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!
Greater 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. They can also help out in the Urban Demonstration Garden, which yields over 2,000 pounds of fresh produce for education and distribution each year.
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. From June through October, there are special Thursday gleaning shifts, where volunteers help harvest crops at local farms. Kids must be at least 12 years old and prepared to stand for three hours.
Wreaths Across America
On a specified day every December, the public is welcome to 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 the most updated details, including schedule and meeting location.
Washington DC Jewish Community Center
The DCJCC has volunteer opportunities throughout the year, many of them family-friendly. You can check the calendar to see what is coming up and and register to hep out. Their big annual Day of Service December 25, when 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 (many of these opportunities are family-friendly). Registration with more details is available in late November. And something to keep in mind ahead of Thanksgiving: The signature Everything But the Turkey event takes place right before holiday. 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 organiazation works to support strong children, strong families, and strong communities by increasing access to quality education programs, healthy food, and family supports. Volunteer opportunities include working at their pop-up food markets, helping sort and sell secondhand clothing at their community boutique store, driving, and food prep. The minimum age to volunteer 12 years old. Volunteers aged 12-14 must bring one adult chaperone for every three volunteers. Some opportunities require volunteers to be at least 15 years of age. Younger children can help out by working with their parents or caregivers to help prepare trail mix or muffins and drop them off for donation.
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.
A Wider Circle
The organization aims to help families rise out of poverty, and their Center for Community Service in Silver Spring, MD, welcomes volunteers of all ages to stock and organize donations in their Neighbor-to-Neighbor program. Do this as a family or get a group together. It is recommended that volunteers under 14 are accompanied by an adult.
Per a KFDC reader (below): The organization resides at an Episcopal Church, but their focus is to address social needs and not religious ones. They take special care in welcoming all people of any race, age, gender, background, faith, and sexual orientation without judgment or evangelization of any kind. Volunteers of all ages are needed throughout the Charlie’s Place program, primarily during meal service every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 6 – 9am, and now on Saturdays from 7-10am.
National Park Service
There are many opportunities to get involved with the National Park Service 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. Among them are often opportunities for kids to contribute their time and efforts, too — find them through the Volunteer.gov website.
Per a KFDC reader (below): Catholic Charities has chapters in DC, MD and VA. There are tons of one-time and ongoing volunteer opportunities, including for families. For instance, they seek family mentors to be paired with a refugee family, to welcome them and help them learn the area, etc.
Per a KFDC reader (below): They have a special service group for families called Circle of Hope. Families, with their children, have many opportunities throughout the year to get involved and help the homeless. Some are onsite at the shelter and some are at a local park but putting together snack bags for the children living at the shelter. It’s very flexible and rewarding!
Committed to restoring, enhancing and protecting the tree canopy of the nation’s capital, Casey Trees engages thousands of volunteers of all ages to help them plant and care for trees (and more) to help with their mission.
Food & Friends
They depend on thousands of volunteers to carry out their mission of delivering specialized, nutritious meals and groceries along with nutrition counseling to men, women and children facing HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-challenging illnesses. Volunteers must be at least 14 to work in the kitchen preparing and packaging meals, but younger children can join adult family members delivering meals to clients’ homes.
Recommended by several KFDC readers, the charity provides a proper bag, filled with comfort and essential items, to brave youth in foster care on their journey to find their forever home. The have volunteer hours each week at the Comfort Cases Center in Rockville, MD. Volunteers help with processing donations, counting inventory, assembling bags, checking packed cases, and staging for deliveries — there is something for all ages.
The local non-profit supports families with children who have complex medical conditions by providing a community-based collaborative approach to pediatric care that’s focused on their whole health and well-being — a focus that makes the whole family feel better. They have a variety of volunteer opportunities for all ages, from fundraising to card making and gift basket assembly on holidays to hosting community service activities. Especially great for families is their Valentine’s Day Cards for Kids & Cookies for Caregivers — find more information about it here.
Rock Creek Conservancy
With a mission to restore Rock Creek and its parklands as a natural oasis for all people to appreciate and protect, Rock Creek Conservancy is the only organization dedicated solely to Rock Creek and its parks. They work to foster outreach, education, and efforts to overcome threats to Rock Creek. Volunteering opportunities include helping remove invasive species to trash and trails cleanups, and all of them welcome kids, too. See what’s coming up on the calendar here.
A KFDC reader let me know about this one… While their volunteer program is for ages 17 and up, there are many ways younger children can make a difference in the lives of the SPCA’s shelter pets. They can make cat and dog toys and treats, construct felt pet blankets, collect wish list items, organize a supply drive, and read to our shelter pets (virtually during Covid). They also have youth internship program in the summer.
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!