The holiday season is typically when many people start to think about how they can help those in need, and in New York City, there are literally thousands of ways to give back.
In 2009, the Bloomberg administration launched NYC Service as a compendium of the many volunteering opportunities available to New Yorkers, but there are plenty of other ways to do good in the city all year long.
In that spirit, we’ve collected some ways to help your fellow New Yorkers here—and we want to hear from you, too. Is there a local charity that deserves props? Or a great way for New Yorkers to get involved in their neighborhoods? Leave a comment below.
New York Cares coat drive: If you have a gently used, clean coat that you no longer need, take it to one of the many drop-off locations throughout the five boroughs; coats will then be distributed to New Yorkers in need. If you don’t have one lying around but still want to help, text COAT to 41444—the organization says that a $20 donation equals one coat.
Housing Works: Established in 1990 by veterans of ACT UP, this organization helps homeless New Yorkers who are living with HIV or AIDS. One of the biggest ways they do that is through Housing Works’s thrift shops, which can be found throughout the city. If you’ve got clothes, furniture, or books to offload, consider taking them here—when items are sold through one of its stores, 100 percent of the proceeds go toward realizing its mission.
GrowNYC: NYC’s greenmarkets are funded in part through this organization, which also works to improve recycling in apartment buildings, establish community gardens in neighborhoods in need, and other eco-friendly tasks. You can volunteer time or donate money.
NYC Books Through Bars: This organization collects gently used paperback books to pass on to incarcerated men and women in New York. The list of what types of books they’re in need of is very specific, but the organization has set up a wishlist through Greenlight Bookstore to make donations convenient. You could also donate funds or supplies, like stamps.
University Settlement: The mission of this organization, originally founded in the 19th century, is to "provid[e] integrated services that strengthen a whole family"—everything from childcare and early childhood education to adult literacy programs and mental health services.
The Robin Hood Foundation: Robin Hood bills itself as New York’s largest poverty-fighting organization, and donations help fund its programs, which include job training, early childhood education, and providing meals to those in need.
Citymeals on Wheels: For the past 35 years, this organization has been providing elderly and homebound New Yorkers not only with meals, but companionship. You can sign up for meal deliveries during the holidays, but there are also other programs—writing letters, chatting with seniors—that are ongoing all year long.
God’s Love We Deliver: Similarly, GLWD brings nutritious meals to those in need, and there are myriad volunteer opportunities available—making deliveries by car or on foot, preparing meal kits, even office work. Thanksgiving shifts are already full, but the organization suggests donating $20 to sponsor a holiday meal for a client and a guest, or—better yet—volunteering outside of the holiday season.
New York City Parks Department: The city’s vast parks system doesn’t stay beautiful on its own—teams of volunteers can be found cleaning up green spaces throughout the five boroughs on a regular basis. The Parks Department has plenty of opportunities to pitch in, which you can find on its website.
BARC: It doesn’t matter if you’re a cat or a dog person; the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition in Williamsburg has something for you to do. Dog walkers can take pups out during the week, while volunteers in the cat loft (who work to socialize kitties) are needed on weekday afternoons.
Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs: Help out those who are on the way to becoming New Yorkers by working with the city’s immigrant communities. There are a few different opportunities, including helping people sign up for IDNYC cards and assisting with translation services during various legal workshops.
SAGE: This organization helps New York’s LGBT seniors through a variety of programs. One is Friendly Visiting, in which volunteers spend time (in person and over the phone) with some of the folks who benefit from SAGE’s mission—many of whom may not have family or support systems in place.
Bowery Mission: There are plenty of volunteer opportunities within this organization, which provides meals, medical care, and other services to homeless New Yorkers. Help with meal services, mentor a younger person, or simply donate to help keep the organization’s services running.
New York Cares: In addition to its annual coat drive, New York Cares connects city residents to hundreds of volunteer opportunities throughout the five boroughs.
Giving to bigger organizations is great, but doing good at the local level is an even better way to connect with your neighbors. This is where NYC Service comes in handy—you can narrow volunteer opportunities by zip code, so you can find groups who need help right within your community.
If you want to get involved on the local level, there are dozens of ways to do so—from requesting a street tree or working on your local community garden, to joining your community board or sounding off at a Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting.
And don’t forget—you can’t complain about the dearth of mom-and-pop shops in New York if you don’t shop at the ones that remain. This holiday season, ditch the big-box retailers (or Amazon) in favor of patronizing small, independent spots—you’ll be helping your fellow New Yorkers and keeping local flavor in the city’s neighborhoods.
Looking for more concrete ways to make a difference? Our list of 50 small ways to make NYC a better place will help.