Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Kids volunteer at the holidays by making and donating cookies.

Photo by Joshua Huston

Where to volunteer with your family at the holidays

Organizations are eager for help from all the hands in your clan

How and where can your family volunteer during the holiday season and beyond?

Here are a few suggestions for family volunteering at the holidays :

Volunteer to collect gift cards for families in need 

Your family can help a foster family or a family experiencing homelessness or other crises 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. 

Your family can 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 2023 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. 

How your family can volunteer to get food to people in need

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 make sandwiches for St. Francis clients. 

Your family can volunteer to provide holiday cookies

The Christmas People Foundation need 7,000 home-baked cookies to help unhoused people in Seattle enjoy a small experience of “home” during the winter holidays. “Anyone can bring one cookie or 1,000,” says Hutchinson. “We truly do want families, groups, neighbors to have a really good time baking cookies and sharing quality time.”  To learn how to give cookies or other donations to The Christmas People, contact Hutchinson at (206) 719-4979 or email Pialley@jps.net. For more information go to christmaspeoplefoundation.org.

On a baking roll? Compass Housing Alliance also needs cookies – lots of cookies – during the winter holiday season. Cookies can be homemade or store-bought and should be bundled in sets of 24. All homemade goodies must have a recipe card with a full list of ingredients. If your recipe contains nuts of any kind, please make a clear note. They can’t take baked goods that need refrigeration. 

Deliver cookies to the Compass location on Dexter before 7:00 pm on Dec 18th: 756 John Street, Seattle, WA 98109. Call 206-719-9137 to be let into the building. Early drop-offs are always welcome, so please contact Sam at 206-719-9137 to coordinate.

Volunteer to help hang holiday decorations  

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. 

Your family can get a restaurant meal delivered to Mary’s Place

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. 

How your family can support kids in foster care at the holidays

Treehouse, a Seattle-based nonproft supporting kids in the state foster care system, has many needs. They are looking for families interested in hosting a donation drive and collecting winter clothing, toys, books, and other items needed by kids in care. Visit treehouseforkids.org/take-action/host-a-drive/#drive to get started. Your family may also purchase items from Treehouse’s wish list at treehouseforkids.org/wishlist. This list is kept up to date with the items most requested by youth and their caregivers.

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. 

How the family can host a holiday food drive 

A food drive is something in which your whole family can be involved. 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, and Wellspring’s Baby Boutique.

Drop off traditional holiday plants and flowers

Many local nursing homes and senior centers try to keep the spirit light and holidays bright for the elderly. Consider bringing holiday flowers or poinsettias to a cancer or 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 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 through December, 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 older, 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 to offer a simple 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. 

Also check out  Doing Good Together, which offers a list of family-friendly volunteer options (with age specifics) as part of its Big Hearted Families program. 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 NestingInstinctsSeattle.com and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at Compasswriters.com.