Holiday Charity and Volunteering with Kids in New York City
[UPDATED: NOVEMBER 14, 2012]
The holiday season is a time when we gather together with loved ones, enjoy delicious meals and celebrate the year gone by. Unfortunately for those New Yorkers without homes or warm meals, the holidays can be a particularly difficult time. Volunteering is a wonderful way to help those in need--and it can be extra-special when the kids join in too.
Since the abundance of volunteering opportunities in the city can be overwhelming, we've rounded up some resources and websites to get you started. No matter where you live, how old your children are or what your family is interested in, there is sure to be a program to fit your holiday volunteering desires. Although we aren't focusing particularly on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, several of the organizations listed provide services for those affected by the storm.
Places to Volunteer
New York Cares
One of the largest volunteering organizations in the city, New York Cares leads many different initiatives, including its well-known annual coat drive. They are aiming to collect a record 200,00 coats this year. Volunteers are needed to donate, collect and help sort the coats that come in. More details can be found on their website here.
New York Cares also operates a Winter Wishes program to fulfill the holiday dreams of more than 35,000 local children and families. Register online to grant the gift request of a child or create a team of Wish Makers in your local community. This is a great opportunity to involve your kids--take them shopping with you to purchase a present and help make a child's wish come true.
Other family volunteering opportunities through New York Cares include delivering holiday meals, wrapping gifts, caroling, playing bingo with seniors and more. You can search the project calendar for volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood, and click the family-friendly box to find ones that are good to do with kids.
Marble Collegiate Church
This community church has many year-round volunteering opportunities such as tutoring, meal delivery and hospital visits. Around the holidays, volunteers are needed for special activities like delivering gifts and serving meals to the homeless on Thanksgiving and Christmas. One way to involve your children is to seek their help in collecting, wrapping and distributing presents to those in need.
Formerly known as Children for Children, this global service organization provides volunteering opportunities specifically for young people. They have lots of projects sorted by interest and age, and there are even some options suitable for children under 5. generationOn's goal is to inspire children to make their mark on the world, and the holidays are a perfect time to start!
Operation Santa Claus
Operation Santa Claus is the Post Office's program that allows everyone to play Santa by answering 'Dear Santa" letters from local kids with a Christmas wish. New York City’s program is the largest in the country, with tens of thousands of people adopting letters each year. When I was young, my parents did this every year. To get me involved, they would have me donate $2 out of my weekly allowance to go toward the gifts, and we would sit down and read the letters together to make it even more personal. I can still remember some of those letters to this day. This is a particularly rewarding experience and a hands-on way to involve your children in helping out someone in need.
Operation Santa Claus kicks off on December 5th and runs until Christmas Eve. You can pick up letters from the main post office at 421 Eighth Avenue (right across from Penn Station) Monday through Saturday 9am-4pm, and until 7pm on Thursday. You'll be asked to provide valid identification and sign a form before accessing the letters. You can contact them directly at 212-330-3000 for further information.
City Harvest feeds hungry New Yorkers and has tons of volunteer opportunities throughout the year. One option that is particularly good for children is Food Drives. You and your kids can organize a food drive at your office, their school or your place of worship with the tools provided to you by City Harvest. Kids can help spread the word and get their friends to donate, too.
What You Can Do at Home
In addition to volunteering, children can easily get involved in helping others without even leaving the house. With new toys rolling in around the holidays, take this opportunity to clean out their current cache. Worried they won't be too happy with this idea? Get them excited by explaining this special opportunity to help other children by donating toys and games they no longer use. This is a great time of year to clean out clothes they've outgrown too.
Places to Donate
Room to Grow
Room to Grow is a unique organization that provides essentials for babies born to families living in poverty, and continues to monitor their progress every three months until the child turns three. Room to Grow accepts donations of baby gear, clothing, toys and other essentials for children up to age 3. Donations can be dropped off at the Chelsea location or picked up by a messenger for a tax-deductible fee. Smaller items can also be donated through the mail.
Housing Works accepts donations at any of their thrift store locations throughout the city. If you've got a surplus of books or DVDs, their Bookstore Cafe will be happy to take them off your hands. Proceeds from all Housing Works stores benefit people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Toys for Tots
This U.S. Marine Corps Reserve program collects new, unwrapped toys during the months of October, November and December. The toys are then distributed as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community. SSgt Dustin Sawyer is the Toys for Tots NYC Coordinator, and the office is located in Brooklyn. Please visit their website to find the drop-off location nearest to you.