Be a Good Person and Volunteer All Over NYC This Holiday Season

Gobble Gobble Give NYC
Gobble Gobble Give NYC | Michael Tapp
Gobble Gobble Give NYC | Michael Tapp

It's been a stressful week (Month? Year? Adult life?), and the prospect of spending several days celebrating the holidays with your family, friends, and coworkers probably isn't helping. Channel that stress into something positive by volunteering some of your time to help people in the city who need it most. Whether you have a full day to give or even just one free hour, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer throughout the five boroughs. Lift up your fellow New Yorkers, contribute to the greater good, and make the world a better place with these volunteer opportunities all season long and into the new year.

Welcome refugees to New York City

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), founded on the Lower East Side in 1881, has assisted refugees fleeing oppression for more than 130 years. Today, they need volunteers to help resettle recently arrived refugees and asylum seekers. Translators, ESL tutors, English conversation partners, and college and career mentors are all encouraged to get involved.

Help New York City’s Greenmarkets run smoothly

Can’t commit to weekly volunteering? Grow NYC offers tons of one-off volunteer opportunities that you can sign up for days or weeks in advance. Help distribute fresh food boxes, photograph events and markets, and assist with cooking demonstrations. We know you’re not in it for the free food samples, but they’re definitely an added perk to this gig.

Support immigrant communities

The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) is looking for organizers and interpreters to help with a variety of services, both municipally related and more personal. Volunteers can help newcomers secure IDNYC, learn and practice speaking English, familiarize immigrants with their legal rights and help out at special events, like Immigrant Heritage Week.

Keep The New York Public Library running

The New York Public Library may be the city’s greatest free treasure, and it takes a team (along with your taxes) to keep the institution running. The NYPL is currently seeking language tutors, extracurricular tutors (to help with homework or become reading buddies with school age kids), and event volunteers for a range of cultural events.

Support LGBTQ+ homeless youth

Hell’s Kitchen shelter New Alternatives needs volunteers for a variety of services with an emphasis on Sunday night dinner shifts. Help prep and serve a hot meal each week from 4:30-7:30pm. The organization also constantly collects hygiene supplies and is open to allowing volunteers host their own fundraisers, whether you want to organize a bake sale or direct holiday gifts to the shelter. 

Help out at Planned Parenthood

New York City is the birthplace of Planned Parenthood, and the reproductive health organization is always in need of volunteers. Sign up to be part of PPNYC’s Activist Council, which will train you on reproductive rights and justice and give you the tools to be part of projects including escorting patients to health centers, advocating for comprehensive sex ed, and fundraising and outreach.

Secure justice for New Yorkers

You don’t need a law degree to help out at the New York Civil Liberties Union. Anyone with a little know-how can contribute their time to help with administrative work and contribute graphic design, public relations, fundraising, writing, photography or teaching skills to help NYCLU defend New Yorkers’ fights for their rights.

Provide crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth

The Trevor Project’s New York City branch is always looking for volunteers to help out at events, fundraise, research community partnerships, and plan events that support mental health wellness in LGBTQ youth and ensure they have the support they need when facing a potential suicide crisis.

Support refugees

The International Rescue Committee helps people fleeing violence and persecution from all over the world resettle in America. In New York City, the IRC’s branch helps provide refugees with a furnished home, health care, nutritious food, English classes, education, and legal services. Volunteers can help mentor refugees and assist them with job seeking and interviewing.


Become a big

Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC (BBBS of NYC) is looking for mentors, or Bigs. Though the impact on young New Yorkers can be huge, the time commitment is pretty minimal: You’ll meet your mentee twice a month on your own schedule and serve as a positive influence and role model in the youth's life. Volunteers over the age of 21 will be matched with children between the ages of 7-17 living in all five boroughs. Currently, there’s a high demand for male volunteers to be matched with boys on the waitlist, and willingness to travel to the outer boroughs is a plus.

Spread Thanksgiving joy

Gobble Gobble Give 2019 will gather hundreds of New Yorkers on Thanksgiving morning to create Thanksgiving meals and organize canned food, toiletries, clothing, toys, and blanket donations that will be delivered throughout the city to families, shelters, and retirement communities. Volunteer roles vary, and each helper is required to bring a casserole-sized, Thanksgiving-inspired dish in a recyclable container, so start scrolling through Pinterest.

Bring meals to the elderly

Citymeals on Wheels is seeking volunteers for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. You’ll personally deliver meals to the homebound elderly and maybe even make a few new friends as you socialize with the meal recipients. Not around for the holidays? Citymeals on Wheels is also looking for people to chat weekly with seniors (free advice!) via phone or in person, make cards for special occasions and help with office work or meal prep in local senior centers.

Help new immigrants adjust to life in NYC

Cabrini Immigrant Services relies on volunteers to help immigrants acclimate to their new lives. Lend a hand in the food pantry, teach social media, basic Microsoft programs, and English to your new NYC neighbors, or share your knack for knitting, cooking, or whatever passion you’d like to pass along. English and Spanish speakers are welcome, and Cantonese translators are also in demand.

Fight hunger in New York City

The Food Bank of New York City has myriad options to help feed hungry New Yorkers. Sign up for a shift to organize a food pantry or to serve dinner at a community kitchen. Opportunities abound during the holidays, and FBNYC needs volunteers all year long, so carry that holiday generosity into 2020 and beyond.

Help out at a public school

New York Cares has ongoing calendar listings for both short- and long-term volunteers to help public school children and teens with math, reading, and other classroom activities. Early morning activities can easily fit into your work schedule and is your boss really going to be mad if you’re a few minutes late because you were helping a kid with their multiplication skills?

Support the trans community

The Trans Lifeline needs transgender people and cis allies over the age of 18 to act as phone operators and counselors to trans and gender nonconforming people in crisis. Help organize fundraisers, assist in administrative work, tech support, and training, or sign up to provide emotional support to phone operators.

Workout with adults and children with disabilities

Cancel that gym membership! Simultaneously give back and get fit with programs like KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now), which needs volunteers to coach teams and help with fitness activities. Sign up to bike with vision-impaired cyclists at InTandem Cycling and pair up with disabled runners via Achilles International.

Support LGBTQ youth

The Ali Forney Center for LGBTQ Youth has various three month long volunteer opportunities. Prepare meals any day of the week, assist in counseling, help organize the donation closet, and facilitate workshops. Any and all skills can help Ali Forney clients, 80% of whom have been kicked out of their homes after coming out.

Share leftovers with the homeless

Rescuing Leftover Cuisine gives leftovers a second life by enlisting volunteers to pick up unwanted meals and deliver them to homeless shelters. Volunteer shifts take less than an hour, and you can choose when you want to help out. If you’re hosting an event, you can also enroll to have the leftovers donated after your guests leave.

Support LGBTQ+ media coverage

No matter how little or how much time you have to volunteer, GLAAD wants you. You can sign up to help out at their annual media awards in NYC or volunteer throughout the year at events and on projects that help encourage fair representation of LGBTQ people in the media.

Help Syrian refugees

The Multifaith Alliance, an organization of secular and faith-based groups, is seeking volunteers to help work with religious groups and nonprofits. You’ll help raise awareness of the refugee crisis, fundraise to support humanitarian organizations in Syria, and plan programs in NYC.

Support LGBTQ students and education

The Gay and Lesbian Student Education Network (GLSEN) needs volunteers to help out with mailings and outreach, and to further its mission to ensure safety and respect for all students, regardless of sexuality or gender. Email to join GLSEN’s 100% volunteer-run board and help the nonprofit find new and sustainable ways to support LGBTQ students, or just to keep upcoming GLSEN events on your radar.

Expand New Yorkers’ minds with radical reads

Bluestockings, New York City’s very own volunteer-run (and feminist!) bookstore, event, and community space needs volunteers who can commit to working weekly three-hour shifts selling books, organizing shelves, working the cafe, and helping out at events. Stop by the shop to fill out an application and pick out a radical book (maybe try Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay) on your way out.

Provide mental health support

The Icarus Project, which finds creative ways to promote self-care and mental illness awareness and support, is seeking volunteers to help with activism, political theatre, community art projects, writing, and grassroots organizing.

Put your shopping hobby to good use

If you already enjoy browsing shelves and racks full of vintage wares, consider helping out at HousingWorks. The all-volunteer shop chain donates proceeds to help people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. Volunteers must commit to one 4-hour shift per week for a minimum of six months. Expect to help out with customer service, merchandising, or at the Housing Works cafe.

Cook up some comfort

God’s Love We Deliver, an organization which provides home-cooked meals to people too sick to shop or cook for themselves, allows volunteers to sign up for one-off slots to help with food prep, meal kit assembly and meal delivery. You’ll ride as a passenger in the organization’s van and help distribute food to those in need.

Show off your green thumbs

Boasting the title of largest community gardening organization in the nation, GreenThumb relies on over 20,000 community gardeners to help build and maintain a greener NYC. With over 550 community gardens throughout the boroughs, the city likely has a space for you to zone out, be with nature and help with seasonal and routine maintenance. No garden nearby? You can also apply to start one in your community.

Keep Central Park beautiful

Central Park doesn’t beautify itself! The Central Park Conservancy needs Saturday volunteers to help with landscaping maintenance like raking, mulching, pulling weeds, planting, and more seasonal work, like snow plowing in winter or painting in summer. Those who don’t want to get dirty can also volunteer to lead park tours or greet visitors with a big New York welcome (whatever that means to you).

Foster a furry friend

Not quite ready to expand your family yet? Help keep rescue dogs out of shelters before they match with their forever pet parents with Foster Dogs NYC. Fostering is essentially the same as pet sitting, though you’ll be responsible for taking for temporary best friend to adoption events or help them get adopted through other methods. Those who can handle the emotional role of being a Fospice host can also volunteer as a "Forever Foster" for a dog nearing the end of its life.

Help make kids’ wishes come true

The Make a Wish Foundation is nationally renowned for helping sick or terminally ill children live out their dreams – Disney World! NBA courtside seats! – and that’s thanks to local volunteer networks that make these dreams happen. Make A Wish’s Metro New York chapter needs wish granters in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island to help with phone calls and meetings with children and families, medical outreach to health professionals, and translation work. Email to get involved.

Mentor a young creative

You don’t have to be a pro artist to provide some artistic inspiration in a young New Yorker’s life. Free Arts NYC offers hands on creative art opportunities to kids and teens. The organization currently seeks volunteers to mentor elementary school kids for afternoon art projects (free pizza included!) as well as volunteers to help set up craft supplies for Free Art Days, which allow over 2,6000 kids to create thematic artwork once a month.

Sign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer.

Melissa Kravitz is a writer based in NYC who still likes to talk about being president of her high school's community service club. She wishes she had time to volunteer for all of the organizations mentioned above.