Here's How to Volunteer in Boston This Holiday Season

Deliver food, drop off toys, or volunteer at an animal shelter.

This holiday season, you might find yourself getting creative with festive activities and upcoming plans—if you have any at all. While you’re brainstorming ways to enjoy the winter,  you might want to prioritize helping others that have suffered from the inevitable impact that the pandemic has had on the city. Despite in-person volunteer opportunities looking slim, there are still outlets that you can visit to help contribute to the community. Take a look at our roundup below for ideas on how you can give back this year and well into 2021.

Help feed neighbors in your community 

Across Massachusetts, there’s been an increase in individuals and families suffering from hunger due to COVID-19. In fact, according to new estimates from the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), one in eight people in Eastern Massachusetts will experience food insecurity this year. In order to help, you can donate to a number of organizations accepting monetary donations at this time, including the GBFB, Rosie’s Place, New England Center and Home for Veterans, Women’s Lunch Place and Haley House. You can also participate in the 28th annual Pie in the Sky fundraiser hosted by Jamaica Plain’s Community Servings, which delivers meals to individuals and families living with critical illnesses in Massachusetts. For each $30 donation, you can help feed one of the organization's clients for a week and in return, you’ll get a fresh apple or pecan pie available for pickup at one of the designated outdoor sites.

Or contribute to these local shelters that also need your assistance

Pine Street Inn, which works to end homelessness in Boston, has an Amazon wish list available right now so you can easily pick and choose items to send to the organization. You can also provide a Thanksgiving meal (or several) for individuals through the Boston Rescue Mission. If you’re looking for something more hands on, St. Francis House is accommodating limited volunteers at their location on Boylston Street or you can host a clothing drive through Friends of Boston’s Homeless Warm Hands Warm Hearts, which supplies winter apparel to those in need throughout the city.

Visit or give to your local animal shelter

If you’ve been thinking about adding a furry friend into your life, the window of opportunity has not yet passed. You can still make an appointment at Jamaica Plain’s MSPCA-Angell or Back Bay’s Animal Rescue League of Boston. The shelters are always accepting donations as well -- check out Animal Rescue League of Boston’s Amazon wish list for more opportunities to help if you’re not quite ready to adopt.

Other ways to volunteer or give back to Boston’s youth from home

There are several youth organizations like Youth Enrichment Services for Boston Kids (YES) and Horizons for Homeless Children who are encouraging donations to their centers this holiday season. You can also volunteer with Cradles to Crayons’ Giving Factory and help to sort clothing and prepare outfit packs all from the comfort of your home.

Help those children less fortunate

Boston has organizations specifically focused on homelessness and poverty experienced by children. You can visit Cradles to Crayons’ The Giving Factory in Brighton and help process and sort through donated items or volunteer as a Playspace Activity Leader through Horizons for Homeless Children in Roxbury. Christmas in the City Boston is another great organization, with an annual party on Sunday, December 22 that benefits over 6,000 kids and their families. Although spots fill up fast, you can sign up to be on their waiting list to distribute toys, set up, and help with check-in the day of the bash.

Show your support in one of the most important fights 

The American Cancer Society in Massachusetts is driven by the strength of patients and the support of volunteers. To continue to put up a fight, you can volunteer at local Relay for Life events, transport patients and help enact laws and policies through advocacy efforts. 

Don’t forget about your elders this year

Organizations like Little Brothers - Friends of the Elderly - Boston and FriendshipWorks are keeping up with their efforts to support the elderly especially during these isolating times and encouraging people to donate as their programs continue to adapt. For example, Friendship Works has incorporated regular phone calls and virtual visits to keep individuals company.

Drop off toys or make an online gift to local children 

The Marine Toys for Tots Program will be accepting new, unwrapped toys to distribute this holiday season. You can visit any of the nearby donation drop off sites or donate online. If you’re planning to stop by one of the sites, just a heads up that the organization will no longer be accepting items after December 15.

Support Black- and BIPOC-led organizations in Massachusetts

As we continue to make strides in the community, it’s important to remember organizations throughout Boston that deserve the attention and recognition now and throughout the rest of the year. There are a number of ways you can support the city's diverse community ranging from the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition, which provides support for Black-led businesses affected by the pandemic and Stable Ground Boston, which works to address the city’s chronic housing insecurity and its psychological toll by placing artists, trauma specialists, and legal designers into community settings. 

Attend an upcoming blood drive

As the American Red Cross is already facing supply challenges from the pandemic, the organization is urging members of the community to donate blood this holiday season. For more information on where you can give blood, check out the American Red Cross of Massachusetts to schedule an appointment at a nearby location.

Show your support in one of the most important fights

Boston Cancer Support’s mission is to improve the quality of life for all those affected by cancer in Massachusetts. You can visit the official website to make a donation to the Treatment Transport Program, Randi Friedman Wellness Program or their General Support Campaign today. It is also worth mentioning that Massachusetts was one of two states this year to proclaim November 19 as World Pancreatic Cancer Day. To donate in honor of the upcoming holiday or learn more, you can make a donation through the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Sign up to be a penpal

At the of March, Mayor Walsh announced a penpal program to pair people or families with local veterans. To get involved, fill out the online registration form to get started or contact to learn more.

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Jillian Hammell is a contributor for Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.