Let’s talk about family volunteer opportunities that can involve the whole family.
At any age, children (and adults!) can learn to give, serve, help, support, and comfort. If you’re looking into family volunteer opportunities, you probably already see the value in creating a culture of service in your home.
So you don’t need a lecture on how all this will shape your children’s hearts and minds. You know it will. But how do you do it? How do you get your toddlers and young kids to get their minds off of themselves and their wants so that they can really consider the needs of others?
Well, the simple answer is to start doing that yourself. Face it: children imitate what they see. So a big part of this is to have them see you volunteer, you serve, you give.
That’s the main thing. Still, you want to find ways to volunteer and serve and give that your kids can be a part of so that they can see mom and dad practicing what they preach.
So let’s get right to it. Here are 15 family volunteer opportunities that can work for all ages.
15 Family Volunteer Opportunities for All Ages
1. Donate Food to a Local Food Bank
✓ Great for littles
This is an easy one for kid participation. While you are at home, the family can work together to clean out your canned goods cupboard and start a stockpile of donations. At the same time, start talking about the needs of others and how your donations can be used to bless them.
When you donate your unused canned or packaged goods, it is a nice way to clear out your shelves and put your unwanted food items to good use.*
*Just don’t give damaged, expired, or unlabeled items
However, I would encourage you to not stop there. Talk with your kids and ask them, “What types of food would you enjoy/want/need if you were homeless or out of a job?”
Remind them that your donation of that old can of beets left over from Thanksgiving isn’t really an act of generosity. I mean, sure, it’s better to donate it than to toss it in the trash, but it’s not like the widow’s two mites. It doesn’t cost anything to give.
Instead, brainstorm together for some good quality items you can go out and purchase specifically for those in need. Talk to them about money, talk about the costs of what you are giving and how that relates to your family’s food budget and general financial stability. This is a great opportunity to train their minds to think well about wealth and generosity.
Here is a list based on one from The Kitchn of nonperishable food and toiletries items to donate. These are the items that are most often requested by food banks, shelters, and pantries.
What Food Banks Need Most
- Canned tuna, salmon, chicken, or other meats
- Canned beans
- Dried beans
- Canned soups and stews
- Peanut butter
- Canned chili
- Trail mix
- Rice (especially whole grain)
- Pasta (especially whole grain)
- Diced tomatoes
- Tomato sauce
- Canned vegetables
- Cooking oils (such as olive oil or canola oil)
- Baking, biscuit, and pancake mixes (ones that only require water are best
- Shelf-stable non-dairy milk
- 100% juice drinks (no corn syrup)
- 100% fruit cans and cups (no corn syrup)
- Holiday staples like canned pumpkin and boxed stuffing
- Baby formula
- Diapers and wipes
- Feminine hygiene products
- Toothbrushes and toothpaste
- Shampoo and conditioner
2. Volunteer at the Food Bank
✓ Great for ages 6+
Guess what? The whole family* can volunteer at that same local food bank where you donate your food. What a great way to provide some continuity to your family’s giving!
*Within reason; there’s not much for a toddler to do and they may end up in the way. Ask the volunteer manager, and use your judgment.
At the same time, actually being there helps make it more of a reality to your kids. You’ll be surprised at how compassionate and thoughtful they can become with a little hands-on experience.
3. Make Care Kits and Give Them to the Homeless
✓ Great for littles
We recently started doing this as a family, and it has totally changed how we see the people who hold cardboard signs at street corners. The kids get way into it, and actively watch out for busy intersections for potential recipients.
These are really easy to make, not very expensive, and totally blesses both the recipient and the giver.
Somehow I had always thought the best way to help someone is to not give them money. While that’s probably true (all the studies and people who work with the homeless say so), I recently became convicted about this. Because I thought I knew what was best, I would end up sitting in my car trying to avoid eye contact. Lame.
All that changed when we started giving these care kits out. Now, if we don’t have a care kit, I’ll usually try to give a dollar if I have cash on me. Yes, they’ll probably spend it on you-know-what. No, no one can afford to give to every person who asks.
The main thing, for me, was to have by attitude or general orientation about it change so that I can see people for who they are and be ready to give out of the overflow of what I have recieved. Do they deserve it? Who knows. But I know I don’t deserve all the blessings that I have received, so why not give?
See here for our guide to making homeless care packages.
4. Clean Up the Neighborhood
✓ Great for littles
Another easy one that just takes some time and a little effort. Spend an afternoon every couple of weeks cleaning up the litter from around your neighborhood. It can be your street, a nearby area, a local park, or wherever you see the need.
To get even the youngest children involved, give them gloves and a trash bag and let them loose. They’ll get the idea all the more as they see everyone else doing the same thing.
Wear gloves and keep a close eye on the kids. Warn them about needles, bandages, broken glass, rusty nails; the usual suspects. Pick an area and get it clean, then keep it clean as the weeks and months go by. Hopefully you can slowly expand the your litter-pickup area as it gets better maintained.
Also, be sure to talk to your neighbors about it. Not in a bragging way, but just get the word out and encourage others to participate.
If the need is great, you can organize a neighborhood-wide event. Do it all yourself, or try contacting the local government for assistance. Cities generally want to encourage any community involvement like this, and will often be happy to provide items like trash bags, gloves, brooms, rakes, and even dumpsters.
5. Put Together Christmas Shoe Boxes
✓ Great for ages 5+
Operation Christmas Child is a great ministry that gives “shoe boxes” full of Christmas gifts to kids living in impoverished areas.
Your kids will love picking out gifts for others. Take them down to the local dollar or discount store for many of the simple hygiene items. Make sure to also include a nice gift – a “wow” item – from a regular department or toy store.
Here are the sorts of things to include in a shoe box:
- A “wow” item – soccer ball, doll, Lego set, etc
- Personal care items – comb, toothbrush, bandages, flashlight
- School supplies – notebooks, pencils, crayons, pencil case
- Clothing & accessories – shirts, pants, underwear, dress
- Crafts & activities – coloring book, puzzles, jump rope
- Toys – ball with pump, Etch-a-sketch, yo-yo
Also write a personal note from the whole family. Our kids always want to include drawings and we often do a decorated Scripture verse or a prayer.
Lastly, to really get your kids involved in the spirit of giving, have them earn the money to buy the gifts themselves. Set up a lemonade stand, sell cookies or muffins door to door, do a car wash. It will mean all the more that way.
6. Put Together Hospital Activity Boxes
✓ Great for ages 5+
This is not so very different from the Christmas shoe boxes. You’ll brainstorm ideas for good activities for hospitalized kids, then go out and buy what you need. The whole family can pitch in the organize and prepare the boxes or bags.
Check with your local hospital to see if they already have a program in place. Also make sure to ask about rules for what can and cannot be included in gift bags. Some hospitals will not allow personal notes, while others only allow notes if they do not include any religious messages.
Here are a few organizations that coordinate gift boxes for hospitalized kids. Check out their websites for further ideas and opportunities:
- The Jared Box Project
- Caitlin’s Smiles
- Happy Hope Bags
- And again, you can often work directly with your local hospital
7. Join a Meal Ministry
✓ Great for all ages
Sign up for Meals on Wheels, a national organization dedicated to bringing meals to people with limited mobility. Practically speaking, it means delivering a meal to an elderly or disabled person and spending some time with them. What a great way to show love to someone in need!
Your church will also often have a meal ministry. This is a group of people who will cook hot meals or prepare freezer meals for church members – families or individuals – in need. Whether a family is dealing with a hospitalization, new baby, death of a loved one, sickness, or financial difficulty, these meals can be a genuine help.
If you don’t go to church (or your church doesn’t have a meals ministry) and there is no Meals on Wheels-type organization in your area, you can still keep your eyes open for people in need. Every community will have births, deaths, illnesses, and other things that make life tough for a season. Be ready to jump in and bring a meal and a word of encouragement!
Kids can be involved in meal delivery at any age. For the youngest toddlers, explain what you are doing and why. Have them carry a loaf of bread or bag of chips to the door. As kids get older, they can get more involved in the meal preparation and delivery.
8. Visit the Elderly at a Nursing Home
✓ Great for all ages
It’s important to honor the generations who have lived before us. All too often, the elderly get pushed into a nursing home and forgotten. Meanwhile, the rest of us get busy with family, school, work, and daily life.
Everyone loves kids. Older “seasoned citizens” are certainly no exception. So this is a great volunteer opportunity for the whole family, no matter your children’s ages. They won’t care if your toddler spills Cheerios or if your baby spits up.
The important thing is that you are providing personal contact and companionship for people in a community that often feels isolated.
However, do try to make your nursing home visits regular and consistent. As noted by Susan V. Bosak from Legacy Project,
While a single visit to a nursing home is a valuable experience for children and will brighten the day for older adults, an ongoing visitation program is most effective. Said one staff member in a nursing home, “We don’t want it to be ‘let’s go see the old people’ just like it’s a trip to the Statue of Liberty.” An ongoing series of visits allows the understanding and trust to develop which are essential for a real connection between people of any age.Legacy Project
Visit the elderly at a nursing home and you’ll be practicing acts of kindness for others while modeling for your children how to put others before themselves. Here are some tips and further resources on how to get started.
9. Be a Friend to the Mentally Disabled
✓ Great for ages 6+
Many residential treatment centers for the mentally disabled have “buddy” programs. They will pair your family up with a special-needs adult and show you what to do.
Mainly, this sort of role is simple. Just be their friend! They might like to watch TV, talk a mile a minute, or just watch as your kids play. You’ll learn to roll with it.
Every person is special and unique, but our need for companionship is the same. This is another great way for you and your family to serve others, while teaching your kids that it’s cool to be friends with people who are different.
10. Volunteer at a Retreat for Families with Disabilities
✓ Great for ages 13+
This is a great option in place of the typical church mission trip. Joni & Friends is a ministry to and for people with disabilities. They offer several “family retreats” where the person with a disability enjoys a fun and exciting “camp” atmosphere, allowing the family a much-needed period of rest and relaxation. It’s a beautiful service to families affected by disability.
Your family can participate by serving as a friend to a disabled camper for the week. No prior experience is required, and you won’t need to do any sort of medical or personal care for the camper. You will simply be their friend for the week – eat meals together, be with them for games and activities, and be their companion during free time.
The volunteer must be over 18 years of age, but they regularly allow younger teens to volunteer alongside a parent. (Ages, availability, and requirements will vary for each situation. Contact them for further details.)
Our church has done this for many years, with teens and mature older children serving alongside their parents. It has been much more productive and character-building than the typical youth mission trip. The camp leaders encourage the campers and families with the gospel and Christ-centered teaching. And you get to make a lifelong friend! All while serving and blessing a family that has been profoundly affected by disability. It’s a win.
11. Sponsor a Child
✓ Great for all ages
There are many wonderful Christian ministries that provide the opportunity for you and your family to “sponsor” a child. It’s a great way to show the love of Christ to someone in need, while at the same time opening up your children’s minds to think about material and spiritual poverty throughout the world.
Your sponsorship works by paying a small monthly subscription (usually in the range of $30-50). The organization will direct most of those funds (minus operating costs) to a specific child. Sometimes this means purchasing food, medical supplies, school books, clothing, and other necessities. Other times it means pooling the resources to tackle a larger problem, like providing clean water for the the entire area.
The best organizations will also often work personally with the child so that they can share the gospel and get them involved in a church or Bible studies. Two of the best and best-known are Compassion International (we sponsor a child through them) and World Vision.
Put the child’s photo up on the fridge. Get the whole family involved in praying for the child, writing letters, and contributing a little extra for birthday or Christmas gifts. It’s a lovely, simple, yet powerful way to show the love of Christ.
12. Offer Free Babysitting Services
✓ Great for kids 10+
Every family needs a babysitter sometimes. Keep an eye out especially for people who have no family or have recently relocated because of a job, military, or other reasons. Life can be difficult when you don’t have the built-in support system of your hometown family.
If your kids are young, they can “help” by playing with the children you are babysitting. It doesn’t matter if there are age differences. It’s a good lesson to learn at an early age: you can be friends even if someone is not the same as you (different age, different background, etc).
Older kids can actually start helping. Our daughter started helping out in the nursery at church around age 9, and she loves babysitting little ones.
Your children can get involved in other ways as well. They can clean the house before and/or after, help prepare and distribute snacks, and “donate” toys and activities from their rooms for everyone to play with. These are all great family volunteer opportunities!
13. Ding-Dong-Ditch a Family in Need
✓ Great for all ages
Chances are you will regularly know families facing trying circumstances. Pregnant mothers or families with a newborn, someone who just lost a job, families grieving the loss of a loved one, people in financial difficulties, single parents; the list could go on and on.
Get the whole family involved in creating a gift basket. Cook a delicious hot meal, go shopping together for a bag of premium groceries, make or buy comfort gifts like chocolate and a movie, get some neat toys or crafts for the kids.
Make sure the family is home, then drop the gift on their porch, ring the doorbell, and run! It’s an exciting and memorable way to give.
14. Send Thank-You Notes to Service Professionals
✓ Great for all ages
Writing thank-you notes as a family is a great way to cultivate thankfulness. At the same time, your notes will be a blessing and encouragement to those in your community who help to make the world a better place.
- Police officers
- Fire fighters
- Hospital staff
- Recycling and sanitation workers
- Pastors and church staff
- Postal and package delivery drivers (USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc)
- Workers and volunteers at local charitable organizations
- Employees at any place you visit or shop at regularly
Even your youngest children can help with this. They can draw a hospital or fire truck and sign their art (“Olivia, age 3”). The recipients will love it!
15. Start a Business Venture with Proceeds Going to Charity
✓ Great for kids 5+
Think small, like a lemonade or hot chocolate stand. Or think big, with a lawn mowing business or a full-on family-run shop selling stuff online. Either way, teach your kids to work with a purpose.
Choose an organization to support. This can be a homeless shelter, food bank, pregnancy resource center, missionaries or missions organization, disaster relief, mentorship program, evangelism and outreach ministries, even an animal shelter. Ideally this will be a local organization, somewhere you can go and personally deliver the proceeds and even volunteer.
Tell all your customers what you are all about and why you are doing this. Not only will it encourage some to hire you or buy from you, knowing that it will support a good cause, but it will also open the door to share the gospel to many others. And it will help link together work, service, and giving for the gospel’s sake in your children’s minds.
More Family Volunteer Opportunities
Here are a few more family volunteer opportunities for you to consider:
- Help out at an animal shelter
- Send anonymous gift boxes or subscription boxes
- Build houses with Habitat for Humanity
- Volunteer at fundraising fairs, drives, or tournaments for ministries and organizations you support
- Donate your goods or money to an organization in person, so your kids can see more of what that organization does
- Do yard work for neighbors
- Make birthday cards for foster children
What other ways has your family volunteered or served together?