During this season of getting, and eating, and then getting some more, New York City parents often find themselves wondering, “How can I teach the spirit of giving, too?” We’ve rounded up some of the ways the whole family can volunteer together in NYC — not only during the holiday season, but all year ’round.


Mural painter photo via: New York Cares Facebook page

General Volunteering Opportunities

NYC Service
It would stand to reason that the government of New York City would know where there are citizens in need, and how fellow New Yorkers can pitch in. Head to NYC’s official site dedicated to helping people find volunteering opportunities to get the scoop on where to help.  You can search by location, interests, skill sets and more. Among the areas listed on the site are working with seniors, children and food pantries, all of which are excellent for introducing kids to volunteer work.

Website: nycservice.org

New York Cares
Another broad organization that works to connect willing volunteers with worthy causes, New York Cares allows you to search opportunities as well. For older kids, the organization offers Youth Service Clubs, specifically for high-school students; the Whole Family Volunteering listings highlight work you can do as a familym such as tutoring, making arts and crafts, crocheting blankets, distributing meals and painting public schools.


Website: newyorkcares.org

NY Families Give Back
While the above pair of organizations have a “Volunteer With Kids” option, NY Families Give Back is a site set up to facilitate family volunteer opportunities exclusively. The site features a curated list of programs families can do together, ranging from working at soup kitchens and food pantries, to playing bingo at a rehabilitation center. A day-by-day schedule is available as well; all you need to do to get started is fill out a waiver.



City Meals on Wheels photo: via City Meals on Wheels Facebook page


City Meals on Wheels
As long as they’re with an adult, children under the age of 16 are welcome and encouraged to help deliver meals to housebound seniors or to serve the same food in a communal atmosphere at select senior centers. The organization develops programs specifically for holidays, including Christmas and New Year’s. This is a wonderful opportunity for children who might not have grandparents in their lives, as well as for those who love hearing stories about life before then Internet. Why just read an “American Girl” book about World War II, when you can have an actual veteran tell you all about it?

Website: citymeals.org


Toys for Tots photo: via MarineCorps NewYork on Flickr

Toy Drives:

Toys for Tots
The big Kahuna of toy drives is Toys for Tots, an annual campaign organized by the U.S. Marine Corp Reserves. Each year the program collects toys from October through December and distributes those donations to less fortunate children in the community. National toy drop-off sites include Toys R Us and Babies R Us, and you can search for drop-off sites in your zip code here.

Website: toysfortots.org

CUNY Cares! Toy Drive
The City University of New York CUNY Cares Toy Drive collects and distributes toys to children in New York City’s Homeless shelters. Toys should be new and unwrapped and will be collected until December 19. A handy list of suggested toys by age group can be found here, and campus drop-off locations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn are listed here.

Website: cuny.edu


Puppetry Arts photo: via Puppetry Arts Facebook page


Youth Empowerment Program of Puppetry Arts
“The Little Organization That Does Big Things” provides live entertainment featuring puppets, music and crafts for a variety of underserved children in the Brooklyn area and beyond. Families are welcome to volunteer at Puppetry Arts’ regularly scheduled community outreach festivals by helping to set up, break down, run games and assist with projects.

Website: puppetryarts.org


The Partnership for the Homeless
Children ages five and older accompanied by a parent or guardian can help right away with the organization’s annual Holiday Party in December for homeless and at-risk families. Then, later in the year, you can work in the organization’s East New York community garden, where volunteers help promote healthy living and eating by planting, watering and weeding. The Partnership also offers opportunities to help paint as part of the redesign of the Positive Step and Family Resource Center facilities.

Website: partnershipforthehomeless.org

Do you have a favorite way to volunteer as a family? Tell us about it in the comments below!

—Alina Adams