More than 20 ways to help families in need during the holiday season
Many of us are operating at full throttle in December as we rush through the stores to find the items on our kids' holiday wish lists and plan for elaborate family dinners.
For those who are struggling to make ends meet, however, the holidays can be one of the most difficult times of year. Buying gifts and extra food is just not in the budget. Some families are worrying about more important things, such as where they will sleep that night, or where their next meal will come from.
December is the perfect time to extend the great spirit of giving beyond our homes and give together as families. There is no better way to impart altruism to our kids than to donate or volunteer together. And we can make a real difference in our community.
Find an activity to make a yearly custom for your family with one of these 20 ideas that will help make the holidays brighter for those in need this month.
Mary’s Place Holly Jolly Holiday Party
Volunteer with local nonprofit Mary’s Place at their holiday party that features Santa, gifts, and food and drink. The event’s highlight is a Santa Store, a place where parents can select gifts for their kids and kids for their parents. By organizing a Giving Tree at your work or other community spaces that lists requests for gifts, you can contribute to the party by purchasing that gift and bringing it to Mary’s Place before December 14. Alternatively, you can fund the purchase of gifts for the party online.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register as a volunteer.
Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, 299 Mercer St, Seattle, 98109
Fill stockings with toys for kids experiencing homelessness
In an annual event put on by the U.S. Coast Guard, happening this year on Dec. 9 and 10, volunteers fill handmade stockings with gifts and essentials for over 3,000 homeless youth in the area. Friends of Youth, which offers the only overnight youth shelter on the Eastside, needs stocking stuffers as well. They provide a list of suggested items to buy to fill stockings for youth living in foster homes, transitional living facilities or out on the streets. This year's volunteer positions are full, but they still need donations of gifts for their program.
Donate to a toy drive
Chances are, you'll be driving by one of these stores anyway during the holiday madness, so why not stop in to donate a toy? Throw in an extra gift while shopping at Toys''R''Us and donate to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, a nationwide program (the deadline is Dec. 4). The Toy 'n' Joy drive, now through Dec. 13 at Bartell Drugs stores, supplies the Salvation Army with gifts for more than 4,000 local children. Also through Dec. 13, Sleep Train locations are collecting toys for foster children in Washington.
Adopt a family in need
Adopting a family is a powerful way to give. Kids see the variety of ways that others need help when they fulfill a needs and wishes list from a specific family. Expect to buy gifts and groceries, or gift cards. Check out our roundup of ways to get involved with Adopt-A-Family programs.
YWCA Holiday Toyshop Helpers
Kids over 12 are welcome to volunteer at the YWCA’s toy-wrapping volunteering nights. With donations of unwrapped toys to wrap and decorate for their Adopt-A-Family drive, the YWCA needs “elves” to volunteer, organizing toys by age and type, and put together toy bags.
Dec. 21 and 23, various time slots
2820 E Cherry St Seattle, WA 98122
Help foster kids at Treehouse
Volunteer at local social service agency Treehouse to help prep the “Wearhouse,” a store for foster kids where they shop for free for new and gently used clothing. Volunteers will sort and stock merchandise. Preregister here and select OneBrick.
Dec. 5, 10 am to 1 pm
2100 4th Ave S Suite 100, Seattle, 98144
Winter festival clean-up at Phinney Neighborhood Association
Volunteers will help clean up after the Phinney Neighborhood Association’s Winter Festival by putting away chairs, sweeping and cleaning up after the event’s bake sale. Kids 14 and up.
Dec. 6, 6 to 9 pm
6532 Phinney Ave N, Seattle, 98103
String lights at Volunteer Park
Help Volunteer Park sparkle this month by volunteering to string lights around the park and its pathways while musicians play on stages built throughout the park. Volunteers will get cocoa, music and cookies after the lights are strung. Kids of all ages welcome. Contact Nancyiannucci@gmail.com for questions.
Dec. 10, 2 to 5 pm
1247 15th Ave E, Seattle, 98112
Volunteer for Las Posadas
Help out El Centro de la Raza with their Las Posadas event, prepping the building, serving dinner, facilitating activities for kids and other activities. Kids 13 and up welcome to volunteer.
Dec. 11, 1 to 7 pm
2524 16th Ave S, Seattle, 98144
Help the Rainier Valley Food Bank
Local food bank Rainier Valley Food Bank is incredibly busy during the holidays. Help out by collecting food donations through the neighborhood on a preset route or transport other volunteers. Kids 5 and up are welcome.
Dec. 17, 12 to 3 pm
4205 Rainier Ave S, Seattle, 98118
Bag kids' outgrown coats and donate them
If your closet is home to coats, hats and gloves that your kids have outgrown, put those items to good use this winter by contributing them to a local drive. Donating cold weather gear is an easy way to directly benefit kids in your community. These places are currently seeking gently-used outerwear: YouthCare or WestSide Baby in West Seattle, Clothes for Kids in Lynnwood or Eastside Baby Corner in Issaquah.
Donate cookie dough to the Seattle Union Gospel Mission
If you have an annual tradition of making sugar cookies, purchase a few extra bags of dough, or bag up some homemade dough, to donate to the Seattle Union Gospel Mission. The organization hopes to have a special night of baking this winter for the women and children who use their shelters, along with those in their youth programs. The mission is also seeking snacks and hot cocoa, which the rescue van takes out on the streets to help people survive the elements when they can't find shelter indoors. But, most of all, they need funds to purchase food for the homeless. Just $20 will provide 10 much-needed meals for those who often go without.
Fulfill a kid's wish list
Several nonprofits post their wish lists online, so you can pick an item that means something to you and make a difference. Cocoon House, which works with homeless and at-risk youth in Snohomish County, needs gift cards, clothes, recreational gear and more. Visit cocoonhouse.org for the full list. The Atlantic Street Center needs admission tickets and books for low-income children and youth of color in Seattle.
Volunteer at a local soup kitchen
This eye-opening experience really hits home, as children are witness to others – some their own age – who are homeless. Volunteer activities at a meal site include providing food, cooking or serving meals and cleaning the kitchen. Many local churches offer free community meals; check out those nearest you for ideas. Or, for a list of local meal sites, visit the City of Seattle's website. Call ahead for age requirements. If you can make more of a time commitment, join the "Meal Team" at Teen Feed, which serves meals to homeless youth in the University District and accepts volunteers of all ages.
Host a food drive for Hopelink
Hopelink has handy online resources for people to host their own food drives. Collect a variety of much-needed food items for needy families in Bellevue, Kirkland, Northshore, Redmond, Shoreline and Sno-Valley. Hopelink serves more than 3,000 families each week. Drop off your collected goods to one of their Eastside centers before Christmas. For more information, visit hope-link.org.
Donate to the Wellspring Family Services toy room
Wellspring Family Services seeks new, unwrapped toys and grocery and gift cards for its Giving Together drive, where homeless families get to come and choose gifts to share with their children.
Volunteer at the Winter Carousel to benefit Treehouse
A Holiday Carousel in Westlake Plaza will benefit Treehouse again this year. Treehouse provides local foster children with services, money for extracurricular activities and summer camp, and clothing and supplies for school. Pick up a volunteer shift or two at the carousel and greet riders, collect donations and sell tickets. For more information, visit treehouseforkids.org.
Participate in a Giving Tree
Many community centers and YMCAs offer giving trees, with gift tags containing toy ideas for children in need. Check your neighborhood spot to benefit a child in your immediate area, or participate in the giving tree drive at University Village.
Volunteer at the Atlantic Street Center Holiday Toy Store
Grab the kids and put in some volunteer time at the Atlantic Street Center Holiday Toy Store on Dec. 16 through 18. They could use help with gift-wrapping, stocking the shelves with gifts and more. The staff at the center expects to serve more than 300 families in need this season. The Atlantic Street Center provides educational services to low-income children and youth of color in Seattle's central and southeast neighborhoods. To learn more about this opportunity, visit atlanticstreet.org.
Adopt a classroom
First Place, which works with families in crisis, could use supplies for its various classrooms. Pick a few items for teachers, such as washable finger paints, socks to make puppets, play dough or colored paper, and deliver them to First Place before the holiday. Or, the Adopt-A-Classroom website offers a way to search for an underserved classroom in your community, along with its specific needs.
Give back to the environment
The King Conservation District has several all-ages volunteer opportunities in December, where families will learn about restoring streams and wetlands and have fun too. While this doesn't necessarily benefit local families in need, it is a great way to spend some time volunteering together with your kiddos. For more information, visit kingcd.org/volunteer/index.php.
Editor's note: This updated article was originally published in November of 2012.