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Volunteer as a family

A young volunteer at a Northwest Harvest distribution center. Photo courtesy

Doing good together: Ideas for volunteering as a family

Numerous organizations are eager for help from all the hands in your clan

It’s darker. It’s colder. Late fall and winter and the holiday season they bring also make it easier to see the growing need in our communities — neighbors in need assistance or connection. Why not make volunteering to help make these months a little brighter for others a family project this year? There are lots of ways that families can give or volunteer together not only during the holiday season but into the new year as well. Here are a few ideas.

Host a gift drive

Your family can help a foster family or a family experiencing homelessness or other crisis to have a brighter holiday season this year by collecting and donating gift cards. The cards you collect allow families to choose their own gifts for their children and purchase other essential items. Reach out to organizations such as YWCA, Lake City Holiday Project, Federal Way Cares for Kids,  Bellevue LifeSpring, Wellspring Family Services, Hopelink, Compass Housing Alliance, Treehouse, The Forgotten Children’s Fund and Mary’s Place to learn more about gift cards needed and how to deliver them.

Volunteer to wrap presents

Sometimes, the best part of a gift is the wrapping. Sign your family up as volunteer wrappers during Compass Housing Alliance’s 2022 holiday giving campaign. Your family may also want to lend its support to The Forgotten Children’s Fund — they need volunteers to raise funds to purchase, wrap and deliver gifts to kids and their families who might otherwise go without. 

Help prepare meals 

Every year, the Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County (EFP) provides more than 420,000 meals throughout King County. Located in Renton, the EFP is always looking for volunteers of all ages to help pack food bags, provide help at distribution sites and host food drives. Additionally, food or money donations are greatly appreciated.  St. Francis House is also eager for volunteers to help meet the basic and immediate needs of its 13,000 clients struggling to make ends meet. Your family can volunteer to sandwiches for St. Francis clients. 

Help deck their halls

Do you have an elderly person or a nursing home in your neighborhood? Ask if your family can help others deck their halls this year by hanging lights or volunteering for other decoration duties. For a more structured family volunteer experience, consider the Compass Housing Alliance’s Deck the Halls program in which you and yours can help decorate Christmas trees, hang lights, post holiday pictures, make paper snowflakes and decorate wreaths to help make the season brighter at Alliance housing sites. Donations of decorations are greatly appreciated. 

Take someone to a restaurant

You and your kids can arrange to have favorite restaurant meals sent to one or more Mary’s Place shelters to provide weekend breakfast, lunch or dinner for families in care. 

Bake cookies

Compass Housing Alliance needs cookies – lots of cookies – during the winter holiday season. Round up the kids and pull out your favorite recipes to spread some holiday cheer. Or pick up something new at the store to donate to the organization’s cookie drive. Check out the rules on the Alliance’s website. Nursing homes, senior centers and other groups caring for special populations may also enjoy your cookie-baking skills. Call one near you to ask how to donate your favorite cookies.

Even your baby can give back!

Were you inundated with gifts at your baby shower? Do you have extra unopened boxes of diapers that your baby outgrew? Westside Baby is happy to accept your baby’s donations of new (unopened) baby hygiene products, as well as gently used clothing, equipment (no furniture) and other essentials. 

Host a food drive 

A food drive is something that your whole family can be involved in. Many organizations even provide resources such as printable flyers and food-collection containers to help your drive succeed. Here are just a few of the organizations that you can partner with for a family food drive: Food Lifeline distributes donations to 275 member agencies across Western Washington; Northwest Harvest uses donations to provide more than 2 million meals to Washingtonians every month; Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County works with 200 partner agencies across King County to provide food bags to anyone in need; Hopelink provides food bank, food delivery and emergency feeding services to families in crisis in Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Shoreline and Sno-Valley.

Host a toy drive

Donating toys can be a fun holiday activity for the whole family. Send out an email blast to friends and family and invite folks to drop toys off at your house or offer to pick them up at theirs. Organizations like Seattle Children’s hospital, Toys for Tots, and other organizations will gladly accept the fruits of your family’s toy-collection labor and get them to kids.

Give back to Santa

Vancouver mother of two Lindsay Backous Rayomond says her children have been giving back to the jolly old gent since day one. “They put toys and books they no longer use out for Santa on Christmas Eve, and then Santa takes them away for other children who would love them.” Santa has partnered with numerous organizations to receive your gifts, since he is quite busy. Among them are Eastside Baby Corner, Goodwill Seattle, Lifelong Thrift, Salvation Army Thrift Store & Donation Center, Seattle Children’s Hospital Thrift Stores, Wellspring’s Baby Boutique.

Drop off traditional holiday plants and flowers

Many local nursing homes try to keep the spirit light and holidays bright for the elderly. Consider bringing holiday flowers or poinsettias to an eldercare facility near you and dropping them at the front desk. Include a note inviting the staff to give them to a resident who may need extra cheer during the holidays. Or leave a bouquet or plant anonymously on a senior neighbor’s stoop.

Offer some soap for hope

Collect new unused soaps or other toiletries from neighbors and friends and deliver them to the annual AAA Washington Soap for Hope drive. The drive takes place November 1 through December 30, but donations are accepted year round. Items are distributed to local charities throughout Washington.

Help prep a meal for struggling teens

For families with teens age 15 and up, consider helping to prepare a holiday meal at Teen Feed. Volunteers cook and package mobile meals in the Teen Feed kitchen.

Smile: The simplest way to give

It’s hard to see someone in pain or need. But, looking away can make those who are struggling feel invisible. Teach your children offer a simply smile when they encounter homeless people or others struggling in our midst. Or invite them to draw a smile as a way to cheer up people who are far from home or without extended family, for example military personnel or forgotten seniors. Go to Color a Smile to learn how you and your children can make cheerful drawings that the non-profit will then distribute to folks who need a boost.

Need help finding a good volunteer opportunity for your family? 

United Way of King County, Volunteer Match and Volunteer Centers of Washington all offer searchable databases to help you find a great giving fit for your clan. 

Doing Good Together offers a list of family-friendly volunteer options (with age specifics) under its Big Hearted Families banner. Check out the Doing Good’s 12 Tips for Family Volunteering During the Holidays.

More at Seattle’s Child:

“Block Drops: volunteering as a family has never been easier”

About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at