Tips For Holiday Volunteering + Giving Back

When I picture giving back during the holiday season I am flooded with the vision of Phoebe from Friends angrily ringing her donations bell at strangers not willing to follow her misguided donation rules. Giving back during the holidays—if you aren’t a sitcom character—can be a rewarding and positive experience for all those involved. Whether you are in a small town, big city, or Guy Fieri in Flavortown, there are local organizations you can give back to during the holidays.

While there are organizations all over the world which deserve attention and love, during the holidays you can feel more connected to your local community that serves you every day through finding ways to give back. Each town or suburb is a little different and has their own flair for opportunities to give back during the holiday season. When helping give back to the community that raised or help shape you, bring along friends or family—the more the merrier!

These are some of our favorite ways to give back, but be sure to put on your Sherlock hat and see if there are any unique ways in which your community gives special care to the holidays.

1. Natural Disaster Relief

Unfortunately, each area around the world comes with its own set of natural elements which when beautiful and flourishing are wonderful, but at times can rear their ugly head. Helping with what may have directly affected your friends and family this year due to unforeseen circumstances can lift a great weight off their shoulders.

I grew up in Northern California, specifically where wildfires have hit multiple times over the past year. While some of the fires may have died down (and others have cropped up in recent weeks), many people in the community are still struggling to rebuild their lives. Check to see if your county has a “County Incident Feed” or similar local news feed on Facebook, which can be a great place to start to learn about current struggles affecting your community.

2. Volunteer At Homeless Shelters

While homeless shelters may already be on your mind for the holiday season, it is in the forefront of giving for a reason. Shelters get flooded during the holiday season, especially with the colder weather. Taking a couple hours here or there to donate your time can mean the world to your local shelters. You can use this directory of homeless shelters to find some in your area.

3. Work With Women’s Centers & Shelters

The holidays can be especially hard for women escaping domestic violence or under other tough circumstances. In the same vein of volunteering at homeless shelters, seek out your local womens-specific shelters, like in Los Angeles the Downtown Women’s Center is always taking volunteers and donations. Calling ahead to any of these organizations is great to see which ways they are in need of the most support this season.

4. Donate Toys

Toy donations services are thankfully as prevalent it seems as your aunt’s ~famous~ fruit cake. Spend a few minutes to find a toy donation organization that works for you. Many cities organize motorcycle toy runs if that revs your engine.

I’ve always helped with my local organization called the Christmas Effort which provides toys and a Christmas Eve meal to families in need. Many businesses or offices can also help provide a way to donate toys to children around the holidays.

5. Volunteer At Animal Shelters

Our furry friends could use some love around the holiday, too. Check out your local shelters to get trained as a dog walker and head over for your lunch hour, or if you know anyone looking for a new best friend during the holidays, many places offer more affordable adoption fees for pets (and everyone loves a Christmas morning puppy!) I was able to adopt my fuzzy feline Croissant for half price, but for sure would have paid more.

6. Adopt A Family For The Holidays

Adopting a family for the holidays is like the next level of Christmas toy donations. You are able to pick the children of a family and provide toys per their lists for Santa. My sister and I always try and pick two sisters, which is a fun way for us to go shopping for all the Polly Pockets or dress up costumes of our dreams, and know they are going to a good home. Checking in with the newspaper of your hometown can help point you in the right direction for adopting a family over the holidays.

7. Donate Food & Clothing

Into spring cleaning? Why not try winter cleaning! The back of my closet somehow always seems to have a lightly worn jacket I forgot existed. Take the time to go through the clothes you no longer use and could find a new loving home. Bringing them to a local Salvation Army or homeless shelter takes like five minutes and can really brighten others’ holiday seasons.

Food can also be hard to come by during cold winters. The next time you go grocery shopping, buy double the nonperishable goods and swing by a food bank on your way home.

8. Monetary Donations

For some of us, the holidays are hectic trying to get everything done before the new year. It happens to the best of us. If time is of the essence, think about spending a little on some of your favorite local organizations to help them with the good work they are already doing. Finding a charity that is close to your heart is a great way to help provide you a sense of holiday cheer. Here’s a guide on how to pick the right charity for you!

We would love to hear about ways you give back to your community or local organizations killing the game! Let us know in the comments below!


Sarah Spoljaric is a California girl through and through. She has a BA in World History from one of the top 10 greenest campuses in the world; The University of California, Merced and is a Content Curator for the visual travel app Trepic. She has a background in museum curating, loves reading women’s travel journals and is in search of the perfect IPA. She’s passionate about exploring this beautiful world that ethically-produced goods help to protect. Say hi on Instagram!