Play Santa: How You Can Help This Holiday Season

| November 10, 2011 4:00 AM | Updated: Dec. 14, 2011 11:00AM

There’s no better way to spread the joy than volunteering, so spend a day — or two — this holiday season preparing a hot meal at a local soup kitchen or wrapping a gift for one of the 16,000 homeless children in New York.

Here’s a list of some of the volunteer opportunities available in the New York area:

Cook, Prepare or Deliver Meals

Every year, FeedingNYC participants pack hundreds of boxes filled with seasonal foods and deliver them around the city. Flickr/Feeding NYC.

Grand Central Food Program

The program’s three vans operate 6:30-9:30 p.m. every night, Manhattan and the Bronx

Volunteers are the “lifeblood” of the The Coalition for the Homeless’ mobile soup kitchen, which stops at 31 sites throughout Manhattan and the Bronx every night of the year. Most volunteers participate one night a week, distributing food, clothing and blankets. Unlike traditional soup kitchens, the Coalition’s staff and team of volunteers bring food and resources to where homeless people live. Hop in one of the Coalition’s vans and deliver hearty stew, bread, fresh fruit and juice or milk to those in need this holiday season.

For more information about volunteering, email: volunteer@cfthomeless.org.

Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen
Volunteers are needed Monday through Friday 9:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m. at 296 Ninth Ave., Manhattan

Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen provides hot and nutritious meals every weekday to guests who come from throughout the city. Photo courtesy of Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.

Set in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, Holy Apostles Church coordinates the largest soup kitchen in New York; they serve over 1,200 meals every day, all year round. Their daily operations require about 60 volunteers who assist in a variety of tasks such as greeting guests, serving meals, collecting individual meal tickets, handing out drinks and cleaning tables when the guests are finished eating. Volunteers from “all walks of life” — students, professionals, former guests and retirees and more — work at the church every weekday morning.

To volunteer as an individual or to schedule a group, contact their volunteer coordinator, Steve Fanto: 212-924-0167, extension 237; email: sfanto@holyapostlesnyc.org.

Play Santa Claus

Create a team of volunteers with your friends, family or colleagues, or sign up as an individual to donate gifts to low-income children through New York Care's Winter Wishes program. Photo courtesy of New York Cares.

The Holiday Project
Various locations in New York and New Jersey

Thousands of New Yorkers spend their holidays in medical facilities, and as our population ages, that number is increasing. Each year, volunteers with The Holiday Project visit local hospitals and nursing homes throughout the Tri-State region to share a little bit of holiday spirit during Christmas, Chanukah and various other holidays.

To volunteer in New York City, Long Island or Westchester contact David Sauberman: 718-225-5707; email: Davidsaube@aol.com. For opportunities in New Jersey contact Joanne Sorresse: 415-888-8243; email: holidayproject@comcast.net

565 Fifth Ave., Manhattan

Toys for Tots is at it again inside Build-A-Bear stores citywide. Drop off a new and unused toy at the store or, since you’re already there, build a bear of your own to donate.

To volunteer, contact:  Build-A-Bear NYC 212-8717080; e-mail: volunteer@toysfortotsnyc.org.

Only Make Believe
1133 Broadway, Suite 723, New York NY

If you went a little crazy and bought way too many crafts, ribbons or festive decorations this season and are in need of a de-cluttering, take them along with any old CD’s, fabric and other craft items to Only Make Believe. This nonprofit creates costumes for theater performances held for children in hospitals and care facilities. While you’re dropping off the goods, join the “Cape Crusade” and grab a cape-making kit you can put together during your winter vacation to help create capes for the performances.

For questions, contact: 646-336-1500.

Venturing Out Not for You? Give Back Over the Web


This winter season, you can support someone in your family or community by starting your very own 0nline fundraiser through Giveforward.com. This innovative website allows anyone to raise funds for a cause of his or her choice. The most popular fundraisers on the site are for the critically ill with high medial expenses. Volunteers have the opportunity to launch their own fundraising page, give attention to the cause through photos and video and share their fundraising page with friends, family members and fellow good Samaritans via Facebook and email. Donors to the GiveFoward pages can simply contribute to the cause of their choice via PayPal.

Learn how it works and pay it forward online.

Previous Opportunities

The Church of the Holy Trinity
Nov. 21-25, 316 E. 88th St., Manhattan

In the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, join other volunteers in preparing and delivering over 300 meals for elderly and homebound people in Manhattan. On Thanksgiving day, volunteers heat and prepare food for takeout and deliver meals.

To volunteer contact Joanne Kim: 212-289-4100, ext. 207; e-mail: joanne.kim@holytrinity-nyc.org.

Nov. 22, Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers, Manhattan

Get a head start on your gift wrapping and delivery skills with FeedingNYC. Join 300 other helpers in packing boxes of turkeys and trimmings on the Tuesday before the holiday. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, deliver more than 20,000 meals to various homeless shelters around the city.

To volunteer during the holidays register at FeedingNYC’s website.

Arthritis Foundation NYC 5k Jingle Bell Run/Walk
Dec. 4, Battery Park, Manhattan

Walk, run or jingle your way across Battery Park this December to fight arthritis in the upcoming 5k Jingle Bell Run. Participants are encouraged to donate and truly get in the holiday spirit by arriving dressed in seasonally themed gear as they fight one of the nation’s most crippling diseases.

Register online and grab your kicks this holiday season.

New York Road Runners’ Jingle Bell Jog
Dec. 11, Prospect Park, Brooklyn

The proceeds for this festive run through Prospect Park benefit the New York Road Runners’ youth programs, which help serve more than 100,000 city children. The entry fee includes a long-sleeve shirt, bells for your shoes and post-run seasonal snacks and beverages.

  • A Year Round Volunteer

    Volunteering is NOT just needed during holidays … New York has thousands of volunteers who come out 52 weeks a year, in all weathers and at hundreds of locations to help their fellow citizens. As one of them, it would be great if you would not make it just a once a year idea. Those of us who do pitch in year round tend to wonder about the ones who feel they are saving the world by showing up just at Thanksgiving or Christmas. People need help the weeks and months before and after the holidays too. Sign up with New York Cares or The Food Bank or God’s Love We Deliver or any other agency and do some REAL GOOD year round ! It’s a much better idea and you will be a better person because of it.

    • Alan Grant

      I would like to volunteer. Please contact me at email address. Thank you.

      • A Year Round Volunteer

        Hi Alan
        Just go to http://www.newyorkcares.org and sign up for an orientation .. then you will have handreds of opportunities every month to help others and it’s year round. You choose which projects you do, so it’s easy to fit them around your schedule. Everything from feeding the homeless, helping with both kids and adult education programs, interacting with seniors in nursing homes .++. you can even walk dogs from the pound. There is something for everyone.

    • Dale Freeman

      Dear “Year Round Volunteer”:
      I salute you! Ongoing, reliable service is truly charitable — in the BEST sense of the word. There are so many in need, and so much to be done! Those of you who regularly give up their time, money, or other resources to help others — often without much credit or external reward — deserve to feel good about themselves.
      I hope you can broaden your ideas about those who can’t or don’t. People who volunteer only at certain times may not feel they are “saving the world.” I am a year-round volunteer (two hours a week is all I feel I can fit in) in a literacy program, but I was thinking I might help out at one of the food programs at Thanksgiving because I thought they might need some extra hands at that time, because some regular volunteers might not be available, or because of increased volume. Last year, my sister couldn’t get home for the holiday, because although she works two jobs, she couldn’t afford the plane fare. So instead of staying home feeling sorry for herself, she helped out at a holiday party in a local nursing home. If my sister and I turn up for the first time on Thanksgiving at the place where you volunteer, I hope that instead of “wondering about” us, you’ll show us how to roll up our sleeves and be of most help.
      Happy Thanksgiving!

      • A Year Round Volunteer

        Hi Dale

        Great that you volunteer every week at a literacy program. So do I !.

        Of course you will be welcome any time. The only trouble is that at Thanksgiving and Christmas especially, soup kitchens and other feeding programs are awash with well meaning volunteers. But where are they NEXT Sunday or the Sunday after that and the Sunday after that ? Nowhere to be seen. Homeless or financially strapped familes are hungry year round, not just at holidays. There is a huge range of food programs in NY which happen every weekend and in the evenings. If someone really wants to help, then there is the opportunity to do good. It doesn’t necessarily mean every week either. At New York Cares, for example, volunteers pick what days they can do. So January and February 25th is just as good as December 25th.

        And Happy Holidays (all of them) to you and your family.

        • Dale Freeman

          Awash? Wow, guess I was wrong about food programs needing EXTRA help at the holidays! OK, I get the message. Guess I should take a page from my sister’s book and help out at a holiday party at a nursing home or someplace.

  • merrel

    would like to wrap gifts but not turkeys please. thanx. merrel.

  • phyllis dulberg

    I would be interested in volunteering at a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, preferrably in the Park Slope neighborhood. Any suggestions.

  • IF

    I am interested in feeding the homeless on xmas, preferably on the upper or west or east side. Please advise.


    This is to the poster “A YEAR LONG VOLUNTEER”. Don’t judge others for not being able to or not volunteering year round like you. Why not be thankful that people wish to give up their time on the holidays when many organizations do indeed need the help b/c most people ARE with their families. Great for you for volunteering year round! Kudos to you! You are just better than anyone else. LOL. Some of us don’t have the luxury of being able to help year round, but do it when we can and from my experience there are many programs that need extra help on the holidays and happy to have others helping. And not all of us are fortunate to be with others on the holidays and are alone like myself this year. So, it helps me as well to help as I am sure you get something giving year round or you wouldn’t do it.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/deirdre.brennan.564 Deirdre Brennan

    Not mentioned among these holiday volunteering opportunities is “Stockings With Care”, which works with donors and volunteers to bring the magic of Christmas morning to children living in shelters, or whose families can’t afford to do so themselves. Social workers work with the parents to create wish lists that ensure each kid gets what they were dreaming for http://www.stockingswithcare.org

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