10 Volunteer & Community Service Ideas & Opportunities
Volunteering together teaches children positive values, like kindness, empathy, and tolerance, and opens up channels of communication between parent and child. Engaging children in community service can increase their participation as future volunteers, helping to create more resilient and sustainable communities. Ideas for December and beyond include: an intergenerational way to support veterans during the holiday season and beyond; a guide on how to self-organize a food drive to promote food security in the region; place to share in the preparation and consumption of holiday meals; collection drives to support food security and senior services; opportunities to help homeless children celebrate birthdays; connection and inclusion with people with IDD; among other ideas.
Visit the VA
Families can engage in community service projects by becoming involved with the Veterans Association of Central Western Massachusetts’ volunteer program or by donating items to veterans who live on the VA campus. While most volunteer opportunities are for older teens and adults, groups of children are invited to visit as recreation volunteers – an opportunity that can range from helping residents get outside to enjoy beautiful weather to performing a concert. Visiting the VA is an excellent way for families and community groups to reach out to those who live there. It provides residents who may not be able to explore the community very often with a slice of local culture. Additionally, a visit can provide volunteers with experience working in an intergenerational environment, and will allow them the opportunity to learn from community members they may not have encountered otherwise.
Sock for Seniors
Of all the possible ways to give back to your community during the holiday season (and the entire year, too), collecting socks might seem like the smallest of ways to make a difference. In reality, it’s not such a small gesture! The socks that you collect or donate don’t have to be boring six-packs of plain white gym socks; they can be whimsical or even hand-knitted! Read more in our post, Community Service Learning: Socks for Seniors.
Organize a Food Drive
According to the Food Bank of Western MA, “A canned food drive is a great way for individuals, groups, and organizations of all sizes to take action and help fight hunger in our community. They can also provide nutritious food and vital operating funds while raising awareness of hunger issues in our communities.” Want to get started? Their Food Drive Tool Kit can help to get you started with information to ensure a successful drive. This tool kit also outlines how the Food Bank of Western MA can support you with publicity, materials and flyers about The Food Bank, and fact sheets to generate participation in your event.
Collect for Care Bags
Care bags are an example of an at-home community service project that families with young children can do together with parents or teens facilitating. Care bags can be created to donate for people of all ages to a variety of organizations, but creating them for children can help young children feel a particular connection to the process. While your own children may not have experienced anything like what those who will be receiving your bags may have (homelessness, foster care, major illness, etc.), they will already have one thing in common: they’re kids, and they know what is fun and exciting, as well as what would be comforting during a scary time. Read more in our post, Community Service: Creating Care Bags for Giving.
Share a Meal
Stone Soup Café is a model of service that helps build a “diverse, inclusive community through a high-quality dining experience with healthy, delicious food and cultural offerings.” Community meals are great intergenerational opportunities to sit down with neighbors of all ages, making connections and nurturing relationships across the generations. According to Feeding America, “Many people facing hunger are forced to make tough choices between buying food and medical bills, food and rent, and/or food and transportation. This struggle goes beyond harming an individual family’s future; it can harm us all.” Volunteering and dining with Stone Soup Café does more than fill bellies; it strengthens the social fabric of the community by developing a sense of place in ourselves through shared experiences. Community meals also offer implicit learning opportunities by providing an intergenerational environment for community members of all ages to share stories and make connections at the “kitchen table.” Holiday meals allow us to establish healthy relationships by reminding us that we are interwoven with one another. These connections can help carry us all into the darkest time of the year with a bright light of compassion and caring. No reservations are needed. Pay-what-you-can donations welcomed. Stone Soup Café. 413-475-0072. Meals at the All Souls Church. 399 Main Street. Greenfield, MA.
Support Children in Homeless Shelters
Thanks to Birthday Wishes, a nonprofit organization serving much of New England and New York, children living in homeless shelters can celebrate their birthdays with games, cake, and gifts – and there are lots of ways that families can help to support the organization’s efforts! Birthday Wishes’ mission is made evident through their name: they make homeless children’s birthday wishes come true. This is done in a few different ways, depending on a family’s living situation. Birthday Wishes organizes and holds parties for children – either individually or in groups – at homeless shelters in numerous communities. However, some children reside in safe shelters where non-residents aren’t able to visit. For these children, Birthday Wishes provides a Birthday Box packed with everything a family needs to have a small gathering to celebrate – cake mix and frosting (as well as a baking dish), party hats, favors, decorations, and – of course – presents!
Support Neighbors in Transition
Are you looking for community service opportunities to do as a family? Whether you’re hoping to fill a few free afternoons with an engaging activity or are planning to make a long-term commitment to lending a hand with a community organization, opportunities for service learning abound at The Gray House! Located in Springfield’s North End, The Gray House offers a thrift shop and food pantry, along with after school programming and a place-based summer program for Springfield students. Families can spend time sorting donations at the thrift shop or food pantry, helping to sort donations, prepare distribution bags, and fill displays of food, household items, and clothing – activities that are all necessary to keep the services running smoothly. Both the shop and the pantry are always in need of volunteers. Still, families don’t have to commit to regular visits – perfect for busy families, or those with regularly changing schedules.
Support Families with New Babies
It Takes a Village is a great way to introduce your older children to the challenge and beauty of raising young children. It Takes a Village is a free community service that supports families for the first three months after a baby is born. A family is matched with a volunteer who visits them at home every week to help them through the challenges that a newborn brings. Support includes anything from meal preparation and dishwashing to companionship and playing with older children. Everyone needs help when they have a baby. The organization could match you and your child with another family, and you could visit together. Read more about them at www.hilltownvillage.wordpress.com.
Volunteer Shifts at Survival Center
The Amherst Survival Center has volunteer opportunities for teens ages 15yo+ on weekdays (not Wed). Shifts are typically 2 hours/week between 9am-3pm. There are several places for teens & adults to volunteer. ASC representative wrote, “We look for a minimum of a two hour/week commitment for a minimum of 8 weeks…If volunteers can get here in the morning, we need help organizing and sorting through fresh bread and produce from area markets and farms, which we then distribute to about 100 people each day. If they have a super organized closet, they may be a good fit for helping in our Free Store. Certain days we also need help serving lunch and doing dishes. Our Emergency Food Pantry often needs help keeping the shelves stocked and helping folks fill their carts with their monthly food “box.” Strong folks can help pick up furniture from around town in the mornings. People who like to clean can help clean the place after 2:30PM. There are lots of options.”
Promote Social Inclusion
e-Buddies is an e-mail pen pal program that provides opportunities for e-mail friendships between people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their peers who do not have IDD. Each participant is matched in a one-to-one e-mail friendship, and matched pairs are asked to exchange e-mails once a week for at least one year. Matches are made based on similar age, gender, geography, and shared interests. Read more in our post, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Pen Pal Program for T(w)eens.