Finding volunteering opportunities on or around Thanksgiving, on
or around Christmas, or any time between these holidays, is much
harder than most people imagine. Why is it so hard?
If you are absolutely determined to find ways to volunteer during
- So many, many people want to volunteer during the holidays
that organizations that involve volunteers during these days
book their volunteer openings quickly, often months in advance
(some food pantries and soup kitchens are booked with
volunteers for Thanksgiving and Christmas a YEAR in advance!).
- Most economically or socially-disadvantaged people find
family to be with during the holidays. Even most people
staying in homeless shelters go to a family member's home on
Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. That means
that many shelters and soup kitchens don't serve many people
on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
- It is very hard for a nonprofit organization to develop a
one-time, just-show-up and volunteer activity that is worth
all the expense (staff time to supervise the volunteers and
supervise them, particularly since the volunteer may never
volunteer again); often, it's cheaper and easier to simply let
the staff do the work themselves. In addition, group
volunteering activities are also quite difficult to develop,
for similar reasons.
- Staff at nonprofits often suspend all training of new
volunteers the week of Christmas, through January 1. This is
to allow staff some time off to be with their own families for
Clean up or decorate a room in a facility serving youth,
seniors, patients, etc. (you will have to start looking at least
six months in advance for such an experience).
- Start looking early. August is not too early. Janaury is
not too early!
- Volunteer with the organization months before the
holidays: go through their orientation process, get trained,
and prove yourself as a reliable volunteer at least a few
times. You are more likely to get to volunteer during the
holidays as a result.
- Call your local United Way and ask for a list of homeless
shelters and other agencies that serve food in your community,
then call each shelter to ask if you can volunteer during the
holidays (call at least three months in advance; six months or
a year is even better). Be ready to call numerous places in
order to find a place to volunteer on a holiday, and have an
alternative if, even calling six months in advance, you cannot
find a place on your preferred day.
- Call the Salvation Army to see if they will be delivering
meals or serving meals during the holidays and if you could
volunteer to help with either activity. Call at least four
months in advance.
- Contact your local office of Meals on Wheels. They will
prefer that you volunteer several times before the holidays,
to prove yourself as a reliable volunteer, before signing you
up for any days during the holidays.
- Contact local hospice organizations to see if you could
help with meal delivery or other services during the holidays,
or on a specific day.
- Call your local USO, VFW, VA hospital and other veterans
organizations and ask them if they will be doing any
activities during the holidays that you could volunteer for.
- Call your local hospital and ask to speak with the
volunteering coordinator. Ask her if it would be okay for you
to make get well cards for all the children in the pediatric
unit that will be there during the holidays, or on
Thanksgiving or Christmas in particular, how many cards you
would need to make to ensure each child got such a card, and
how you would deliver those to the hospital so that they get
to the kids on the day you want them delivered. Then spend a
day (you can include friends and family!) making those cards.
- Call your local jail or nearest prison and ask if it would
be okay to make Happy Holiday cards for the people
incarcerated. Ask how many you should make and when you should
drop them off to be distributed on a holiday. When making your
cards, be senstive to the variety of cultures and beliefs that
may be among the residents.
- Make a list of all of the various senior homes in your
immediate area. Call each and find out how many people are
living in each, and if it would be okay for you to make and
drop off Season's Greetings cards you make. Then spend
a day, afternoon or morning making cards for one of these
facilities. When making your cards, be senstive to the variety
of cultures and beliefs that may be among the residents.
- Make baked goods and, on the holiday of your choice, drop
by places that might have someone working -- animal shelter
staff, police, firefighters -- and distribute them with your
- Practice singing 5 - 10 short songs with families or
friends, then call your local hospital or senior home and see
if you could perform there during lunch or supper for patients
or residents during the holidays.
- Get a group together to serenade volunteers serving food at
the local homeless shelter, or people coming in to pick up
deliveries for Meals on Wheels, or volunteers at a Habitat for
Humanity site. Get permission from the associated nonprofit
well in advance -- do NOT just show up. And take no for an
answer -- if you are going to be in the way, or your going to
delay work too much, your offer may be turned down. You can,
ofcourse, also look for opportunities to sing for recipients
of service (people in hospice care, people receiving meals at
home, etc.) but, again, get permission from the associated
nonprofit well in advance -- do NOT just show up.
Arrange to do a canned food drive to benefit your nearest
food pantry at your workplace, community of faith, ethical
society, civic group, sports facility, or central site in your
Arrange to have a book drive for the local library at your
workplace, community of faith, ethical society, civic group,
sports facility, or central site in your neighborhood (however,
call the library first, to make sure they accept book donations,
and make sure donors understand that their books will probably
be sold and the money used to benefit the library, rather than
their books becoming a part of the collection).
Note that for certain activities, nonprofits may require
that the names and home addresses of all volunteers be
supplied to them. They may require volunteers to undergo
criminal background checks. Don't be offended; respect the
policies and procedures of nonprofit organizations regarding
volunteer involvement, some of which may be required by law,
just as you expect employees to adhere to policies and
procedures at your workplace.
Also see the various web sites where you can find places to
volunteer in your community in the USA:
You may also want to review these
resources regarding labor laws and volunteering.
If you feel mistreated as a volunteer, here is advice
for volunteers on how to complain.
Family Volunteer - Volunteering by
Families with Children
You are NOT too young to volunteer! Ways
you can volunteer, no matter how young you are
Advice for volunteering as a group /
volunteering in a group
Finding Community Service
and Volunteering for Teens
How to Find Volunteering
Opportunities, a resource for adults who want to
Online Volunteering (Virtual
Creating or Holding a Successful
Community Event or Fund Raising Event.
Fund Raising For a Cause or
How you can advocate for an issue
important to you
Volunteering To Help After
Tax credits for volunteering
(for residents of the USA)
How to Make a Difference
Internationally/Globally/in Another Country Without
Using Your Business Skills for
Good - Volunteering Your Business Management Skills, to
help people starting or running small businesses / micro
enterprises, to help people building businesses in
high-poverty areas, and to help people entering or re-entering
the work force.
Details on how to quickly fill a community
service obligation from a court or school.
Ideas for Leadership
These are more than just do-it-yourself volunteering - these
are ideas to create or lead a sustainable, lasting benefit to
a community, recruiting others to help and to have a
leadership role as a volunteer. These can also be activities
for the Girl Scouts Gold Award, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award
(U.K.), a mitzvah project, or even scholarship consideration.
Ideas for Creating Your Own
to complain about your volunteering experience.
Donating Things Instead of Cash
or Time (In-Kind Contributions)
Group Volunteering for Atheist and
Helping People Address Their
Problems with Plastic
How to mobilize a community to clean up plastic bottles,
plastic bags and other plastic waste from their environment,
and how to reduce their use of such items in the future
Ideas for Funding Your
Volunteering Abroad Trip.
Careers Working With Animals
(for the benefit of animals)
© 2010 by Jayne
Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can
be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express
written permission by Jayne Cravens.
The Ultimate Teen Guide (It Happened to Me)
Busy Family's Guide to Volunteering: Doing Good Together
Good Together: 101 Easy, Meaningful Service Projects for
Families, Schools, and Communities
Every Parent!: Encouraging Families to Sign On, Show Up, and
Make a Difference
Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and
as Volunteers: Preparing for Community Service