It’s always the right time to volunteer and pay it forward. And although the main driver is to do something nice for someone in need, do-gooders benefit, too. For instance, volunteering eases anxiety and boosts happiness. It’s never too soon to share these actions – and reactions – with children, and there is no shortage of chances to make a difference right here in the D.C. metro area. Whether you want your family to do something hands-on, such as prepare food for the hungry, or at a slight distance, such as raise money to donate to a local charity, we have 39 ideas to get those acts of kindness rolling.
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
Helping babies is the number one mission of the DC Diaper Bank. Diapers, newborn necessities, nursing supplies, hygiene products and more are all collected to empower and change lives of babies living at or below the poverty line. Kiddos can get involved by helping to collect supplies, packaging diapers, and distributing to those in need. Even the littlest of helpers can join in – there’s a playroom for the young and eager to practice their skills while you and junior box up pampers.
Where: 1532 A St., NE
Art for Humanity
This Arlington-based charity has been helping poor children in Honduras through the Honduras Independence Bilingual School since 2006 and has three main ways to involve kids. One is by collecting vitamins and health supplies such as ibuprofen and cough drops for adults and children. Another is to sponsor a child’s education. The website lists kids in need and how much money per month they need. Sponsors get reports of their progress and a video of the children.
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
We Are Family
Missing Grandma and Grandpa? Volunteer with We are Family! They reach out to isolated senior citizens to help with groceries, cleaning, transportation, and/or just a friendly visit. Little ones can bring huge smiles to faces who might not get to interact with pint-sized future presidents, doctors, social workers and teachers. Kids who visit with the elderly benefit from the stories, interactivity and getting a dose of Grammie and Pop-Pop – even if it’s just for a little while. Be still our beating hearts.
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.
Photo: Allen County (IN) Public Library via Flickr
Montgomery County Humane Society
To volunteer at a shelter, you must be at least 16, but younger people can help in other ways. For instance, host a drive for new or gently used pet supplies, or make a “no sew” pet bed, cat toys and other do-it-your-self toys. Find specific instructions .
Where: 601 South Stone St., Rockville
Lucky Dog Animal Rescue – Lucky Kids Club
Got a pint-sized animal lover who wants to collect a whole zoo? The Lucky Kids Club is the perfect way for your personal Jeff Corwin to get involved without having to get another puppy or kitty. Lucky doggers can host fundraising events, make dog toys, bake treats, draw pictures (yes, really!) and even invite Lucky Dog Rescuers to school to learn more about the animals they help. Woof!
Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County – Chomper’s Food Bank Program
Even pets need a hand up sometime – which is exactly where Chomper’s Food Bank comes into play. Little one who are always trying to fill up the grocery cart with all those delicious treats, can now fill up their basket to help Fido instead of driving Mama crazy. Dried and wet food, kitten, puppy or senior food, it’s all needed at Chomper’s so that dogs and cats of Montgomery County can stay in their homes even if their owners are a little down on their luck. Helping animals and people? We call that a win-win.
Lost Dog & Cat Rescue
Fans of Lost Dog Café know that their mission is to help animals in need. So, help kiddos put their money where their mouths are, and fundraise for animals who need it most. Middle schoolers, high schoolers and even elementary aged animal lovers can collect coins, bills and checks to donate to homeless dogs and cats. To date, they’ve helped more than 22,000 furry critters – all with a little help from their friends.
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
Wreaths Across America
Cemeteries may not be the first things that come to mind when volunteering as a family, but Wreaths Across America aims to place a festive, holiday wreath on the grave of soldiers to “Remember, Honor and Teach.” Families can lay wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as multiple locations throughout the DMV.
Socks for Vets
For those with younger kiddos who want a taste of volunteering, but might not be able to pack food or read to puppies, Socks for Vets is the perfect fit. Each month, the founder, Cavan McIntyre-Brewer decides different ways to honor the nation’s veterans. Your family can get involved by donating socks, making cards, shopping for goat supplies (seriously they have pack goats!), and other myriad ways to show support for the bravest of the brave. Socks for Vets regularly visits the D.C. area where they hand out cards to Vets at the memorials, volunteer at military hospitals or participate in parades where they showcase their mission (D.C. is a bit much for the furry critters, though, so don’t expect to see goats roaming around Pennsylvania Ave.) and how they help wounded warriors.
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.
Photo: Jaro Larnos via Flickr
Manna Food Center
This charity in Gaithersburg has volunteer opportunities for kids ages 7 and up who want to help feed the hungry in Montgomery County. One activity is Family Box Packing. The center recommends that children be at least 10, but kiddos as young as 7 are welcome. At these events, held five time a month, participants spend about 90 minutes packing about 192 boxes of nonperishable food items. Check the website for additional opportunities, such as food drives.
Where: 9311 Gaither Road, Gaithersburg
Meals on Wheels
As part of the Moms for Meals program, kids can accompany parents on weekday delivery runs during summer and winter breaks. Meals on Wheels provides food to homebound seniors and people with disabilities. If you can spare the time, chat with the recipient for a few minutes to make their day just that might brighter.
Food for Others
Make a family outing to this food distribution center, which serves those in need in Fairfax specifically and Northern Virginia in general. Children must be at least 12 and those under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Tasks include packing food boxed, Power Packs and USDA bags, unloading trucks, and sorting and stocking donated food. Personal note: My children ran a neighborhood food drive to collect some of the center’s most-needed items as part of a kindness project for their elementary school, so that’s another way to participate.
Where: 2938 Prosperity Ave., Fairfax
ALIVE! Food Distribution
Bagging groceries and distributing them is a great way for young and older munchkins to help others. ALIVE! has set weekends were volunteers can setup, unload, bag, distribute and register clients to receive food donated through the ALIVE! food bank. If your volunteer is older (teenager) he or she can help with furniture delivery, special events and maybe even at the ALIVE! house in old town. Whatever your family desires, there’s something to spark passion at every level.
Arlington Food Assistance Center
Different kids means different interests – which is perfect for the Arlington Food Assistance Center. Children as young as 5 can help out at Family Bagging Nights (put food in grocery bags), while teenagers can post leaflets and posters promoting food drives. Middle and high schoolers can host Dimes for Dining where they give their neighbors a jar to fill with change and collect them at the end of the month.
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)
Photo: Direct Relief via Flickr
A Mixed Bag
Serving more than 600 homeless and formerly homeless children and adults each year, this shelter serves people in need in the city of Alexandria. They’re looking for in-kind donations of food, toiletries and miscellaneous items such as air mattresses, dish and bath towels, and SmarTrip cards. The shelter also keeps an Amazon Wish List in case you want to have the kiddos pick items there that can be shipped directly to the shelter.
Where: 5701-D Duke St., Alexandria
Lorton Community Action Center
More than 100 youth volunteer here every year in a variety of ways. Students 13 and older may help prepare food bags and assist with donations in the pantry, children of any age may organize a food drive, kids 15 and younger with an adult on hand may help in the Lorton’s Attic thrift store, and kids can raise money to donate to the center in lieu of (or in addition to) holiday or birthday gifts using a personal fundraising .
Where: 9518 Richmond Highway, Lorton
Habitat for Humanity
Children as young as 5 can participate here as part of Habitat Youth Programs, which aims “to instill a love of volunteering from an early age.” Contact your local affiliate for details on onsite help, but other ways to get littles involved include making cards for donors, homeowners and volunteers using Habitat’s card creation kit; raising money through Helping Hands for Habitat; and writing letters to local lawmakers to speak out against substandard housing.
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)
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)
The Salvation Army – Kettle Bell Ringing
Rambunctious and fun-loving kiddos will have a blast ringing bells for The Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle drive. Bell ringers usually sign up for a minimum 2-hour shift so it’s the perfect way to split duties between friends, siblings or group organizations. And, all the little ones need to do is ring a bell! They can be noisy, chatty and sweet all while raising money for those in need. Who wouldn’t drop some coins in the kettle?!
Rising Hope Mission Church
Families looking for a place where their donations will go directly to the local community should check out Rising Hope Mission Church. 100% of donations go to people living in poverty along the Route 1 corridor in Fairfax County. Kiddos can host food drives, clothing donations and even plan a lemonade stand in support of Rising Hope. Each season the mission has different requests so parents and their kids can tailor their volunteering to what’s needed most at the church.
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
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.