Here’s How to Volunteer in Philadelphia This Holiday Season

Mentor kids, deliver food, and clean up your parks.

Ever since the pandemic monumentally altered every aspect of life, the social, racial, and economic inequities in our community have only become more apparent. There are many ways to give back to the city and its inhabitants during this crisis — perfect for those who are low-risk and have the time and means. A number of organizations throughout the city are looking for volunteers to donate their time, both in-person and virtually, from delivering meals to those in need to mentoring local kids.

Save homeless animals

Join the Philly Paws animal-loving community, which helps to save the lives of the city’s animals in need. All four locations need volunteers to walk dogs, cuddle with kitties, clean cages, and work off-site adoption events -- whether you have time to give a few days a week or just once a month.

The nonprofit organization Saved Me works to improve the lives of thousands of Philly’s homeless pets -- and they need your help. Volunteers can assist with fundraising activities, taking and posting pictures to adoption sites, and socializing with animals until their new fur-parents come along. Think of all those happy wags and purrs of appreciation! Orientation is held every Sunday at 11am (show up with a filled-out application).

Mentor underprivileged youth in a “Big” way

Volunteering as a “Big” with Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence means getting to bond with a kid who needs inspiration and guidance -- and making a huge difference in shaping his/her future. You’ll be matched with a “Little” to spend one-on-one quality time with on a regular basis, with opportunities to join group activities and explore the community together. However, due to the pandemic, Bigs and Littles will only be permitted to text, call, or emails—no in-person hangs.

Donate to Indigenous People’s Day Philly

By making a monetary donation to Indigenous People’s Day Philly, you are contributing to the annual (and this year virtual) two-day celebration that brings Native artists to the city to tell their stories. In addition, you will be supporting future endeavors including a podcast series featuring Native dignitaries and performers and an awareness presentation series for schools, libraries, and other organizations to learn about the importance of celebrating Native American and Indigenous People’s history across Pennsylvania.

Help hospitalized kids thrive

Prior to the pandemic, Project Sunshine brought volunteers to hospitals to facilitate arts and crafts and playtime with pediatric patients in Philly. Now, with hospitals unable to welcome visitors, Project Sunshine has rolled out virtual volunteering opportunities. Sign up to play with young patients via video call, sew masks for patients and healthcare workers, or even post a video of your favorite (kid-friendly) joke to your socials.

Be a reading coach for the city’s K-3 youth

Calling all bookworms! Share your love of the written word with Philadelphia’s youth by joining Philly Reading Coaches. The initiative pairs trained volunteers with young students, offering them early reading support and access to books—now taking place virtually this school year. Even just an hour a week of one-on-one reading time can help kids’ reading comprehension, paving the way to becoming more confident and motivated readers.

Deliver meals to those battling illness

Sometimes healthy food is the best medicine. MANNA is a service that provides fresh, medically tailored meals and nutrition education to those living with life-threatening illnesses (at no cost to the recipients). The organization relies on volunteers to prepare, cook, package, and deliver the meals -- and you’ll feel nourished as well, knowing you’re improving the health of your neighbors in need.

Lead hikes and care for animals

Get outdoors and get involved with the nonprofit Briar Bush Nature Center, located directly on the northern fringe of Philly. As a volunteer, you’ll get the chance to lead hikes for school groups, care for the animals, plant new flora and pull exotic weeds, survey birds for researchers, and do other excellent outdoor stuff that benefits the center.

Help build a better Philadelphia (literally)

Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia is a great opportunity for those looking to help their community in a seriously hands-on way. Volunteers of all skill levels are needed to work on their construction and homebuilding repair sites -- but if hammering away isn’t your thing, lend a hand at a local Habitat ReStore, which sells used used goods, furniture, and other finds to support the charity.

Impact the lives of Philly’s homeless

The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission organizes a myriad of service and outreach opportunities, all of which benefit Philly’s homeless and disadvantaged men, women, and children. Volunteers can sign up to serve meals at the facility daily. Due to the pandemic, volunteer shifts are operating at reduced capacity. You can sign up for volunteer shifts online.

Teach and help further adult education

The Center For Literacy offers a wide variety of literacy services for a diverse group of adults, including programs that focus on reading, writing, math, technology, and ESL. Volunteer CFL tutors are trained (in three orientation sessions) to teach various subjects to either English or non-English speaking students, changing their lives and preparing them for the work force, college, and life in general.

Keep Philly’s parks clean and safe

Philly is home to dozens of parks and green spaces in need of your green thumb. Twice a year, Love Your Park hosts mass service events where volunteers clean, weed, and beautify local parks. Every second Saturday throughout the year, the organization hosts cleanup events at a different park each month for you to spread the good vibes.

Join the fight to end hunger

Philabundance feeds over 90,000 people each week—and during the pandemic, they need volunteers to help fulfill their mission of combating hunger in the city. Individuals and groups can sign up to pack and sort donated food at their Hunger Relief Center in South Philly and distribute meals to those experiencing homelessness.

Support sexual violence survivors in crisis

Woman Organized Against Rape (WOAR) relies on committed and compassionate people to provide crucial support to survivors of sexual assault and abuse. WOAR’s direct service volunteer team runs their 24-hour crisis hotline and meets in-person with survivors at the Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center (PSARC). Note, though, that volunteers must complete 40 hours of in-depth training and agree to a one-year commitment -- so this isn't one to take lightly.

Help the refugee and immigrant community

HIAS Pennsylvania offers support and services to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from all over who are in the process of integrating into American society. As a volunteer, you can lend a helping hand by delivering essential items to families in need during the pandemic, working as a pro bono attorney on asylum cases, and more.

Fight for racial and social justice

The city is home to a robust network of mutual aid and racial justice organizations worthy of your manpower. Black Lives Matter Philly is working to build local Black power and to dismantle racist policies through grassroots organizing, political education, youth development, and coalition building. Sign up to become a member and attend virtual meetings to learn about upcoming community engagements. Meetings are for Black-identifying folks only; non-Black allies can get involved through BLM Philly Mobilizing Force

Volunteering at Uhuru Furniture Philly helps support the local Black community through community outreach, social media, marketing, and upholstery. The Philadelphia Liberation Center, a community center and education hub, welcomes volunteers for their Escuelita Óscar Romero free online tutoring service for migrant youth from Central America and grocery distribution centers

As a response to the pandemic, Mutual Aid Philly was formed for volunteers to deliver groceries and prescriptions, prepare meals, and provide emotional support for disabled and chronically ill, undocumented, people of color, LGBTQ, and low-income individuals and families. 

Mentor a local student in writing

Mighty Writers pairs volunteers with area students to help foster their creative writing muscles—helping young scribes generate ideas, organize their thoughts, and offering constructive criticism. Since the pandemic hit, all mentorship has taken place virtually with volunteers providing support and guidance, whether the student is working on a short story or a script. 

Help inform the community about sexual health

Founded in 1985 to address the HIV/AIDS crisis among communities of color, Bebashi now provides HIV/AIDS education services, health education, and social services. The nonprofit is often in need of volunteers to help promote sexual health education and prevention, breast cancer awareness, hunger relief, support group staff, and more. The org is currently looking for volunteers to pack grocery bags for local students on-site at their headquarters. 

Build girls’ confidence through physical activity

If you’ve ever felt the coaching spirit, volunteer at Girls On The Run, a physical-activity based youth program, aimed at helping girls build confidence, learn team-building skills, and help nurture a love for movement. When you sign up to be a coach, you lead local girls through an eight-week program comprising two practices a week, leading up to a 5k run at the end of the program. 

Work to end poverty and homelessness in Philadelphia

Since 1989, Project HOME has provided services to those experiencing homelessness and working to alleviate the causes of poverty through housing programs, workforce development, and teen programs. Volunteers can take part in community-wide service projects, like neighborhood cleanups, tutor students, and serve meals. 

Be a court advocate for children in the foster care system

When you volunteer as a court-appointed special advocate at CASA Philadelphia, you advocate for a child who has been abused or neglected in court. You don’t need to be a lawyer or social worker— just complete an interview, take a 30-hour training, pass a background check, and promise a two-year commitment. Apply online to get the ball rolling. 

Deliver food to those in need

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Food Connect accepts surplus food donations from restaurants to provide meals to those who have lost jobs and income. As a volunteer, you’ll pick up food from donors and deliver it to recipients. All you need is a valid driver’s license and access to a clean vehicle. 

Spread the love to a different organization every month

Every month, Volunteering Untapped PHL hosts a different service project supporting a local organization. Throughout the pandemic, the group has organized hybrid volunteering events, with a component volunteers can complete at home (like cooking meals to be donated) and a small in-person action. 

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Allie Volpe is a writer based in Philadelphia. She hasn't slept in days. Follow her on Twitter: @allieevolpe.