Volunteer to Spread Holiday Cheer

We all want presents and treats this time of year, but maybe try a more karmic approach with these volunteer opportunities around NYC.

God's Love We Deliver; photo by Nicola Bailey

There’s nothing like buying your partner his third Fitbit or gifting your boss a double espresso maker for the holidays to remind you of just how much we have—and to make you want to give to those who don’t. Help make it a happy Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or Christmas for your fellow New Yorkers with one of the give-back ideas below.

NYC Books Through Bars
Most of us have more books than we can a) read or b) store in our space-challenged apartments. So this book-collection program for prisoners is perfect for both decluttering and helping people who need a good read. Not just any used book will do, however; be sure to follow the site’s guidelines, which outline what you should and should not donate. (Hint: No hardcovers.) You can also check out the Books Through Bars wish list to learn which tomes it needs the most. Drop off donations at Freebird Books, 123 Columbia Street, Cobble Hill

Be an Elf
If you’re looking to get in touch with your inner holiday pixie, the U.S. Postal Service’s Operation Santa program allows you to adopt real letters to Santa written by underprivileged kids. How it works is pretty simple: Visit NYC’s participating USPS post office on Eighth Avenue; read through children’s letters to Santa; select one or more to answer—and make some kids’ holiday dreams come true with a new pair of sneakers, a baby doll, or a baseball glove. Many volunteers prefer to adopt more letters and simply send Target or Amazon gift cards to the families. Easy! James A. Farley Post Office, 421 Eighth Avenue (between West 31st and 33rd Streets), Midtown

Furry critters need love during the holidays, too. Since 1903, Bideawee has been a leading pet welfare organization in New York and Long Island, protecting four-legged friends and finding homes for strays. On December 2 and 9, starting at 11 a.m., come to Lord & Taylor’s flagship for a special adoption event. At Santa’s Workshop, sweet, adoptable doggies will be on display to tempt prospective mommies and daddies. Bideawee volunteers will be on hand to answer questions. All animals are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, tested for behavior, and ready to be loved. Lord & Taylor, 424 Fifth Avenue (between West 38th and 39th Streets), Midtown

volunteer opportunities nyc
Bideawee Kissing Booth at the Fall in Love Festival

The New York Foundling
Established in 1869 on East 12th Street by the Sisters of Charity, this organization has grown to become one of the leading social services for New York’s neediest children and families. Although no one today uses the rather antique term “foundling,” there are still far too many babies and kids without parents to protect them. Although the Foundling doesn’t have any events tailored for the holidays, it encourages money donations, and you can still volunteer to help. If you’re skilled in technology, it could use your expertise to lead workshops for youth in the Digital Inclusion programs. 590 Sixth Avenue (between West 16th and 17th Streets), Chelsea

Food Bank for New York City
Although this 34-year-old organization helps feed needy New Yorkers all year long, it runs special campaigns tailored for the holidays. Like ordering 2017 holiday cards! With five different designs that capture the spirit of the season, they’re the perfect gift for everyone on your list. (You should allow five to seven business days for delivery, so plan ahead!) If you want to do more to fight hunger in New York City, check the Food Bank site for volunteer opportunities.

God’s Love We Deliver
In the winter, God’s Love has the additional challenge of icy roads and possible snowstorms, which can interfere with its amazing record of delivering healthy meals to the disabled or sick. When the weather gets rough, the organization provides clients with emergency kits of nonperishable goods in the rare event it is unable to deliver due to storms, van trouble, or something else. Winter emergency meal-kit assembly takes place in December and volunteers are needed. If you have children and want to get them involved, they can help decorate holiday bags, which add magic to the tasty food within. 166 Sixth Avenue (between Spring and Prince Streets), Noho

volunteer opportunities nyc

Macy’s Believe Campaign
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Macy’s Believe holiday program, which by any metric has been hugely successful. Believe has generated more than $15 million for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America through its annual letter drive—and granted thousands of wishes to kids with life-threatening medical conditions. And you can help. All you have to do is visit your local Macy’s store and drop letters to Santa into the red letterboxes (or submit a letter online at For letters received in-store or online through Christmas Eve, Macy’s will donate a dollar to Make-A-Wish.

volunteer opportunities nyc
Dropping letters into Santa’s mailbox for Macy’s Believe campaign / Photo by Heather Ainsworth

Toys for Tots
Here’s a holiday charity to salute: The U.S. Marine Corps’s annual toy drive for less-fortunate children. Every October, November, and December, representatives from Toys for Tots collect new, unwrapped gifts at thousands of drop-off locations around the country. As you can imagine, there are tons of drop-off spots in the five boroughs of New York. Simply go to the site and find the nearest one in your zip code.