13 Ways to Volunteer and Give Back in NYC During the Holidays
Beyond financial donations, contribute time, goods, and more.
Along with spending quality time with our loved ones, the holiday season is a great time of year to consider making a positive change in the lives of fellow New Yorkers in need.
If you’ve been curious about where to volunteer and what causes to take up, we’ve compiled a list on how to give back based on what you’re into. From delivering meals for those in need to championing causes like reproductive rights, here are 13 ways to volunteer and give back in NYC right now.
God’s Love We Deliver is a non-sectarian organization dedicated to supporting the infirm, their children, and care-givers through deliveries of medically-tailored and nutritious meals. Along with helping to combat malnutrition for those who are too ill to cook for themselves, they partner with hospitals and care providers to meet the needs of the most vulnerable New Yorkers and their services come at no cost to recipients.
How to volunteer: Individual and group volunteers for meal packaging and delivery within the five boroughs (the latter in either the delivery van or your own vehicle). Sign up to volunteer on Thanksgiving morning at any of the distribution centers as either a driver or site assistant.
Pregnancy services, reproductive health, women’s health, and assisting the LGBTQIA+ community are just some of the vital health care services Planned Parenthood provides in addition to abortion care. Also on offer are community programs on sexual health and workshops for parents, teens, and professionals in selected locations around the city. Locate a health center for in-person or telemed appointments.
How to volunteer: Get involved as a Survivor Support Services Volunteer Advocate (with training) to provide victim support in crisis intervention, court processes, emotional support, and much more.
Upper East Side
If you’re a proud pet parent, this one’s for you. The ASPCA provides local services like veterinary care, neutering, fostering, mobile adoptions, and assistance with rehoming rescued puppy mill pets. Externships include remote adoption services programs for budding veterinarians.
How to volunteer: Become a Pet Foster Parent for neonatal kittens and large dogs (ASPCA orientation and quiz completion required). Or give your time at the Adoption Center in a Shelter Support role involving laundry and cage cleaning.
Big Reuse is a non-profit committed to diverting waste from NYC landfills through circular economy programs that recycle, upcycle, and reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions. These programs have saved 2.3 million pounds of food waste through composting and diverted 1 million pounds of reusable items from ending up in refuse sites. From kitchenware to furniture, the Brooklyn Reuse Center contains unique items from vintage to new to start your foray into cottagecore.
How to volunteer: Assist staff in sorting donated furniture and items for sale.
Manhattan and Brooklyn
Common Denominator is a non-profit with a focus on education equity, specifically within mathematics, for NYC youth. It also helps build skills through fun games that engage and challenge students. Recipients currently have a satisfaction rate of 98% as students typically see a full grade improvement in their math classes.
How to volunteer: Apply here to tutor middle-school students in math, numbers, money, and strategies. Volunteers attend training and development workshops throughout the year.
Dress for Success is a renowned organization that helps their female-identifying clients achieve independence through learning and coaching. A huge part of this is achieved by providing donated professional clothing for employment-ready clients sent by partner organizations including job training programs, domestic violence shelters, and immigration groups.
How to volunteer: Support participants on reentering the professional world by signing up to volunteer. The Manhattan office remains closed but there is a final drop-off donation being held on December 10th from 10 am–12 pm at the Jamaica location in Queens.
Fun fact: New York Harbor once teemed with oysters. The shellfish’s local history stretches from the 1600s through mid-1800s where oysters were bountiful and a mainstay of the local diet until 1849 when sewage pollution decimated their population. The Billion Oyster Project has a goal of reintroducing 1 billion oysters into New York Harbor by 2035 to restore balance to the river ecosystem. Oysters are natural cleaners as they filter pollutants in water, encourage biodiversity on reefs, and are an organic storm barrier for climate change.
How to volunteer: Become a regular, project ambassador, or scientist to reintroduce oysters, clean up wetlands, or help with an Oyster Research Station on Governors Island. Take note, positions within this popular program fill up fast.
Citywide and Westchester
Habitat for Humanity NYC and Westchester has been building affordable homes for families since 1984, with their first being on the Lower East Side. Since then, they have served over 2,100 families excluded from the traditional housing market through decades of discriminatory policies. They also preserve and repair homes and coops inhabited by marginalized individuals, offer financial lending, and advocacy to communities.
How to volunteer: Help in construction, painting, landscaping, office administration at the Manhattan office, or becoming a Habitat Young Professional in housing justice and advocacy.
Long Island City
As part of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, Material for the Arts (MFTA) is the city’s largest reuse center where arts materials are donated for use by schools and educational workshops dedicated to underserved communities. Donated items needed include paper, fabric, arts and crafts, and small appliances, and is a sustainable solution in keeping material out of landfills. In-person drop-offs are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9:00 am–2:30 pm, and shopping at the MFTA warehouse is by appointment only.
How to volunteer: Donate items or become an individual or corporate volunteer to keep the warehouse organized for the reuse of donated materials.
Founded in 1987, New York Cares links volunteers with individuals and communities in need throughout the five boroughs. You probably recognize them from their annual Coat Drive program—which has been running over three decades—that distributes cold-weather gear and warm meals to underserved communities. Other programs include senior wellness and wellbeing, helping with food insecurity, caring for public spaces, and educating teens and adults.
How to volunteer: Take up diverse volunteering opportunities like distribution of halal food, Christmas toy wrapping, and tax preparations in NYC’s largest volunteer network. You can do the same activity or switch them up as your time permits.
This organization helps vulnerable LGBTQIA+ youth transition out of unstable housing and into stable environments as they begin their adult lives. Data shows that LGBTQIA+ youth are 40% of the homeless youth population which is a crisis requiring resolution. New Alternatives provides services such as life skills, case management, shelter, and activities (college tours, etc) and support programs like community dinners and STI testing and prevention.
How to volunteer: Contribute your time and kitchen talents at weekly community dinners held Sunday evenings. Become an Angel List donor by responding to individual needs like hygiene kits or clothing, or make a one-time or recurring donation.
Are you one of nature’s favorites blessed with a green thumb? Well, put it to use at NYC parks across all five boroughs. Keeping the city’s public parks scenic and well-maintained requires regular upkeep, so volunteer to contribute to your local green space or even better, discover a new favorite neighborhood by signing up in a different community. Your efforts can also make a difference in impacting senior programs, sports, stewardship programs et al on offer at low-cost facilities.
How to volunteer: Join teams and local groups to garden, plant, monitor wildlife, and beautify parks.
A former finance professional founded this non-profit in 2013 to tackle the growing issues of food insecurity and food waste in New York City. Rescuing Leftover Cuisine’s solution is through food rescue and matches edible food from donors (restaurants, cafes etc) that would otherwise be sent to landfills, to groups that feed communities in food deserts. They especially utilize technology to effectively match and distribute nutritious food to where it’s needed.
How to volunteer: Join the food waste fight as a Crew Volunteer, Driver, or Paid Lead Rescuer by transporting (foot, bike, car) food donations from source to places of need.