How to volunteer with your children in NYC

11/27/08 - By Anna Fader

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We have more up-to-date posts about volunteering with kids in NYC in our Holiday Guide.

Reader, Susan, asked me if I knew of any places for families to volunteer around the Holiday time. Her idea was to get a couple of families together in her neighborhood to all volunteer together. That sounds like a great way to teach children about the importance of helping others and making it a fun community activity at the same time.

There are always so many opportunities around the city--even I find it overwhelming, but there are actually some great resources and websites that make it easy to find a good program to fit your location, child's age and interests to do some holiday giving.

Places to volunteer:

NY Cares
NY Cares is one of the largest volunteer organizations in the area and leads many different initiatives to help our neighbors in need. This time of year many volunteers are needed to sort the coats that are donated to their coat drive. It's hard work and not the best for small children. But, NY Cares also operates a Winter Wishes program to fulfill the Holiday dreams of more than 31,000 New York children. Take your children shopping with you to buy a present for one or more children that may only receive the gifts you bought for them.


Other opportunities to volunteer with your kids through NY Cares includes delivering Holiday meals, reading to children while their parents take English classes, playing bingo with seniors and many others. You can search their project calendar to find volunteer opportunities near you and check off family friendly for ones that are good to do with kids.

Marble Church
Susan also had Marble Church recommended to her. Marble Church has many regular opportunities for occasional volunteers and special Holiday activities like wrapping and delivering gifts, serving food to the homeless on Christmas morning and serving Thanksgiving dinner.

Children for Children
Children for Children is an organization that matches children with volunteer opportunities that match their interests. You can search by location, interest and age, including volunteer opportunities that are good for children under 5. I looked and found a fun scarf-making volunteer opportunity coming up in Brooklyn suitable for all ages.

Operation Santa Claus
Operation Santa Claus is the program offered by the New York Post Office to answer the 500,000 letters of children who have written Santa asking for presents. The stories in the letters can be quite profound and are often wonderful examples of Holiday selflessness in and of themselves. Just reading the letters of another child who has so little and just wants what our children may take for granted can be a great lesson for a child, but to be able to fulfill that wish and have the wonderful and rewarding feeling of having made a difference for someone else, I think, is a tremendous experience for a child.

Operation Santa Claus runs until Christmas Eve. Letters can be selected in person at the main post office, 421 8th Ave. at 33rd St. The hours are:

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday: 9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Thursday: 9:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Saturday: 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

What you can do at home:

In addition to volunteering children can easily get involved in giving and helping others right from home.

Clean Up and Give
I think it's great to clean out the kids' toy cache before the Holidays to make room for the new incoming gifts. Most kids would, however, disagree with this opinion. Turn getting rid of the old into an opportunity to help other children by giving those gently toys and games that haven't come out of the closet in a year to charity. Hopefully knowing they are helping another child with ease the pain of separation. Bye, bye baby things.

Let Kids Take the Lead
At our school last year, rather than the traditional drive, the principal encouraged kids to come up with their own ideas of how to raise money. It was so cool. Each kid held their own little bake sale, asked neighbors for donations or even gave from their own piggy banks. The best part was just seeing them think about how they could help, taking the lead and doing the work themselves. Plus they were so proud of their contributions.

Where to Donate:
Room to Grow
Room to Grow is a well-established organization that provides the essentials needed for babies to families in poverty. They don't just give out gear, they work with mothers from the third trimester and provide not just stuff, but monitor the child's development every three months to make sure all the baby's needs are being met.

Room to Grow accepts donations of baby gear, clothing, toys and other essentioals for children up to age 4. Donations can be dropped off at their Chelsea location or they offer free pick-ups once a month. An immediate pick-up can be scheduled for a fee. Some children's stores often collect donations too.

Housing Works
Housing Works is a convenient place to donate because they have several locations and will take toys (which the Salvation Army will not). Money made from their thrift stores goes to help people with HIV.