Holiday and Thanksgiving volunteer opportunities throughout New Jersey offer great ways to connect as a family this holiday season. Volunteering together can spark the joy of giving in children of all ages. Create new family traditions by contributing to a favorite charity or reaching out to those in need.
Read on for our rundown of volunteer opportunities for kids of all ages in New Jersey, from activities suited to younger kids, like coloring greeting cards, to ways for teenagers to serve Thanksgiving dinners.
Check out other feel-good holiday ideas, like the Mommy Poppins Operation Santa Project, in our Guide to Christmas and Hanukkah in New Jersey.
Youth volunteers are welcome to assist with daily recreation activities, including holiday events.
Volunteers at this community kitchen must be 16 years and older (under 18 must be accompanied by a guardian), but anyone can help bag hygiene kits, lunch and snack bags, or wrap utensil bundles at home and then drop them off at specific locations.
Donations are welcome to fulfill ongoing needs for dog biscuits, leashes, dog and cat food, toys, and cleaning supplies.
RELATED: 50 Thanksgiving Crafts, Games, and Activities for Kids and Families
Donate time to one of the many local charities in your area.
Kids must be at least 16 to volunteer at this emergency food and social services provider, but there are other ways to help. Younger kids can pack breakfast kits for local children or help create a Purple Apron Meal Kit to drop off for those in need.
Host a diaper drive or donate your kids' gently used clothing and baby items to Moms Helping Moms, a foundation that provides low-income families with essential baby items. Families can also volunteer to sort baby clothes, count diapers, and repackage loose diapers at their warehouse.
RELATED: Where to Find Free Turkey Giveaways or Thanksgiving Dinner in NJ
Collect books to be distributed to children with Bridges for Books.
Holiday and Thanksgiving Volunteer Opportunities for Kids in Central and South Jersey
Donate infant supplies, including baby clothes and diapers, or volunteer your time to sort clothing, count diapers, and deliver donated items.
An umbrella organization for helping Jersey Shore-area families, the United Way is always in need of help. Its volunteer portal helps connect you with current projects.
You can donate books, run a book drive, and even host a "Books for Birthdays" party in support of this organization that provides ongoing access to books for underserved children.
Families are invited to cook or run an activity for the families staying at RMHSNJ. You can also pack family welcome bags and snack packs at home to drop off for the residents.
Help create comforting bedtimes for kids in places like foster homes and shelters by collecting and donating new pajamas and books to the Pajama Program. There are several drop-off locations located across Hunterdon, Monmouth, Union, and Warren counties.
Both individuals and families can help feed the hungry in southern New Jersey with this resource. Volunteers 13 and older (under 17 must be accompanied by a guardian) may donate their time at the distribution center, events, or in the office. Plus, non-perishable foods are always needed.
RELATED: Restaurants Open on Thanksgiving in New Jersey
The Community Food Bank collects thousands of turkeys during its Turkey Drive.
Where To Serve Thanksgiving Dinner in New Jersey
Local soup kitchens provide Thanksgiving volunteer opportunities to serve meals and sort donated boxes and cans of non-perishable food. Teenagers can roll up their sleeves and serve holiday dinners, as many soup kitchens allow children ages 14 and older to help out on weekends and holidays. To schedule a shift preparing or serving Thanksgiving dinners to those in need, contact:
Volunteers 12 and older are needed to sort and repack food for delivery to hungry families across New Jersey and to collect food, including turkeys, at community food drives around the state. Teens ages 12-15 must be accompanied by an adult, and you must be 16 or older to volunteer at Egg Harbor Township.
Family Promise serves up to 170 meals daily at the Bergen County Health and Human Services Center in Hackensack, 365 days a year. Special meals are served on Thanksgiving and Christmas. You must be 18 to volunteer in person, but kids of all ages are invited to collect ingredients needed to prepare Thanksgiving dinner to make meal kits for families in need.
Market Street provides daily hot breakfast and dinner to thousands of individuals in Morristown. Volunteers aged 12-17 must be accompanied by an adult.
Eva's Village's annual Thanksgiving meal service gives hundreds of food insecure or homeless area residents a hot holiday meal. Volunteer to serve or run a drive to collect non-perishable food to stock the kitchen.
This food ministry of St. Luke's Episcopal Church will offer to-go meals for pickup on Thanksgiving. Children are welcome to volunteer with an adult to help pack Thanksgiving meal kits or sort donated items in the food pantry.
You have to be at least 13 years old to volunteer on-site at TASK. Younger kids can still help with organizing a food drive, helping wrap utensils, or making sandwiches.
Kids can make cards to send to senior citizens through Color A Smile.
Holiday and Thanksgiving Volunteer Opportunities by Age in New Jersey
Holiday and Thanksgiving Volunteer Opportunities for Preschoolers in New Jersey
Many social service agencies and faith-based organizations rely on neighborhood volunteers and donations, especially during the holidays. For hands-on help, kids as young as preschool age can color pictures to deliver smiles to home-bound senior citizens through Color A Smile, or sort through their own toy shelves to donate plastic toys in good condition to Second Chance Toys.
Holiday and Thanksgiving Volunteer Opportunities for Grade Schoolers in New Jersey
Grade schoolers writing out their Santa wish lists can embrace the spirit of giving by shopping for a new present for a child in need. Many charity organizations create Amazon Wish Lists based on what they need the most. You can browse their lists and donate items, and Amazon will deliver to the charity's verified address. Many local churches, mosques, temples, and community centers also offer holiday-giving trees, charity bazaars, and adopt-a-family programs that allow families to purchase and donate new, unwrapped gifts for homeless children and adults.
Local animal shelters have holiday wish lists, too—so, while your kids are filling Fido's stocking, they can set aside some pet goodies for St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center or your local animal shelter.
Holiday and Thanksgiving Volunteer Opportunities for Teens in New Jersey
Older children can help organize a coat drive to bring warmth this winter to families through Jersey Cares. And as temperatures drop, the whole family can pack up cold-weather kits containing warm socks, lip balm, and hand warmers for the homeless served by Bridges Outreach. Teens can also collect and donate feminine hygiene products to South Orange-based Girls Helping Girls. Period, which helps local women and girls.
For additional holiday volunteer opportunities, check out the NJ listings on Volunteer Match.
Photos courtesy of the organizations
This post was originally published in 2016 and is updated annually.