Holiday Charity and Volunteering with Kids in New York City
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.
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. 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. First-time volunteers must go through a brief orientation. You can search for volunteer projects in your neighborhood, and click the family-friendly filter to find ones that are good to do with kids.
Dorot is a community-based organization that mobilizes volunteers - especially families - to alleviate social isolation among the elderly. They have won awards for their family programming and offer many opportunities throughout the year to volunteer with kids. Set aside one night of Chanukah to light the menorah with an elderly client of Dorot. Together, you and your family will create a memorable and meaningful Chanukah tradition, while fulfilling the commandment of lighting Chanukah candles with a home bound elder who may have no family with whom to celebrate the holiday. Your family will be assigned to an elder (in Manhattan). You will call to schedule a time to visit and deliver a care package from Dorot filled with treats, a small menorah and candles. Register online.
With the goal of easing the burden of hunger and poverty, Family-to-Family is a non-profit that links families with "more" to those with profoundly less. Once again this year, Family-to-Family is launching their “empathy campaign,” asking kids across the USA to give up one special gift they have asked for and have a sense they would have gotten this holiday season. Parents and kids are asked to visit the website (www.family-to-family.org/giveitup) and donate the approximate dollar amount of the gift the child has given up. Family-to-Family uses 100% of the money donated to purchase a holiday gift for a child in need.
What’s different about this toy drive is your donated funds are used to buy gifts for the moms and dads of our nation’s poorest kids, enabling them to give to their own kids on the holiday they celebrate. If you’d prefer to shop for your own gift and donate it to the campaign, Family-to-Family provides information on this option, as well. Working with partner agencies, parents in need are invited by Family-to-Family to come in to for a “shopping” party. Parents will select a gift for each of their children, wrap them and take them home to give to their kids at the Holidays.
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.
This is the 6th year of Macy’s Believe campaign benefiting Make-A-Wish. Kids of all ages can download a “letter to Santa” template from the Macy’s website, and drop their stamped letter, addressed to Santa At The North Pole, in the Santa Mail letterbox at any Macy’s retail store. For each letter received through December 24th, Macy’s will donate $1 to Make-a-Wish, up to $1 million. Make-A-Wish provides magical, life-changing experiences for terminally ill children and their families.
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. 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 Thursday, December 4 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, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 9am-4pm and on Thursday 9am-7pm. You'll be asked to provide valid identification and sign a few forms. The "elf in charge" is Peter Fontana and he can be reached at 212-330-3000.
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.
Toys for Tots
This U.S. Marine Corps Reserve program collects new, unwrapped toys during the months of December. The toys are then distributed as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community. If you would like more information or would like to volunteer to distribute toys, contact SSgt Dustin Ramirez, the Toys for Tots NYC Coordinator who can be reached at 347-450-8697 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit the website to find the drop-off location nearest you.
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.
With the motto "Love Recycled", Baby Buggy works with a network of over 100 agencies across the US to distribute necessary essentials to families in need. Baby Buggy takes donations of gear, diapers, coats and toys. Consider putting together a children's coat drive or a holiday gift drive to benefit Baby Buggy. Baby Buggy can provide posters for your drive, and can be dropped off at their mid-town location (or you can pay a small fee for a pick-up). All items should be new or gently used, and appropriate for age infant to 14 years old.
Find other holiday charity ideas in our Holiday Guide, and gift ideas in our NYC Shopping Local Gift Guide as well as our Local Guide to Stores That Give Back or our Online Retail Guide to Gifts That Give Back. Finally, to find more family friendly volunteer opportunities in the NY area subscribe to the Doing Good Together/NY free newsletter, which sends a monthly listing of local volunteer opportunities appropriate for families.
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