I’ve received quite a few inquiries over the last few weeks — and, really, over the years — about family-friendly volunteer opportunities around the DC area. I used to respond with one or two places that I knew welcomed kids to help out, but finally did some deeper research to offer more suggestions of organizations where children and parents can give back in a hands-on way together. And if you know of opportunities that you don’t see listed here, feel free to let me know in the comments, and I’ll add them to the mix. Happy Volunteering!
DC Diaper Bank
The Silver Spring non-profit that provides diapers and other essential items to families in need welcomes volunteers of all ages to help with bundling diapers and other tasks at the warehouse. And if your babes are too little to pitch in, they have a sweet little area where they can play while you help.
Capital Area Food Bank
The largest organization in the Washington metro area working to solve hunger and related problems distributes food to hundreds of thousands of people per year. Kids ages 12 and up can help sort and package food in the warehouse. Families with younger children can volunteer together in an area outside of the warehouse — the kids will be assigned easier tasks like prepping boxes and bags.
DC Central Kitchen
Volunteers can help their mission to break the cycle of hunger and poverty by actually working in the kitchen — cut, chop, peel, and package meals for the community. Kids must be at least 12 years old and prepared to stand for three hours.
Wreaths Across America
On Saturday, December 17, you can help place Veterans’ Remembrance Wreaths on the graves of American heroes buried at Arlington National Cemetery. There is no sign-up or age requirement — families are encouraged to volunteer together. Be sure to visit the website for details, including schedule and meeting location.
Washington DC Jewish Community Center
The DCJCC has volunteer opportunities throughout the year but December 25 is their annual Day of Service. Thousands of volunteers in the DC-Metro area serve meals, sing carols, visit home-bound seniors, throw holiday parties, play bingo, and deliver holiday cheer to those in need — and many of the opportunities are family-friendly. Registration with more details will be available in late November. And something to keep in mind for next year: The signature Everything But the Turkey event takes place right before Thanksgiving. As the name implies, they prepare everything except the bird (that’s provided by DC Central Kitchen) for Thanksgiving meals for thousands of people in need around the area. And they have family-friendly sessions, too.
Animal Welfare League of Alexandria
During the school year, kids in grades 3-12 can take part in the Book Buddies program and read to cats and other small animals at the shelter. It’s a win-win — kids can improve their reading skills while the kitties enjoy the human interaction. Sign-up is 30 days in advance for 20-minute reading sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 12-6pm. Children must be accompanied by a parent.
S.O.M.E. (So Others Might Eat)
The interfaith, community-based organization helps the poor and homeless in DC by meeting the immediate daily needs of the people they serve with food, clothing, and health care. While kids need to be at least 13 to volunteer in the dining room (and up to age 15 needs an accompanying adult), there are other ways younger children can help, too. Youth groups can organize food drives, create holiday or seasonal decorations, and make treats that can be served to clients.
The group provides vulnerable people in Washington, DC, with a wide range of services to help stabilize their lives. They welcome young volunteers to help with their evening program, which includes dinner service and enrichment programming. There is no age requirement; they leave it up to the discretion of the parents to decide if their child is ready for the experience.
Meals on Wheels Maryland
The non-profit helps homebound people to eat well and remain in their own homes by preparing and delivering nutritious meals. Their Moms for Meals program encourages parents to volunteer with their children during the summer and winter breaks from school as a driver/visitor team. Home School families are welcome and community service hours are available.
National Park Service
There are many opportunities to get involved with the NPS in the DC area, from helping out with maintenance on the National Mall and memorials to removing invasive plants at local parks to cleaning up trails.
Help from Home
You don’t always have to be on site to give back. If the options above don’t work for your family, have the kids do activities at home with end results that benefit others. They can help sort clothing to donate (see this article from DCist for where to take it), set up a lemonade stand and give the earnings to charity, or organize a food or clothing drive with friends or a youth group. And if you have other ideas, feel free to share them below!