Volunteerism has been a part of my life since I was a young elementary school kid visiting the nursing home in my neighborhood. I don’t remember how I got started – maybe through holiday caroling or because I wanted to earn a Girls Scouts patch – either way I kept doing it well after I no longer needed to. It felt a bit weird at first to go hang out with elderly people since I was just a kid, but the joy and excitement that I saw on their faces was all I needed to keep me coming back each week. And what more could a kid want than love and the full attention of lots of adults!
I have continued volunteering throughout my life, most consistently since I was in college. From the nursing home to feeding tiny stray kittens hidden in the gutter as a kid to helping development organizations after the tsunami in India as an adult, I have always found a place to give a helping hand.
It is this love for helping others and being rewarded with a smile, hug or just knowing in my heart that I made a difference that I hope to extend to my son. He is now 7, but we have been volunteering with him since he was a baby in India and in the US since he was 3. I don’t have to tell you, it is not easy to find places that will allow toddlers, preschoolers or young kids to volunteer. But there are a few!
How to Volunteer with Young Kids for the Holiday
Homeless Care Packages
One of the best ways you can get your kids involved in volunteering at any age is by creating and handing out packages for the homeless. Our current Christmas Eve tradition is to drive around town handing out homemade packages that we have wrapped for the homeless. Every year ours have different items based on the weather and what my son thinks is important. Last year we had a ton of rain in Southern California so we included rain ponchos. This year it looks to be super dry and hot so we are collecting reusable water bottles. We always include nice thick socks, a beanie hat and food like peanut butter, granola bars, and sometimes homemade cookies. My son had the idea to make homemade Christmas cards and wrap the packages in Christmas paper, since it made him sad that they probably didn’t get any presents for the holiday.
I can’t tell you how heartwarming it is to see my little guy jump out of the car to run give his packages to homeless, wishing them a Merry Christmas. It makes him so happy to see the people tear open their packages and start putting on their new socks, hats or whatever. This is something you can do year round, but is especially poignant at the holidays when so many people are all alone on the streets.
One of the best, most organized and meaningful holiday volunteer projects we have come across is with One Voice. Their holiday program has multiple times and days to volunteer which is great for busy families. For the young kids, the best is their final day of handing out food and gifts to needy families throughout Los Angeles.
Even at 3 yrs old, the first year we did it, my son really enjoyed himself. It’s not the easiest thing to volunteer with a small child, but it is definitely doable. Remember that their attention span is short and expect to flip flop between work stations. This wasn’t a problem at our site and it was fun for the adults to also be able to explore all the different activities on offer as well. Typically one of us adults would continue working in one station while the other took our son to assist in the other areas.
You could be doing anything from making boxes for pies (with our son and another kid stacking them up for us), moving frozen turkeys from one area to another (hard for a toddler, but he enjoyed the challenge) and the most recent year, our son worked with children on different craft projects. And finally we were able to hand out toys to families in need. He really enjoyed this part. Of course he was very interested in the toys we were handing out, but he really liked handing the kids their gifts. He still talks about one of the gifts from the first year we volunteered!
The way it works is that you show up at the air hangar in Santa Monica at 8 am on the designated Sunday before Christmas. Once you are there, work locations are assigned to each group. Our location was located in South Central LA. Once you have your assignment, you head out in your own vehicle to your location site to help with setup before the families start to arrive.
It is a long day, but you are free to stay as long as you can. We typically stay until 3 in the afternoon, helping clean up at the end, however, there are typically many volunteers, so you have a lot of flexibility to leave when you need to.
This was such a wonderful day for us as a family. We met some really great people – even a teenager who had been doing this since he was around our son’s age. It has been a holiday tradition for him all of these years. And now one for us as well. We left feeling so grateful for everything that we have, but also feeling so energized knowing that we were able to help make a small difference in someone else’s Christmas.
Other Ways to Volunteer with Kids
If you want to keep the giving spirit up throughout the year, there are a few other ways you can put your skills to use. One of the easiest ways to do this is to find outdoor volunteer activities.
One of our favorite kid focused organizations that works to create a passion for volunteerism and social responsibility is Vibes 365. Erin, the owner/operator often offers “Clean your Beach” or Beautify your City” events where families can help clean up a section of beach or city streets. She also often hosts holiday volunteering as well, so keep up with their Instagram All Vibes 365 events are designed for children aged 4-14, but contact her if you want to bring someone younger!
Tree People is a great organization offering various volunteer opportunities for young and old. Volunteer opportunities usually revolve around planting new plants, pulling invasive plants out of vulnerable habitats and maintaining trails in the parks. Most volunteer sessions accept limited numbers, so plan in advance!
Heal the Bay
No one has to tell you that kids love the beach! Plan a beach day around a beach clean up with Heal the Bay. On the 3rd Sat of each month (10 am – 12 pm) Heal the Bay is at a local beach cleaning up with hundreds of volunteers. Gloves and bags will be provided on site. Advance sign up is not required unless you are with a large group. Check their website to find out where the next clean up will be located.
Love animals? There are lots of ways to help at local shelters by walking dogs, playing with animals or just helping to social pets. For most of these, you need to be a little bit older, around 8 years and up, but often you can do it as a family.
Best Friend’s Sanctuary
One option we have been waiting years for is volunteering at the Best Friend’s Sanctuary in Utah. They have an amazing array of animals that families can work with, while also enjoying some spectacular scenery (you must be at least 6 yrs old). If you plan in advance they even have accommodation on site.
Closer to home, check out LA Rabbits where visitors can give much needed love and petting sessions to abandoned bunnies (must be 5 yrs old).
We would love to share this experience with our friends and see some familiar faces out on our job site. Let us know if you would like to join us!