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Holiday Volunteering: 7 Ways to Give Back


Keep the giving spirit alive during the holidays! These five great ideas are easy for kids to do, and will help them learn that the holiday spirit is all about giving, not getting.

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Tis the Season

The holiday season is a natural time to reflect on the blessings in life, and there’s no better way to do so than giving back to the community through service projects. There’s a whole world of ways to give back that extend beyond volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating gifts to needy children.

Before you dive into a project, consider the qualities of your family and the needs of your community, to find one that matches both.

"Think through what goals you have for your family that are leading you to volunteer in the first place," advises Robert Rosenthal, spokesman for the website VolunteerMatch.

Get Organized

Once you have an idea of what cause resonates with your family, gather project ideas by contacting nonprofits that work in your area. Organizations such as VolunteerMatch and United Way maintain databases of volunteer opportunities; VolunteerMatch features nearly 80,000 organizations. Search for activities that are good for children or groups, and then ask them if they need your help.

Still hunting for ideas? We’ve got you covered with some of our favorite service projects.

Throw a Pajama Party

Many kids go to sleep each night without warm clothes to wear or bedtime stories. Pajama Program is a non-profit organization that sends new pajamas and books to kids in need, all across America. Want to help? Host a Pajama drive! Invite jammie-clad kids to your house for snacks and movies. Each guest should bring a new pair of PJs with them, for donation.

Find out how to donate by visiting Pajama Program.

Build a Neighborhood 'Mini Library'

Create a sense of community on your block. Build a mini lending library for the neighborhood kids, and encourage neighbors to stop by and take a book, or leave one. This idea was inspired by Little Free Library, a non-profit dedicated to spreading the mini-library love. Visit their website to download a PDF that will teach you how to make a mini-library of your own, about the size of a mailbox. Add a bench and some used books, and you're good to go!


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Donate to Kids Across the Globe

Speaking of books... Got some old favorites that your child has outgrown? We love Books for Africa, which sends books in huge shipping containers to dozens of countries in Africa. This is a hands-on charity project kids can sink their teeth into. In fact, older kids may even be empowered to organize a book drive on their own!

Write a Letter to a Soldier

It's hard for kids to understand war and what causes it, and it may be especially hard for a parent to explain it. But sending a letter of thanks to a soldier who's serving overseas is a worthwhile project, regardless of your politics. The Any Soldier charity aims to get mail to soldiers who don't get very much of it, and families can choose which branch of service, or which location (including non-conflict locations).

Donate Food

Nothing else matters when you're hungry. In a time of treats and abundance, it's important to remember that not everyone has a full table. Encourage your kids to bring canned goods to a local food bank, take a wagon around the neighborhood collecting food for a local charity, or serve at a soup kitchen.

Looking for a place to start? Try Feeding America, one of the country's largest hunger organizations.

Help a Neighbor

Your project can be as simple as raking leaves or shoveling snow or an elderly neighbor, says Mei Cobb, vice president of volunteer engagement for the United Way Worldwide. Something as simple as repainting the community center or volunteering to babysit a family friend’s kids can be fun and helpful ways to spread the love.

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Volunteer Year-Round

Many nonprofits receive a flood of requests during the holiday season, and see a drop in interest right after the New Year. Instead of making charity a seasonal thing, Rosenthal suggests using the holiday time to investigate possible activities to do for the rest of the year, and ask your family to commit time to giving back throughout the year.

Check out more ways to find the volunteer work that's right for your family.