4 ideas for volunteering during the winter holidays

Social worker is visiting a senior woman

Here’s how you can give the gift of time this year, by volunteering.

Helping those in need during the holidays is one of the most powerful ways to spread joy during the season of giving.

With volunteer work, you not only help those in need, but you also get an opportunity to deepen your sense of community as you make a difference in it. Volunteering during your winter break can have a lasting impact on the lives of others.

The number of volunteer options is virtually limitless. The key is to find one that fits your talents and passions. Need a start? Here are four ideas to consider during your winter break.

1. Fight hunger in your community

You can make a world of difference in your community by helping provide meals for those in need this holiday season. More than 44 million people in the United States experience hunger, including one in five children.1

Meanwhile, 23% of undergraduates and 12% of graduate students experience food insecurity.² Feeding America, a nationwide charitable network that helps people and families get back on their feet when faced with hunger, needs volunteers in a variety of roles, including home-based opportunities.

Meals on Wheels is a network of community-based, nonprofit programs that provide nutritious meals for homebound seniors. Although opportunities to volunteer with Meals on Wheels may vary, you can check with your local program to see if you live in a high-need community.

 2. Help veterans in need

Every year, more than 250,000 active duty service members transition out of the military.³

Many of these veterans and their families face challenges when trying to readjust to nonmilitary life. You can thank them for their sacrifice by giving time to organizations that help them begin their next chapter. For example, you could start a grassroots fundraising campaign in your community to help spur donations to organizations like the Military Warriors Support Foundation, which helps veterans secure housing and learn how to build upon their existing skills as they embark upon new careers.

If you’re interested in directly caring for veterans, doing some volunteer work with Team Red, White & Blue can give you a chance to personally help veterans connect with their communities through physical and social activities. Volunteers can host fitness activities and community service events for veterans, helping them make connections and stay active in their communities. Other charities like Catch A Lift Fund also help veterans with home gym equipment and nutrition programs. Volunteers can host fundraising and awareness events in their town. You can also contact your local Voluntary Service office to ask about assisting staff in nursing homes, community-based programs, and veteran outreach centers.

3. Foster pets

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a difference in an animal’s life — just a little tender loving care. Spread the holiday cheer and enjoy some fluffy fun by fostering a dog or cat. Fostering provides a temporary home for a pet until a permanent living arrangement can be found.

It’s a great way to make a difference in the lives of animals who may have been victims of cruelty or had behavioral or medical issues. Others are surrendered by loving families who can’t access affordable, pet-friendly housing or veterinary care. Approximately 6.3 million dogs and cats enter animal shelters across the U.S. each year.4

Just be sure to know the basics of fostering an animal before committing. That includes caring for the pet’s daily needs such as feeding, grooming, and medical care. Fostering is usually done through animal shelters, rescue organizations, or fostering programs. Organizations like the Petco Foundation can help you learn how to be an all-star pet foster. And if you’re allergic but still want to get involved, ask how you can help with programs outside the shelter — such as community outreach, fundraising, and donation drives.

4. Stand with the LGBTQ community

For many LGBTQ community members, the holidays can be a difficult time of year if their gender identities are not supported. And for some, “home for the holidays” isn’t even an option: Youth homelessness among those who identify as LGBTQ is an urgent issue. College-age LGBTQ Americans (18 – 25) are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their straight and cisgender peers, according to a recent study.5 And even among LGBTQ youth who do have a supportive home environment, loneliness or depression is higher than normal immediately following the holidays.

True Colors United, which is committed to ending youth homelessness within the LGBTQ community, offers many ways for volunteers to support their cause. Enthusiastic fundraisers are encouraged to get creative with their events. Are you a gamer, not a runner? Even a home-based competition can garner attention and raise funds. They’ll help you spin your winter holiday into a fundraising campaign, so you can give back more than you get. And when it comes to supporting LGBTQ individuals who experience depression around the holidays, The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ young people. They even provide a safe-space social networking site for LGBTQ youth — TrevorSpace.org — which can serve as a key source of community support. Anyone over 18 can volunteer as a life-changing counselor for the Trevor Project. You’ll be trained to answer messages from young people who face important issues such as coming out, identity, and depression. Providing support during the holidays may inspire you to keep volunteering.

1. “Feeding America Calls for Immediate Action to Address Large Increase in Food Insecurity,” Feeding America, October 25, 2023

2. “New Federal Data Confirm that College Students Face Significant—and Unacceptable—Basic Needs Insecurity,” The Hope Center, August 3, 2023

3. “Outreach, Transition and Economic Development,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

4. “Facts about U.S. Animal Shelters,”  ASPCA

5. “Voices of Youth Count — Understanding and ending youth homelessness,” Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

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