The season of getting is upon us. Our kids are making their lists and checking them twice, often not really worrying about whether they were naughty or nice. To replace attitude with gratitude, make some time to emphasize giving–and not just to relatives. Volunteering together is a great way to introduce kids to community service, and the D.C. metro area has plenty of need and opportunity. Whether you want to focus on food, help four-legged friends or channel your inner artist from the comforts of your own home, you’ll find there’s no excuse not to help.

12745717_970049383089234_1927425601439647875_nPhoto: Cards for Hospitalized Kids

Kids Helping Kids

Children’s National Medical Center
Most of the hands-on volunteering is for people ages 18 and up, with the exception of a 15 and up Ambassador Program, but the hospital needs more than bedside manners. Keep Dr. Bear’s Closet well stocked with superhero figures, Legos, books, crayons, stuffed animals, iPads – you get the idea – through donation drives. Drop off the goods at 111 Michigan Ave. NW, Suite 1180, between 10 am and 12 pm and 3 pm to 6 pm weekdays or 11 am to 3 pm on weekends.


DC Diaper Bank
Have the ultimate potty-training success party by donating leftover unopened boxes of diapers and wipes to local babies and toddlers. On average, the DC Diaper Bank provides more than 100,000 diapers to more than 3,600 families each month. (Psst! They also accept food, formula, breastfeeding supplies, bottles, pacifiers, potty training supplies and hygiene items via the Baby Pantry.)

Where: 1532 A St., NE

Shelter House
This nonprofit serves two shelters for families and one for victims of domestic violence in Fairfax County, Va. Arrange a drive or just gather items to donate as a family. Needs are greatest for toiletries, pillows, pots and pans, gift cards, diapers and wipes, baby bottles, cutlery, and sheet sets.

Where: See website for locations

Cards for Hospitalized Kids
OK, so this isn’t locally based, but seriously, it’s so easy, we couldn’t exclude it. Get out the art supplies and make uplifting cards – generally themed or holiday-specific – to be delivered to children in hospitals. Cards go out monthly. Send your creation(s) to 7290 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, IL 60631.


Color A Smile
With kids, you’re probably coloring pretty often anyway, right? Print a page from the choices on the Color a Smile website, use crayons or markers, and mail the picture (to PO Box 1516, Morristown, NJ 07962-1516). Every month, the organization distributes the drawings to senior citizens, troops overseas and “anyone in need of a smile.” In the past 25 years, it has sent more than 1 million drawings.


Generation to Generation

Hebrew Home of Greater Washington
Visit an elderly person (or two or 10) who might not have family nearby. Chat, play games or take them outside for fresh air. If you play an instrument, sing, dance or love theater, contact the recreation team about performing. Kids ages 10 to 17 need parental permission to volunteer here.

Where:  6121 Montrose Road, Rockville, Md.

4996336977_e8ddef4a69_zPhoto: Allen County (IN) Public Library via Flickr


Animal Welfare League of Alexandria
Help a furry friend without worrying about allergy attacks or friendly nips through the Youth Program’s at-home activities. These include chopping hot dogs, making Kittywands, catnip socks, Pupcicles of broth and meat, tugbraids and hiding houses (instructions for all are here).

Where: 4101 Eisenhower Ave., Alexandria, Va.

Animal Welfare League of Arlington’s Paws and Read
Who doesn’t love a good story? Children in kindergarten through fifth grade, accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, can practice reading and give cats some love by reading books to them. Take that, holiday brain drain (that’s a thing, right?).

When: Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 1 pm to 5:20 pm
Where: 2650 S. Arlington Mill Dr. (Arlington, Va)

Humane Rescue Alliance
Kids been nagging you for a pet? Give one a trial run – and a good home – as a foster family. The alliance takes in an average of 30 animals a day, and it needs help providing shelter for them, particularly those that might need specialized care, such as orphaned kittens and puppies.

Where: Locations throughout the region


Any Soldier
Gather together to create care packages for members of the military who are stationed overseas. Recommended items include playing cards, jerky, Nutella, sunflower seeds, socks and Beanie Babies. The website offers a complete list including brand names or select a service member’s name to see their wish lists.


Holidays for Heroes
Send three blank holiday cards, three blank envelopes with postage stamps and a personalized message from your family to a service member for the American Red Cross to provide to injured, ill or hospitalized service members and veterans. Each recipient will be able to send the cards to their loved ones. The deadline to get cards in for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa is Dec. 2. Mail them to the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region at 8550 Arlington Blvd., Fairfax, VA 22031.


8200880966_c3808de0b6_zPhoto: Jaro Larnos via Flickr


Arlington Food Assistance Center
Help Arlingtonians in need in several ways. Attend a Family Bagging Night for kids ages 5 to 11, pick fresh vegetables from local farms and orchards, set up a lemonade stand or bake sale to benefit the center, organize a good drive, or donate food from your own garden. Really, there’s almost nothing families can’t do to help.


The Bowie Interfaith Pantry and Emergency Aid Fund
Plunk the kids in the nearest car-shaped shopping cart and help restock the fund’s pantry through its Shop-a-Shelf Program, which reimburses folks for canned goods, fresh produce, personal care items, and other donations. Or go a step further and Adopt-a-Shelf, then keep it full year round.

Where: 2614 Kenhill Dr. (Bowie, Md)

Capital Area Food Bank
This is the largest organization in the metro area working to feed the hungry. It has partnered with 444 community organizations to provide food to those who need it and also delivers food directly, helping 540,000 people – 12 percent of the region’s population – a year eat. Do your part by gathering your family to sort and pack the food for delivery.

Where: 4900 Puerto Rico Ave., NE, and 6833 Hill Park Dr. (Lorton, Va)

Food and Friends
Volunteers founded this organization in 1988 and volunteers are still needed. Go through a volunteer orientation and then sign up to deliver meals and groceries to six to 10 families or prep and pack food (ages 14 and up for the latter). Note: Thanksgiving is an especially busy time for the org so sign up soon.

Where: 219 Riggs Rd., NE

So Others Might Eat
This interfaith organization provides food, showers, clothing, medical care and housing for those in need. Volunteers in the dining room must be at least 13 years old and accompanied by an adult, and at least 16 to do it independently. Opportunities outside food service include creating holiday decorations and baking treats to be served with meals.

Where: 71 O St., NW

Spend Yourself Food Pantry
This Falls Church-based group seeks volunteers on Saturdays between 8:30 am and 12:15 pm to provide food to clients, pack and shelve food, and interact with clients. Donations of non-perishable food items are always welcome, too.

Where: 103 W. Columbia St. (Falls Church, Va)

5266303517_e8a7c4d29e_zPhoto: Direct Relief via Flickr


A Mixed Bag

ACTIONS in Community Through Service
This group, which formed in 1969, helps people and families in need in Prince William County through programs such as housing support and domestic violence services. Children 15 and younger must be accompanied by an adult. ACTS suggests that kids coordinate drives or collections in their schools or places of worship, or that they make kits of essentials for clients.

Where: 3900 ACTS Ln. (Dumfries, Va)

Bethesda Cares
This community outreach program for the homeless provides food, clothing and psychiatric services, and helps put a roof over the heads of people in the streets. Families can help by organizing drives to collect food, clothing or toiletries. During the winter, seasonal clothing for adults is especially needed.

Where: 7728 Woodmont Ave. (Bethesda, Md)

Claude Moore Colonial Farm
Do good and get a history lesson at the same time by volunteering at this replica of an 18th-century farm. Opportunities include greeting farm guests by portraying musicians, artists, dancers, merchants, and, of course, farmers. To don a costume, you’ll have to fill out a Volunteer Guild Registration Form and complete volunteer training.

Where: 6310 Georgetown Pike (McLean, Va)

Washington, DC, Jewish Community Center December 25th Day of Service
Spend Christmas Day doing mitzvot (good deeds) such as serving meals, singing carols and visiting home-bound senior citizens. Registration is required and a $20/person program fee is requested to cover costs of supplies, including Santa suits, arts and crafts, and party decorations


Martha’s Table
This group has worked for 35 years to support children, families and the community at large in the D.C. area. Become one of the 16,000 volunteer who help with food, clothing and special events every year. Must be at least 12 to help with food and clothing.

Where: 2114 14th St., NW

Where do you go to volunteer with your kids? Tell us in the comments below.

–Stephanie Kanowitz