Where to volunteer in NYC: Food banks, shelters, soup kitchens, and more

November 13, 2017

Image by acfb.org

The holiday season is the time of year when seeing friends and family is hard to avoid. We also find ourselves with more vacation days during these winter months. However, even though these two holiday realities suggest cheer and relaxation, they don’t always mean we’re taking the necessary time to slow down and appreciate what really matters. Instead of just eating and drinking your way through the next weeks, why not harness the holiday spirit and take a pause to help your fellow New Yorkers in need? There are hundreds of opportunities to volunteer from now through the New Year, and the list we’ve compiled below is a good place to start.

Photo via God’s Love We Deliver/Flickr

1. God’s Love We Deliver
The mission of God’s Love We Deliver is to improve the health and well-being of men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other serious illnesses by alleviating hunger and malnutrition. Their efforts include preparing and delivering nutritious, high-quality meals to people who, because of their illness, are unable to provide or prepare meals for themselves. Thanksgiving is an especially important day for meal delivery, and you can sign up to volunteer as either an on-site worker preparing the meals or a driver delivering them. Also, on Sunday, November 19th, you can partake in Race to Deliver, a four-mile run in Central Park to benefit the organization. Check out all their volunteer opportunities to find out how you can lend a hand this year.

2. Citymeals on Wheels
There are various groups of people who need love this holiday season including our homebound elderly neighbors. Citymeals on Wheels is committed to providing this group with nourishing meals and vital companionship. In addition to delivering food, their holiday volunteer opportunities include sending cards and attending their Very Merry Holidays event, a fun afternoon for children of stocking stuffers, games, snowflake decorating, as well as making cards and gifts for those in need.

3. Coalition for the Homeless
Coalition for the Homeless is the nation’s oldest advocacy and direct service organization helping homeless persons. Through December 15th, you can participate in their annual Toy Drive for homeless children. All you have to do is buy a toy and drop it off at the organization. You can also host your own toy drive at a school or workplace.

4. The Grand Central Food Program
Sponsored by the Coalition for the Homeless, The Grand Central Food Program was started in 1985 after a homeless woman died from starvation in Grand Central Terminal. Since then it has become the largest mobile soup kitchen in New York, and unlike traditional soup kitchens, the organization brings food and resources directly to a person. The organization includes three vans that deliver healthy meals throughout the city, making 23 stops per day. Their efforts are needed by the homeless year round and they encourage volunteers to commit beyond just the holiday season.

Photo courtesy of the Bowery Mission

5. The Bowery Mission
Since 1879, the Bowery Mission has served homeless, hungry, and poor New Yorkers by providing meals, shelter, and medical care. Though they’re best known for supporting their Lower East Side community, the organization now extends its reach to neighborhoods like Harlem and the South Bronx. Last year, during Thanksgiving week alone, they serve more than 10,000 meals (that’s  732 turkeys, 7,000 pounds of potatoes, and 200 gallons of gravy!), as well as thousands of “Blessing Bags” (packages including items like hats, socks, gloves, and hygiene kits) and a new winter coat for every guest. Nearly 700 volunteers will work to prepare and serve meals, and though registration is already full for this year, you can still sign up in case people drop out. If you’re unable to attend, a $19.08 donation provides 12 holiday meals! You can also sign up to volunteer throughout the year in everything from mentoring youth to regular meal service.

6. Help the Actors Theatre Workshop
The Actors Theatre Workshop has been providing New York City’s homeless children with a very special experience through their 12-week after school theatre and education program. Their program is called Builders of the New World (BNW), and their holiday celebrations kick-off their upcoming winter session. They are currently looking for volunteers for their two-day holiday celebration and creative classes servicing more than 100 children living in temporary housing facilities. The events take place on Tuesday, December 12 and Wednesday, December 13. There are several ways you can help this year, including joining a project team in November to prepare parties and get the word out, helping decorate the theatre prior to the event, and mentoring children in attendance on the 13th and 14th. Learn more about these opportunities here.

7. Food Bank NYC
For over 30 years the Food Bank of NYC has been the city’s major hunger-relief organization working tirelessly to end hunger throughout the five boroughs. Their mission is to end hunger by organizing food, information, and support for community survival, and there are many opportunities for you to lend a hand. And this holiday season, their goal is to goal is to raise enough funds to provide
10 million meals. They are looking for volunteers to help with bank distribution set-up and holiday meal prep and service in several locations over the next few months. Check out their complete calendar of events to find a time and location that works for you. You can also purchase their special holiday cards to contribute.

8. Hope for New York
Hope for New York is a non-profit organization whose mission is to mobilize volunteers and financial resources to support non-profit affiliates serving the poor and marginalized in New York City. They offer a variety of volunteer opportunities throughout the winter months, so if you’re unable to commit time on Thanksgiving or Christmas, no worries, these folks need a hand all year. They are looking for volunteers in several different capacities, including preparing dinner for women in recovery, sharing a meal with an elderly resident, and prepping and serving holiday meals. You can learn more about the various, options, times, and locations on their website.

9. Operation Santa

2017 marks the 105th year for the U.S. Postal Service’s Operation Santa program. Since the postal service feels a child’s letter to Santa is often his or her first written correspondence, they work to provide a written response as a way to promote literacy and letter writing. In select Post Offices the general public is invited to “adopt” Santa letters. And in conjunction with the USPS, Be An Elf organizes volunteer “elves” to read and select letters to Santa at a participating post office and send their gifts directly to the in-need children who wrote them. Here in NYC, the James A. Farley Post Office is the largest public adoption Post Office in the country.

Photo via Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen

10. The Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen
The Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen is open every day at 10:30am and feeds hundreds of hungry and homeless New Yorkers on a daily basis, for which they’re always looking for volunteers. You can also partake in their annual pre-Thanksgiving Fast-A-Thon on November 16th, in which participants pledge to eat only one meal that day as a way to both raise awareness about chronic hunger and raise money for the weekday meals and traditional Thanksgiving meal. Last year, the event raised a record-breaking $90,000.

11. City Harvest
City Harvest was founded in 1982 and was run entirely by volunteers who connected neighborhood restaurants to food programs serving people in need. City Harvest volunteers remain a crucial part of their operations and there are many different ways both individuals and groups can help out. The organization needs help with everything from their Mobile Markets to their nutrition education courses, again making this a great opportunity to start volunteering beyond the holiday season. Read more about their services and volunteer needs here.

12. New York Cares
Since 1987, New York Cares has been providing “a smarter way to volunteer” by combining volunteerism with business acumen. They partner with 1,350 nonprofits and schools throughout the five boroughs, plan and manage 1,600 volunteer-led projects each month, and serve 400,000 New Yorkers in need annually. For the holidays, they offer a myriad of opportunities, such as serving Thanksgiving dinners and attending gift-wrapping parties. But their best-known initiatives are their Coat Drive, the city’s largest winter coat drive which collects and distributes over 100,000 coats each winter, and their Winter Wishes program, which partners with homeless shelters and other deserving non-profits to provide gifts for disadvantaged children, teens, and families.

13. St. Joe’s Soup Kitchen
St. Joe’s Soup Kitchen is an independent organization run completely by volunteers and they serve 400-500 meals every Saturday to New York City’s homeless community. They have been in operation for almost 40 years and their success has been made possible through the hard work of their volunteers, local businesses, and the generosity of the local community. They serve food every Saturday and need volunteers for both the morning and afternoon shifts. Find out details here.

The Grand Central Food Program, holiday volunteering nyc


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