Volunteering is an excellent way for families to make a difference in their communities and offers lots of benefits to those who volunteer their time and skills. First and foremost, nothing is more rewarding than knowing you’ve made a difference in someone’s life. What’s more, volunteering raises kids’ sense of civic responsibility. It also provides the opportunity for family bonding and skill building as well as socialization for kids and adults alike.
Regardless of where you live, countless volunteer opportunities are available, and there’s something to fit every family’s talents and interests. Share these ideas with your kids to see what triggers their enthusiasm. Then make a family plan to put it into action.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen or food pantry.
People who are impoverished or homeless are always in need of nutritious food and meals. Search online for local soup kitchens and food pantries. Then call and speak to the manager, and offer your family’s service. Be sure to mention the age of your kids in case there are age restrictions.
At a soup kitchen, you can help prepare and serve a meal or do kitchen cleanup. For a food pantry, your help may be needed to stock or create food baskets for families in need. Some pantries also need delivery assistance since many low-income families don’t have transportation to pick up their food supply.
Help out at an animal shelter.
Cats and dogs spend days, weeks, and often longer cooped up in small kennels or crates with little opportunity to exercise or socialize. Offer to spend an afternoon walking dogs or playing with cats. There are many other things you can do for a shelter, too. You can transport a pet to a new home, clean kennels, donate supplies, or help find loving homes through social media.
Adopt a road or park for cleanup.
Most states have adopt-a-highway programs. These typically require a signed contract for a period of 2 to 4 years with a promise to clean up a designated area 2 to 4 times a year. Alternatively, you could pick an unsightly city street and head out to clean up the debris. Keep kids safe by requiring them to stay off the road and pick up litter only on the shoulders. If you have younger kids, park cleanup is a safer option.
Paint a park bench.
Benches can be found in parks as well as shopping districts and along bus routes. Contact your city hall or parks and recreation department, and request permission to freshen up a bench. If your family is artistic, ask if you may do something creative to make it more cheerful.
Help build a house with Habitat for Humanity.
This organization helps build and renovate homes for families in need of safe shelter. Visit habitat.org to find your local Habitat organization, and ask how you can help. Habitat also offers a teen volunteer program.
Send letters to military members overseas.
Veterans, new recruits, and deployed troops deserve and need to know just how much we appreciate their dedication and service to our country. For more information, visit https://www.operationgratitude.com/writeletters/
Hold a clothing drive for the homeless.
Homelessness exists in every community throughout the country, whether visible or not. Homeless people are always in need of warm coats and blankets as well as a way to easily carry their bare necessities. Coordinate with a local homeless shelter, and set up several drop off locations throughout your community. Then create and pass out flyers in your neighborhood, on parked cars, and at street corners. You can also post flyers on grocery store and laundromat bulletin boards, share them in social media, and email family and friends to help spread the word.
Help an older adult by running errands.
Do you know an older person who doesn’t drive or own a vehicle? Offer to transport them to do their errands and grocery shopping. If it’s too difficult for the older person to go out, you could offer to do the errands for them.
Put together care kits for homeless shelters.
Ask local businesses to donate items for the homeless care kits you plan to create. The following are useful items to include in each kit: toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, a comb, bar of soap, shampoo, a package of hand wipes, razor, shaving cream, protein bars, and other small useful items. Any food items should be non-perishable and require no preparation.
Help someone who’s visually impaired.
Search online for your local organization for the visually impaired and offer your help. A visually impaired person may need assistance with cleaning, cooking, yard work, or errands. You can also ask the organization about other ways you can help.
Offer your service to a domestic violence shelter.
Coordinate with a local women’s shelter to hold a clothing and toy drive. Or put together arts and crafts kits, and spend an afternoon teaching a craft workshop for kids at the shelter. Childcare is also often needed for working mothers staying at the shelters.
Hold a bake sale for a charity.
Pick your favorite charity, and hold a bake sale to raise funds for it. Just ask a busy local business or grocery store if you can set up a table on a given day for your charity bake sale. Then invite family and friends to pitch in and help with the baking.
Plant seeds or greenery along a highway or main street.
Check with your city first. Then contact management at local nurseries and ask them to donate plants or seeds for the project. Plant only native flowers, shrubs, and trees that won’t require watering or maintenance.
Rake, mow, or remove snow for a disabled person.
If you don’t know anyone who’s disabled, ask coworkers or friends if they know of someone. Or do an online search for disability organizations in your area.
Foster a homeless animal.
Animal rescues are always in need of families to foster homeless pets while awaiting permanent placement. Search online for pet rescues and animal shelters. If your family has a favorite breed, look for a breed-specific rescue in your area.
Perform for children in a hospital.
Countless kids suffer from diseases that require lengthy and sometimes indefinite hospital stays. If your family’s got talent, what better way to put it to good use? Search for a children’s hospital or wing in your area and arrange a date to perform for the kids. You could put on funny skits, perform magic, dance, play music, or do acrobats.
Visit www.volunteerhr.org to find ides for volunteering locally.
Kimberly Blaker is a freelance family and lifestyle writer. She’s also founder and director of KB Creative Digital Services, an SEO and content agency, at kbcreativedigital.com