Thanksgiving

31 Ways to Volunteer in NYC Over the Holiday Season

Let’s all give back and lift up our fellow New Yorkers.

Beyond quality time with family and loved ones, the holiday season has always been about giving back. And while 2020’s giving season started earlier this year for many of us (for obvious reasons), let’s keep the momentum going by opening our hearts (and wallets) and volunteering our time this holiday season to help people in the city who need it most.

Whether you have a full day to give or even just a free hour, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer throughout NYC. And if 2020 gave us any reason to be happy about staying home, we can also revel in the fact that many volunteer and fundraising opportunities have also gone virtual, so you can help the community through your smartphone or from the comfort of your couch, keeping everyone safe while still helping out.

Help fight hunger in NYC

The Food Bank for 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 2021 and beyond.
 

Join your neighborhood’s mutual aid network

When the pandemic hit NYC, mutual aid networks became a lifesaving resource for New Yorkers all over the city. These community-sourced and volunteer led, grassroots organizations focused on food and supply delivery for the elderly, sick and immunocompromised; organized park cleanups; supported racial justice protesters; installed community fridges, and more; all thanks to the altruism of New Yorkers. Find your local group via MutualAid.nyc and volunteer to see how you can contribute during the holiday season and beyond.
 

Mentor a younger sibling

The pandemic has been a hard adjustment for many young people, so become a mentor (aka Big), through Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC. Though the impact on young New Yorkers can be huge, the time commitment is pretty minimal: You’ll meet your mentee twice a month (now virtually in 2020) 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.

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 can also ride as a passenger in the organization’s van and help distribute food to those in need, or deliver on foot.
 

Spread Thanksgiving joy

Gobble Gobble Give 2020 will be different than GGG in years past, but it’ll still rely on New Yorkers on Thanksgiving morning. On turkey day, donate Thanksgiving meals and canned food, toiletries, clothing, toys, and blankets that will be delivered throughout the city to families, shelters, and retirement communities. Register in advance for a donation drop off time or shop off GGG’s holiday wish list to send items directly if you can’t make it to the Apollo Theater on Thanksgiving Day.
 

Support NYC’s Indigenous Community

Dating back to 1994, the Redhawk Council is a nonprofit supporting Native American artists and art educators in the NYC metro area. The organization shares Native American heritage and culture through song, dance, theatre, visual art, and more art forms. Currently, they’re looking for donations to help 25 community artists who were financially affected by COVID-19 by offering each recipient a $1000 grant. Donate to the GoFundMe or make a tax-deductible contribution online to contribute to future Redhawk programs.

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.
 

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.
 

Become an NYC CERT Member

Consider undergoing training to become a member of NYC’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). This training equips you to serve as a community helper in several situations, whether that’s managing crowd control at an event, distributing supplies in an emergency, searching for a missing person, or more. The more New Yorkers we have helping out in the community, the less our need will be for law enforcement in situations that don’t require a police presence.

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 your temporary best friend to adoption events or help them get adopted through other methods (Zoom!). 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.
 

Work out 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 (currently doing virtual programs!) and pair up with disabled runners via Achilles International (also all digital, for 2020!).
 

Secure justice for New Yorkers

You don’t need a law degree to make a difference at the New York Civil Liberties Union. Anyone with a little know-how can contribute their time through initiatives like protest monitoring, supporting immigrants rights, and general volunteering to help the NYCLU defend New Yorkers’ fights for their rights.

Show off your green thumbs

Boasting the title of largest community gardening organization in the nation, GreenThumb is run by the NYC Parks department and 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. Frequent virtual programs can also help you learn about urban gardening skills.
 

Welcome refugees to NYC

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), founded on the Lower East Side in 1881, has assisted refugees fleeing oppression for more than 130 years. Currently, all volunteering opportunities are virtual and include needs for translators, ESL tutors, English conversation partners, and college and career mentors.
 

Support LGBTQ+ homeless youth

Hell’s Kitchen shelter New Alternatives has paused group volunteering due to COVID-19, but there are still plenty of ways to help community members this year. Join New Alternatives’ Angel List, a listserv emailing out opportunities to share funds or goods to folks in need, or donate hygiene supplies at Metro Baptist Church at 410 West 40th Street every Sunday from 4–7 pm.The organization also encourages volunteers to host their own fundraisers, whether you want to organize a bake sale or direct holiday gifts to the shelter.

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 four-hour shift per week for a minimum of six months. Expect to help out with customer service, merchandising, or at the Housing Works cafe.
 

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, 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 volunteer@metrony.wish.org to get involved.
 

Share a seat at the table with underserved New Yorkers

From wage equality to educational services, the New York Urban League has pushed for the equality of all New Yorkers since its inception over 100 years ago— and the work still continues today, with a strong need for volunteers in many capacities. Sign up to volunteer to help out at upcoming community events, or be a mentor in career and educational training.

Help NYC’s Greenmarkets operate 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. Current opportunities include helping to distribute fresh food boxes or onsite compost throughout different boroughs. 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 learn and practice speaking English, familiarize immigrants with their legal rights, and more.
 

Help incarcerated New Yorkers

New York’s Department of Correction is looking for volunteers in many capacities. Volunteer roles can include literacy assistance, leading life skills classes, working in the horticultural or culinary programs, providing legal aid and much more. Through social, educational, recreational, and other services, volunteers help enhance personal development and create links between incarcerated folks and their communities. Apply to volunteer to see where you can be most helpful.

Help kids make art

You don’t have to be a professional 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 help in a virtual Art-a-Thon, in which volunteers will assemble 1,645 art kits to distribute to kids in need of artistic enrichment (bonus: you get that artsy enrichment too!).
 

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 Advocacy Collective, 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.
 

Help refugees adjust in their new home country

The International Rescue Committee helps people fleeing violence and persecution from all over the world resettle in America. In NYC, the IRC’s branch helps provide refugees with a furnished home, health care, nutritious food, English classes, education, and legal services. Currently, volunteers can help mentor refugees and assist as interpreters.

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).
 

Provide crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth

The Trevor Project’s NYC branch is always looking for volunteers to help with fundraising and outreach in support of mental health wellness in LGBTQ youth. Founded in 1998, this organization work with 18- to 25-year-olds to ensure they have the support they need when facing a potential suicide crisis.
 

Support LGBTQ youth

The Ali Forney Center for LGBTQ Youth has various three-month-long volunteer opportunities in Harlem, Queens, and Brooklyn. 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.

Expand New Yorkers’ minds with radical reads

Bluestockings, NYC’s very own volunteer-run (and feminist!) bookstore 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.
 

Fight against gentrification in Brooklyn 

Gentrification harms BIPOC communities across NYC at alarming rates which can disrupt lives in irreparable ways. Equality for Flatbush is a Black/POC-led, grassroots organization which focuses on police accountability, affordable housing and anti-gentrification/anti-displacement organizing in Flatbush, East Flatbush, and Brooklyn-wide. Founded in June of 2013, Equality for Flatbush is a Black Lives Matter group and is currently seeking donations to help with this cause, in addition to, PPE and homemade masks also being collected to help the community.
 

Provide mental health support

The Icarus Project NYC, 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. In 2020, the Icarus Project has been adding more Zoom programming to discuss mental health and support systems, and partnering with a wide range of organizations to further their impact online. 
 

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.

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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.