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10 ways to volunteer and give back as a family for the holidays

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So many people are inspired by the holiday season to give back to the community. Many of us reflect on the blessings that we are so fortunate to receive and look around us and see that many others do not share in that fortune. For many people, this time of the year is filled with a bevy of holiday parties, family gatherings, and a surfeit of food, but for others, who are less fortunate, the holiday season is a challenging time.

There are many people who want to volunteer during the holiday season, which is truly wonderful, since there are plenty of people and organizations that need support. With that said, given the overwhelming number of volunteers who express interest in participating during the holidays, it is challenging for organization to keep up with this demand and place volunteers. For this reason, I strongly encourage you to plan ahead to find volunteer opportunities now and after the holiday season and, if you find that organizations are not accepting further volunteers at this time, you might want to think about using this time to plan out your 2015 volunteer commitments.

Volunteering is an incredibly important aspect of community life, far beyond the time spent by one person and one day. It is the collective spirit of all volunteers and many hours and days and the experience with other people from the community that not only helps those who are in need, but broadens our own personal experience in the community.   For those who are interested in volunteering during the holidays, I have listed below some tips for volunteering during this season and also included resources for finding volunteer opportunities after the holidays. When considering volunteering during the holiday season, please keep in mind that volunteers are needed 365 days of the year.

Here are some great ideas to help you stay in the spirit of giving this holiday season:

  • Collect food from your neighbors, office or school and donate to a food pantry.
  • Collect clothes from neighbors to donate to a homeless shelter or Goodwill.
  • Organize a toy drive among friends and donate the toys to a local Santa house.
  • Make cards for hospital patients.
  • Adopt a family for the holidays through a local church.
  • Adopt a grandparent at a nursing home.
  • Take pet care supplies to an animal shelter.
  • Hot chocolate stand to raise money for a charity.
  • Offer to help winterize and decorate homes for seniors in your neighborhood.

volunteerA challenge for many people is figuring out how to start volunteering. While it may seem intimidating, there is nothing to be afraid of. When you or your family are ready to begin volunteering, consider the list below to get started:

  1. Plan ahead.
  2. Have a goal in mind.
  3. Determine the amount of time you are willing to volunteer.
  4. Discuss ideas with your children and encourage them to get involved.
  5. Think about your family’s talents or skills.
  6. Select volunteer activities that are age appropriate for you and your family.
  7. Find organizations that address the issues that you care about.
  8. Contact the organization well in advance to arrange participation.
  9. Be flexible!
  10. Remember, what you put into your experience, you will get out of it.
  11. Don’t get intimidated by this list!

When looking for volunteer opportunities, volunteer resource centers like Metro Volunteers (where I work), are great places to search for and get connected to volunteer opportunities, specifically because all the organizations we work with are non-profit organizations that are looking for volunteers. At Metro Volunteers, we provide a free holiday guide on our website where you can find volunteer opportunities in addition to finding other ways to give back. If you do not find what you are looking for in our holiday guide, look at the opportunity calendar on the Metro Volunteers website which lists more volunteer activities. Please check out the list below for additional resources:

Another resource you might find helpful is the Youth and Family Volunteering Toolkit – a guide to organizations that have volunteer opportunities for kids; includes information about minimum age requirements. You can find this guide on Metro Volunteer’s resource page, and click on family volunteer guide.

-Alex Kister

elvesEditor’s note: Two other great options are below.

Santa’s Elves. This Kids Giving to Kids is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) charity created by three moms in 2010 who wanted to inspire their children to be lifelong givers. Unlike most other charities, Santa’s Elves allows your child to Experience Giving. From the very beginning your child ‘Elf’ will choose a child or family, buy and wrap gifts, and then hand-deliver them.

The children will meet each other during a Christmas party on December 13, 2014 or during a delivery made directly to the family’s home. At the time of publishing, there were still 115 families (310 kids) who needed matches.


Denver Santa Claus Shop. This 84-year-old, volunteer-run, nondenominational nonprofit whose mission is “A Toy for Every Girl & Boy”  during the holidays is in desperate need of free toys for children in need ages newborn through 11 years old. They expect to serve about 15,000 kids this year and qualified families are invited to DSCS and choose toys  for their children. New and “Gently Loved” toys can be dropped off at 8 metro-area Denver Mattress stores through this Wednesday, Dec. 10. DSCS is open Dec. 12, 13, 15 & 16. Visit  for more information.  

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson December 4, 2014

    Great tips and resources. I’m personally volunteering at our local Santa House but many of these places don’t allow kids. I’ll start investigating opportunities for our whole family.

  • comment avatar Doing Good Together™ December 17, 2014

    Thanks for including Doing Good Together as a resource! We are happy to offer a monthly newsletter with kindness and service ideas, plus our Big-Hearted Families™ program offers many projects families can do together at home.

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