Thanksgiving

Here's How to Volunteer in Houston This Holiday Season

'Tis the season for giving back.

The holidays are coming up, and 2020 has been a rough year for many. If you’d like to help lift spirits and make the season a little easier for Houston’s most vulnerable, you can. Try volunteering your time at one of the city’s impactful organizations. We’ve listed some of the best ways to do just that below, broken down by interest, but you can check out volunteer resources and matching programs like VolunteerHouston, national database VolunteerMatch, and Houston philanthropy guide Giving Black, too.

For those who’d like to support Houston’s homeless and disadvantaged 

Volunteerism is critical to Houston’s homeless and disadvantaged communities all year long. Local nonprofit SEARCH helps move people from the streets and keep them stably housed, fed, and healthy. Join its Young Professionals program; work as a kitchen/lunch cart volunteer or art studio assistant at House of Tiny Treasures, its childhood education branch; or help with pantry stocking, hurricane kit assembling, and more. The Beacon provides civil legal aid, counseling and mentoring, and access to housing to hundreds of homeless men and women in Houston. You can sign up for kitchen and laundry duties or intake/front desk work at the Day Center, or look into the Young Professional and other group programs. You can also physically help
create affordable places for Houstonians to call home via Houston Habitat for Humanity, from open build construction to community projects and work at its ReStore home improvement store and donation centers. Looking to help refugees, immigrants, and anyone who faces financial, educational, health, language, or cultural barriers in realizing their dreams? The Alliance helps to create opportunities for the disadvantaged, and volunteering opportunities range from foreign language interpretation and clerical assistance to special events like toy and coat drives.

For those who want to help in the healthcare field

Houston’s Ronald McDonald House works to provide a meaningful home away from home to families of seriously ill children being treated in Texas Medical Center, and they could use a special hand during the holiday season. Help create magical moments by stocking Santa’s workshop, signing up to help deck the halls, sponsoring a holiday activity, or applying to become a volunteer. Volunteers over at the Texas Children’s Hospital support pediatric patients by playing games, interacting with families, and assisting with administrative duties; and Candlelighters Houston offers a Young Professionals Group that strives to make life a little bit easier for children who have cancer and those that love them. Over at Houston Memorial Hermann Hospice Care, volunteers can help run special events, visit patients, run errands, bake cookies, play music, and more (to volunteer, a TB screening and background check are required and hospice training will be provided). There are also opportunities to help out at the hospital’s Prevention and Recovery Center, Physical Rehabilitation Hospital, and Children’s Hospital. Sign to volunteer with Planned Parenthood and the group will connect you to what is most needed right now, from making phone calls in your living room to being trained to help out in a local health center. 

For those who want to help end hunger in Houston

This season, help provide much needed hunger relief by donating your time to The Houston Food Bank, which serves the over 1.1 million people in 18 southeast Texas counties that are considered food insecure and happens to be America’s largest food bank in distribution. Second Servings of Houston takes volunteers for food rescue events, pop-up food distributions, deliveries and more. And Kids’ Meals, which makes and delivers healthy meals directly to the homes of hungry children, could use kitchen help, delivery drivers, and riders to help its cause.

For those who want to aid in the fight for social and legal justice 

Consider donating your time to the NAACP Houston chapter by joining a specific committee, helping out in the office, or advocating for vital civil rights issues. Non-partisan advocacy group Houston Justice is looking for coordinating team members, organizers, and volunteers to help eradicate injustice; and Restoring Justice, which provides holistic legal defense and social services to the over 70,000 in Houston who face criminal accusations and can’t afford legal services, could use volunteers for fundraising, supply delivery, information distribution, and one-on-one emotional and spiritual support. Want to put that law degree to good use? Those who practice law in the state of Texas can become a part of Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the pro bono legal aid arm of the Houston Bar Association.

For those who want to help victims of abuse

Ending domestic and sexual violence for all is the goal of the Houston Area Women's Center, which sits over in Montrose. Get involved in the volunteer-founded organization by joining the volunteer team, which can include anything from answering calls on the Crisis Hotline to child care activities (opportunities are currently limited due to COVID-19 precautions, but reach out to see how you can help). Star of Hope’s Women and Family Development Center provides safe housing and emotional healing. Check out its virtual volunteer opportunities right now and look out for in-person opps in the future. AVDA (Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse) is a big part of the anti-violence movement in Texas, providing invaluable resources for men and women that are victims of domestic abuse. Apply to volunteer in outreach, administrative assistance, special events, translation, court accompaniment, and more.  

Fo those who want to help the arts community

Super cool community art platform the Project Row Houses, which sits in one the oldest African-American neighborhoods in Houston, the historic Third Ward, is looking for volunteers to work with at a wide variety of events and activities year-round. Nonprofit group Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts, aka MECA Houston, is committed to community building of underserved youth and adults through arts and cultural programming. Donate your time as a tutors, mentor, or board member, special events assistance, or in marketing or fundraising activities. Musical theatre nonprofit TUTS is always looking for volunteers to join its mission, from work in its theatre operations and classrooms to special events.

To help those struggling with mental illness or contemplating self-harm or suicide

With social isolation increasing due to the pandemic, depression is as serious an issue as ever. Local nonprofit Crisis Intervention of Houston operates free, confidential crisis and suicide prevention counseling, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sign up online to get involved and take the upcoming training courses this season; or contact the Texas Suicide Prevention Council to learn about volunteer opportunities locally. Local organization re:MIND offers free and confidential support groups for individuals living with depression and bipolar disorders, as well as family and friends affected by it. Email to find out current volunteer opportunities. Through grassroots efforts, NAMI Greater Houston gives families and persons affected by mental illness a powerful voice in the mental health community (volunteers can sign up online). 

For those interested in mentorship and education 

Volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Houston means changing the lives of local youths in all communities. Help effect change and build lasting friendships by becoming a mentor, or simply donate your time by volunteering at an event. Become a tutor in English, math, science, and history for SHAPE (Self-Help for African People through Education), an African American community center that provides youth outreach, programs, and activities locally. Houston’s Recipe for Success is all about providing kids with seed-to-plant nutrition education, with no shortage of volunteer opportunities to help with its cause of combating childhood obesity by changing the way children understand, appreciate, and eat their food,

For bookworms

With the pandemic closing down schools for the better half of the year, childhood education has been hard hit, especially in low-income areas (it’s been estimated that 85% of Houston ISD’s elementary-aged children live at or below the poverty line). Books Between Kids makes an effort to help with that, providing Houston’s at-risk children with books to build their own home libraries. Volunteer to sort and box books at the warehouse, or organize a book drive to collect new or gently used books to donate. The Houston Public Library Foundation could also use volunteers to process books in the warehouse, help run special events, and organize book drives. And though Books for Development is not currently accepting volunteers, a donation can help move recycled books to underdeveloped countries around the world.

For animal lovers

It’s a sad fact that thousands of adoptable dogs and cats are euthanized in the Greater Houston area each year. Rescued Pets Movement gives them a second chance through rehabilitation and placement, and volunteering opportunities range from pet fostering and fundraising to driving the pets to their forever homes. The Houston Humane Society is always looking for folks to help better the lives of the homeless animals; as is animal rescue and protection organization Houston SPCA, which also rocks a Wildlife Center Volunteer Program to help injured, sick, or orphaned native wildlife survive and thrive. Or try volunteering at Friends For Life Animal Shelter & Sanctuary to walk and feed doggies, care for kitties, assist with playdates, and more.

For those who want to help the LGBTQIA+ community 

The Montrose Center is the cultural hub of Houston’s LGBTQIA+ community, providing mental health counseling, group therapy, sexual health therapy, violence survivor services, drug abuse recovery coaching, programs for youth, veterans, women, transgender people, and more; and volunteerism is the absolute backbone of its efforts. Montrose Grace Place seeks to provide a safe space for youth of all sexualities and gender identities. Direct volunteers interact as adult mentors, sitting down for family-style meals with youth, providing support during group discussions, and more; while indirect volunteers keep the place’s mission going. Sign up to help empower the homeless LGBTQIA+ youth of Houston at local drop-in center Tony’s Place; or join the Human Rights Campaign Houston, and check out its Community Hub to find ways to get involved.
 

For those who want to keep Houston clean and green

Keep H-town pretty via clean-up programs, recycling education projects, and beautification efforts with local community organization, Keep Houston Beautiful. Or volunteer at one of the city’s finest parks by checking out the programs at Buffalo Bayou Partnership (which hosts monthly volunteer workdays on the third Saturday of each month) and Hermann Park Conservancy, which identified an annual 20,000 hour gap in what the city’s Parks and Rec department is able to provide versus what the actual park needs to be properly preserved (volunteering helps with that). The Air Houston Alliance is on a mission to ensure everyone can breathe clean air; and you can sign up to join the cause or lend your voice by contacting local officials.

Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer who encourages you to lend a hand in any way you can this holiday season. Share your efforts with her on IG @brookiefafa or on Twitter @brookeviggiano.