As New York City parents, we like to make sure our kids get an early start … on everything! Reading, speaking Mandarin, practicing tae kwon do, playing chess and the violin. We should be just as ambitious when it comes to volunteering and teaching our kids to give back. Anyone who’s ever volunteered knows it brings a sense of satisfaction and a feeling of gratitude like no other.

Volunteering can do the same for kids. And it can help them to gain an appreciation for basic comforts they take for granted but which are a luxury for so many others. Below we list some ways you and your kids can make a difference in the community.

Ronald McDonald House
Each year, 12,000 children are diagnosed with cancer. The Ronald McDonald House on East 73rd Street is a “home away from home” for families coming to New York City to get critical medical treatment for children with cancer. The families pay a nominal fee to stay at Ronald McDonald House, where they have access to a wide array of support services, including psychological care, wellness programs, tutoring, transportation and activities for siblings.

Ronald McDonald House offers a few kid-friendly volunteer activities:

  • Parents’ Pantry Program – RMH families need food and basic supplies during their stays (some guests could be at the House for months). Your family can collect food and staples for the pantry on the premises. Team up with other families you know or reach out to your child’s class, pick a month to supply items on the pantry wish list for the RMH guests and then get shopping!
  • Tabs Program – RMH serves as a collection point for soda can or “pop” tabs. RMH receives money for the pop tabs it donates to aluminum recycling centers. Again, you could pull together a larger group of families or organize a tabs collection with your child’s class/school. Although the RMH Tabs Program is active all year, two major collection dates are Earth Day on April 1st and the October Block Party.

(Click here RMH volunteer activity details.)

New York Common Pantry (Formerly Yorkville Common Pantry)
The mission of the New York Common Pantry is to “reduc[e] hunger throughout New York City while promoting dignity and self-sufficiency.” NYCP serves people in all five boroughs and is the largest food pantry in the city. So what can you and your brood do to assist?

  • Sandwich Making – Volunteers can make up to 200 individually sealed (Ziploc bag preferred) sandwiches (any kind!). The sandwiches are distributed to individuals in need of emergency food services on evenings when a hot dinner is not served (Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays). Sandwiches can be dropped off with a case manager at the window on the first floor of 8 East 109th Street Mon. – Sat.,  9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; and Mon., Sun. and holidays, 4:00 – 8:00 p.m.
  • Toiletry Kit Assembly –Volunteers can assemble kits with travel-sized items. Examples of toiletries to include are: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, deodorant, razors, shaving cream, combs, toothbrush and toothpaste. These kits are distributed to Project Dignity guests who rely on New York Common Pantry for hygiene services. Items should be less than a year old.
  • Tote Bag Decoration – Decorate reusable totes, which will be used in lieu of plastic bags to assemble pantry packages for families who use the pantry services. These are not only aesthetically pleasing but environmentally friendly and help cut down plastic bag costs.
  • Produce Packing – Small groups of younger kids (so far, as young as kindergartners) can go to the pantry to hear information about the organization and pack produce for the pantry program.

If you would like to get involved, email She can set up a time for a child, or group of children (up to 15), to volunteer. The best time for volunteer activities is Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, from 3:30-4:15 p.m.

Operation Santa
New York City’s Operation Santa is the largest such program in the country (would we have it any other way?!), responding to half a million letters each year! Thousands of volunteers work with the post office to reply and grant the wishes of the young letter writers. You and your child can head to the James A. Farley Post Office at 421 8th Ave., between 30th and 31st streets to “adopt” a letter. You’ll need to fill out a form before you can read and choose a letter. Please check specific guidelines for Operation Santa and be sure to bring a valid form of identification with you to the post office.  Operation Santa runs December 4th through the 24th. James Farley Post Office hours are as follows: Mon. – Sat., 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Thur. from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.

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