Here's How to Volunteer in Nashville This Holiday Season
Plant trees, help frontline workers, or volunteer at an animal shelter.
I’ll bet a lot of us are looking for something positive to do with our time lately other than doom scrolling on our phones or figuring out which of our relatives we’ll be able to talk to (or see in person) ever again. Well, Tennessee is the Volunteer State after all, and there are a plethora of worthy organizations who would be happy to hook you up with activities where you could donate your time and efforts to help those in need. A great clearinghouse for local volunteer opportunities is Hands on Nashville, and we’ve picked a few to highlight for you. Remember, it won’t be long until Santa is checking his naughty or nice list, so it’s a good time to get some positive marks on the old ledger.
Inspiritus is a local organization that focuses on feeding families in need, and they can always use assistance packing boxes of donated food to distribute to program participants. Volunteers must maintain social distancing safety standards, but it’s a great way to interact with some like-minded altruistic Nashvillians.
Currently, American Indians don’t have any state or federally recognized lands in Tennessee and to fill this void, the Native American Indian Association is asking for funding to construct a museum and community center in Nashville that will be called Circle of Life. The proposed $1.5 million site would have an area for exhibits, a research library, a community board, and administrative offices. The building and its surroundings will all radiate out from a central circle, which is an important symbol in American Indian culture.
Keeping our city green and clean is an important focus of the Nashville Tree Foundation, and they’d love a little shovel help planting trees at local schools and homes. Bring your mask, your own gloves, and a pickaxe or spade if you’ve got one, but organizers will have some on hand if need be.
Whether you were a model train enthusiast as a kid or not, it’s pretty darned fun to play with them as an adult as well. The Adventure Science Center’s massive model train setup on their main floor of the museum is always a popular attraction for visitors, and they’ll be quite jealous of you as you get to act as conductor and help out with some little light maintenance on the trains. Don’t worry if you don’t have experience—the staff will be happy to train you.
If you’ve ever wanted to do something to help control the current pandemic in your own little way, the COVID-19 testing center at Meharry could always use a little help directing traffic into the testing lanes. There will be no contact with those who are there to get tested, but you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes and warm clothes because you’ll be outside for your entire shift. Training and orientation will be provided, so all you have to do is sign up and show up.
LP Pencil Box is a resource for Metro Nashville teachers to shop for school supplies for their classrooms without coming out of pocket. The average teacher receives about $300 worth of supplies, so the program really helps out this underappreciated group of educators. The organization is looking for volunteers to help check teachers in and out, help them haul their bounty to their cars and restock the shelves between shopping sessions.
Nashville’s public hospital does more than just treat patients. They also put together and deliver food totes to local residents affected by last spring’s tornado and the ongoing pandemic. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be an Uber Eats driver, but for a good cause, sign up to deliver some of these totes from your own car. Most food runs have just four to 10 stops, so you won’t even need a full tank of gas.
The Thriftsmart store provides low-cost clothing to families in need, and the proceeds from sales there go to support four local charities, Mercy Children’s Clinic
, The Belize Project
, African Leadership
, and New Hope Academy
. They’re always in need of help to sort donated clothing and stock the shelves, so pitch in for a little retail therapy to make you feel good.
The Nashville Dolphins are an organization that provides free swim team lessons to children and adults with special needs. They’re always looking for volunteer coaches to provide encouragement to the swimmers from the side of the pool, so you won’t even have to get wet to get involved.
A group of local community activists is looking to establish a new community garden in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood, and they’re seeking some help to dig in the dirt. If you’re a gardening expert or just like getting your nails a little dirty, they’d welcome any assistance to help clean the site in advance of next spring.
Metro Nashville Animal Care and Control is the county’s only open intake volunteer shelter, and they operate foster and adoption programs to help place the hundreds of animals that come through the doors each month. Scores of people looking to adopt a pet also come through those doors, and they need greeting, which is where you come in. Sign up to volunteer to help direct traffic to the right part of the shelter and know that you’ll be helping some needy animals.
The national charitable organization Toys for Tots has partnered with GraceWorks Ministries to collect and distribute toys to children in Williamson County. They’re looking for a few good elves to drop off collection boxes at sites around the county and then pick up the donated toys to bring back to the central distribution site. You know you could use a little holiday cheer this year.
If you’ve been involved with Metro Nashville Public School’s online teaching programs or know someone who has, you’re probably aware that the technology can be a little baffling to some people. Step in and help out by manning the help center to provide tech services and troubleshoot laptops and other equipment. Specific technology training is not required since MNPS staff will gladly teach you everything you need to help out students and families.
Senior Ride Nashville is looking for volunteer drivers to help ferry senior citizens around town so that they can feel a little normal while traveling to their medical and salon appointments, doing a little shopping or visiting friends at community centers. What a great way to show a little respect to our elders and brighten somebody’s day.
The Tennessee Justice Center works to help citizens navigate the bureaucratic processes that might be keeping them from receiving much-needed assistance. The center also steps in directly to support efforts for those in need of receiving access to basic necessities. The staff is always looking for assistance from administrative help to caseworker interviews.
Between the Match tornado that hit some historic Nashville neighborhoods and the ongoing pandemic, food insecurity has never been more of an issue than it is now. Second Harvest operates the largest food bank in the region, and many hands are needed to keep up with the volume of food coming in and out of the facility. Sign up individually or as a group for a shift to help sort and pack food donations, prepare backpacks for hungry children or assist with special events and administrative support.
Jewish Family Services is a division of the Jewish Federation, an important part of life for Nashville’s Jewish population. One valuable service they offer is their JFS Cyber Seniors program where volunteers help seniors communicate safely online with friends and family. If you’re the one who always has to troubleshoot your company’s Zoom calls or you’re the one who has to tell Gladys that she’s on mute again, JFS is looking for somebody just like you to help seniors connect over FaceTime, Skype, etc. for contact with their loved ones and access to telemedicine services.
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Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink, and travel writer based out of his hometown of Nashville. Find him on Twitter @CeeElCee.