A lot of you have been asking about hands-on volunteer opportunities that you can do with your children. You don't want to simply write a check for a beloved organization, you want your kids to get involved and really pay attention to helping others. Awesome!
Here are my best ideas for you. Please add more in the comments.
Plant a tree: Urban Releaf plants trees in Oakland and their website shows lots of happy kid helpers. I did this in San Francisco and found it so meaningful to watch my little sapling take root. (pictured above)
Garden for the community: Kids can, literally, get their hands dirty in a garden and share the wealth with others through some of these community garden projects.
Deliver meals to senior citizens: Via Meals on Wheels, you (as chauffeur) and your child (as helper) can prepare and deliver meals to homebound seniors in their local communities as well as being a friendly visitor. There are currently 5-7 East Bay locations and specific duties vary. Most programs deliver meals before noon.
Shop for the food bank: Any grocery store can serve as the backdrop for your personal food drive. Let your child track spending and make healthy choices (the Alameda Food bank maintains a list of key food items to guide you). Drop off donations in the store or deliver it to the nearest collection spot (also try Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties).
Playgroup with a purpose: Order a community service kit from Hands on Bay Area Project in a Box or be inspired to create your own activity with a result that helps others. Focus on your child's interest by helping babies or children.
Donate hair to help sick kids: Though this is a one-time thing, it is a really big impact for your long-haired child and the kid they help. Made famous by Locks of Love, I suggest this other place Wigs for Kids as having a better reputation.
Collect security items for homeless children: Our contributor Becky and her daughters helped 72 families through Project Night Night by gathering new blankets, books, and stuffed animals for those in need by teaming up with their neighborhood friends.
Care for animals in need: Kids older than age 10 can join the volunteers at East Bay SPCA for activities relating to the medical needs of animals, behavior & training, animal advocacy and animal themed careers. Activities for parent/child teams are limited; participants in the youth volunteer club pay a fee and have more predictable participation.
Foster animals in your home: Talk about hands-on! Whitney shared details of her experience fostering kittens. Other animals need homes for short and long terms.
Pick up litter: Walk around your own neighborhood with your toddler and a trash bag (and gloves!) to leave your block better than you found it.
Clean up the Bay: Sign up with Save SF Bay to find organized group beach clean-ups to restore natural wetland habitats all around San Francisco Bay. Or do a miniature version with your family.
Repair and donate your own used items such as toys, household goods, bikes, or computers. Bring them to a shelter or a community group in need.
Usher for local theater companies: Be a helper with some of the children's theater companies by collecting tickets, seating guests, or selling snacks. As a perk, your family can see the show. See how fun it can be to help out?
- Sign up with Hands On Bay Area which offers families with children 12 and under an array of opportunities. This site seems perfect to find more regular scheduled volunteer gigs. I saw a diverse set of educational and athletic options on the first page.
- Pick a project on DoSomething that can be done from home. I noticed clever ideas like collecting jeans for homeless teens and preparing puzzles for kindergarten classrooms. Search by your child's interest and time available to find the best match.
- Search VolunteerMatch.org for current needs in the area. This site seems great for finding something specific and time-bound to fit in your schedule. You can filter on kids to see (theoretically) appropriate opportunities. Among many others, I saw requests for people to build a butterfly habitat and work at a book drive for neglected children.
- Both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts focus on teaching children to be of service to others; kids who go through these programs will participate in many volunteer activities with increasing responsibility as they get older.
[Photo: Urban Releaf, Oakland]