where volunteers can approach their favorite restaurants and persuade them to get onboard with more ocean-friendly practices. If your office or organization wants to make giving back a group event, sign up for a Surfrider Experience Day, where the whole crew can clean the beach or restore dunes together. Contact volunteercoordinator@miami.surfrider.org for more info.

Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science

Embrace your inner science nerd by volunteering at Frost Science Museum

Perhaps you’ve been to Frost Science Museum and were in awe with the jellyfish aquarium or the massive apiary. The experience doesn’t have to stop there, as the museum is always looking for volunteers. With volunteer opportunities for everyone from teenagers to retirees, this museum could use your assistance by being a citizen scientist, helping to remove invasive species, or working behind the scenes to assist in preparing food for the museum’s animals. Discover more about what they are looking for here.

Feeding South Florida
Feeding South Florida

Though many of us look forward to the uncomfortably large portions of food that so often dominate our holiday dinners, many Floridians aren’t so lucky. Help less fortunate families by volunteering with the world’s second-largest food bank. Feeding South Florida has all kinds of ways to pitch in, including spending a day at its massive warehouse, where you and your group will get acquainted with FSF and its mission before moving on to inspect and sort donations bound for those who need it most.

Humane Society of Greater Miami
Humane Society of Greater Miami

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.

Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park

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.