Want to give back this holiday season? We rounded up 25 organizations in Chicago where your entire family can volunteer—and make a difference
Let’s face it, most kids probably think of this time of year as the season of “getting”—getting candy, getting gifts, getting visitors. If you are looking for ways to change the narrative to a holiday season of “giving,” and to teach children lessons in gratitude and empathy, there’s no better opportunity than having them witness first-hand the needs of others. Chicago is full of people in need. From supporting kids in the hospital to helping provide food to local shelters to showing love to the city’s furry friends to doing their part to protect the environment, we’ve rounded up some organizations where your entire family can put in some volunteer hours and reap the spiritual rewards. It’s proof that there is no shortness of opportunities to lend a hand.
Volunteering in Chicago: Help the Hungry
Common Pantry established a program called Common Kids in 2014 to address the desire of parents to get their kids involved in volunteer work. Common Kids is open to kids ages 5-12. Through special events and projects, kid volunteers are able to fund-raise in an effort to combat hunger and food insecurity.
3744 N. Damen Ave.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository
The Greater Chicago Food Depository supports more than 700 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other programs throughout Cook County. One Saturday per month, the Depository holds a Kids Day, in which families with children between ages 5-11 can help repack donations for Chicago-wide distribution. Groups of up to 8 volunteers are welcome with one adult per every two children. Additional Kids Days are held during winter and summer breaks.
4100 W. Ann Lurie Place
Nourishing Hope, (formerly known as The Lakeview Pantry), delivers the equivalent of four million meals annually to Chicago's food insecure and provides mental wellness counseling and other social services, such as job and housing assistance. They welcome kids ages 9-15 to volunteer with a parent guardian. Kids ages 9-12 may be tasked with online market packing, home delivery prep and packing, or Saturday hub restock and clean. Kids age 13-17 may be involved in food distribution.
1716 W. Hubbard St.
3533 W. North Ave.
3945 N. Sheridan Rd.
5151 N. Ravenswood Ave.
Volunteering in Chicago: Support Seniors
The mission of CJE SeniorLife is to enhance the quality of life and facilitate independence of older adults. Kids can volunteer alongside their parents at any age. They may volunteer unaccompanied starting at age 12. In fact, CJE offers B’nai Mitzvah opportunities. The main objective is to spread joy to the CJE residents, whether that be by sharing a talent, bringing in a therapy animal, helping with arts and crafts, or just sitting by their side. There are CJR communities in Deerfield, Evanston, Skokie, and Chicago.
3003 W. Touhy Ave.
Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly
LBFE's main objective is to relieve isolation and loneliness among the eldery. Children are welcomed to volunteer alongside their parents/guardians in visiting senior citizens and giving the gift of companionship. The holidays are a particularly good time to get involved as LBFE needs help in throwing holiday celebrations for its community. You may help in prepping for parties, cooking, attending, transporting seniors to parties, or bringing a piece of a party to the home-bound.
355 N. Ashland Ave.
Kids starting at age 12 can volunteer at Lutheran Home to simply spend time with residents. This could mean reading with them, playing games, making a craft, or going for a walk. It may also include transporting them in their wheelchair or helping them with their shopping needs at the General Store. After completing an application and an interview with the Volunteer Manager, volunteer interests are matched with campus needs.
800 W. Oakton Street
Arlington Heights, IL
Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels provides nutritious meals, safety checks, and human connection to home-bound seniors. Kids can accompany their parents while they drive around making food deliveries. Assigned routes are typically two hours long and include 8-10 stops. The Northern Illinois chapter also has families create greeting cards for seniors.
314 W. Superior St. #201
7222 Cermak Road
North Riverside, IL
Volunteering in Chicago: Comfort Kids in Need
Cards for Hospitalized Kids
Cards for Hospitalized Kids delivers handmade cards to Children's Hospitals and Ronald McDonald houses all across the country. Kids of any age can create a card that will lift up the spirits of another child who has been hospitalized. General cards are delivered monthly, and of course, holiday cards are delivered for major holidays. This is the easiest way for a kid to show compassion for others. Chicago children in 7th grade and up can even volunteer to help with card-sorting and card-distribution operations in their Chicago office. These volunteer sessions occur twice a month on Saturday mornings.
7290 W. Devon Ave.
Chicago Challenger League
Chicago Challenger League is a division of Little League for kids with physical or mental challenges. Volunteers act as "buddies" to the athletes (ages 4-18), helping them to run the bases or field the ball. It is a great way for kids to not only volunteer, but get outdoors, get some exercise, and make new friends too!
2741 W Montrose Ave.
KEEN's mission is to "empower youth with disabilities and impact volunteer coaches through participation in free, non-competitive, one-on-one programs of physical activity and fun, supporting the overall health and well-being of all participants." High school students at least 15 years old can volunteer as a "Coach" at KEEN. Coaches are paired with one "athlete" with limited capabilities, and are responsible for assisting that athlete in whatever sport activity they choose. Coaches are given a detailed profile of their athlete's abilities with suggestions for how to best support them.
3628 S. Wallace St.
Volunteering in Chicago: Assist the Less Fortunate
American Red Cross
Your community doesn't have to have suffered a disaster for there to be opportunities to volunteer with the American Red Cross. High school students can get involved in service and educational projects that directly impact their school or community. It's a great way to develop skills in leadership and learn how to mobilize resources.
Cradles to Crayons
The aptly named Cradles to Crayons collects all sorts of items disadvantaged children desperately need. Donations are sorted and re-packaged for distribution at The Giving Factory®. This is where volunteering comes in. Kids age 5 and up can accompany their parents or guardians to The Giving Factory®and assist in the donation processing. The best part of volunteering for Cradles to Crayons is that you learn who the specific children you are helping are, and at the end of the day you get to know exactly how many local children and families you have impacted. What could be more rewarding than that? Teens in 9th-12th grade can join the Teen Leadership Corps., which is a structured leadership program where they may coordinate events and/or collection drives in additional to working in The Giving Factory®.
2500 W. Bradley Place, Unit 200
Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity exists in over 70 countries, with the goal of ensuring all citizens have access to safe and affordable housing through a number of different programs. There are volunteering opportunities for ages 5 to 40. Being able to impact lives in such a tangible and rewarding way can lead to a lifetime of community service.
1100 W. Cermak Rd., Ste. 404
Made By Mary
Made By Mary is a perfect example of how far-reaching and contagious small acts of kindness can be. Made By Mary was started by a woman and her two daughters to provide baked goods and handwritten messages to neighbors in need of comfort. Soon enough more volunteers joined in servicing the Mt. Prospect and Arlington Heights area by baking, and/or making cards, and helping with deliveries. It's work the whole family can do together.
Operation Christmas Child
A ministry project of Samaritan's Purse, Operation Christmas Child engages churches around the world to deliver shoe boxes filled with small gifts to children in need. Anyone, anywhere, can put together a shoe box that could include small toys, hygiene items, or school supplies. Instructions on how to pack a shoe box are listed on their website. A $10 donation is suggested to accompany each box to cover processing and shipping costs. Kids at least 13 years old can also assist at during National Collection Week (Nov 14-21) at the processing center in Aurora.
800 N. Commerce Street
Share Our Spare
Share Our Spare was founded in 2011 by 10 local Chicago women determined to help families in need. They collect new and gently-used infant and toddler items from families with extra to “spare” and store them in their "Sharehouse." Volunteers, as young as 6 years old, help sort through the donations and assemble kits of items on Open Volunteer Days. Children can even add a personal note to the kits they assemble. Partner organizations visit the Sharehouse and select the kits they need for their communities and redistribute them.
935 W. Chestnut St.
USPS Operation Santa
Can you believe the United State Post Office has been responding to kids' letters to Santa since 1912? At first it was just employees, but in the 1940s the program opened up to the public and ever since thousands of kids each year have been receiving gifts from "Santa", many who may not have otherwise gotten any holiday gifts. Truly get into the holiday spirit by adopting letters to Santa. Together, the whole family can read through letters online, select the ones to adopt, and then shop for & ship an item (or items) on the letter writer's wish list. With younger kids, you can position it as "helping Santa".
Volunteering in Chicago: Work with Animals
The Anti-Cruelty Society is more than a pet adoption center. They also provide spay/neuter services, end of life services, micro-chipping, various low income services, and so many educational programs. The Kids Who Care program invites families, with kids ages 2 and up, to join on the first Saturday of the month from 10-11:30 am to help prepare snacks for the animals, create pet toys, or decorate adoption posters. The program teaches kids the basics of pet care and animal safety. The Youth Who Care program gives tweens (ages 10-12), the opportunity to work in the shelter with the animals. Kids of any age can be a Reading Buddy. The Reading Buddy program is a drop-in volunteer program where kids read aloud to the animals to help them relax in a busy shelter environment. The Anti-Cruelty Society also has a Teens Who Care program.
157 West Grand Ave.
Canine Therapy Corps
Teens ages 16 and older can bring in their own dogs to provide animal-assisted therapy to over 5,000 clients across Chicago, from hospital patients to veterans, and children with autism. If they do not have an eligible dog, they may volunteer on their own by helping with certification testing on Saturday mornings and weeknight evenings.
3918 West Fullerton Ave.
Equestrian Connection has helped thousands of special needs adults and children through equine-assisted and other therapies. Volunteers can begin at age 13 walking by the side of a horse and its rider providing added comfort and security. As volunteers become more acquainted with the facility and clients, they may grow their responsibilities.
600 N. Bradley Rd.
Lake Forest, IL
PAWS Chicago is committed to providing any and all homeless animals with refuge. All the animals that come to PAWS Chicago are guaranteed life. Volunteers ages 12 and up may join with their parents in cleaning areas of the medical or adoption centers, assist with laundry and dishes, help socialize animals, and other special projects or administrative tasks.
1997 N. Clybourn Ave.
3516 W. 26th St.
Treehouse Humane Society
The Treehouse Humane Society is a cageless shelter for homeless cats. While on-site volunteers must be 18 years old, children are encouraged to volunteer by crafting homemade toys and enrichment supplies.
7225 N. Western Ave.
Volunteering in Chicago: Protect the Environment
The Recyclery Collective
Volunteers can learn some very useful skills while volunteering at The Recyclery Collective. Volunteers starting at age 11 can bring in their bikes and learn how to fix them. They can then help recycle donated bikes which are distributed to refugees, low income families, and the homeless. As volunteers become more experienced, they in turn teach newcomers bicycle mechanics.
7628 N Paulina St.
The Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Families can volunteer with The Forest Preserve District of Cook County by helping remove invasive plants or harvesting native seed on Ecological Stewardship Days, or by initiating a Litter Obliterators Group Cleanup. Tools, gloves, bags, onsite safety training, and supervision are provided where necessary. Families can even Adopt-A-Site. Have a favorite grove, river, or trail you visit often? You may adopt that site by committing to visiting the site eight times between April and November to clean litter. You can visit on your own schedule. What's really fun about it, is that once you have visited three time, you may have a sign installed recognizing your family as having adopted the site. The kids are sure to get a kick out of that!
536 N. Harlem Ave.
Friends of the Chicago River
Kids age 12 and up can become Centennial Volunteers with The Friends of the Chicago River. Spend time outdoors together while clearing the brush, and picking up litter alongside the Chicago and Calumet Rivers, ultimately leading to the improved ecological health of these two important river habitats.
411 S. Wells St., Ste. 800
Volunteering in Chicago: Additional Resources
If you still can't find the right fit for you and your family to give back, there are several websites that can help you find the perfect match.
The Honeycomb Project
Kids That Do Good
Points of Light
High School Volunteer Requirements
Although volunteer hours are no longer a CPS high school graduation requirement, students should still keep track of their hours. Once verified by a school counselor, the hours will be added to their school records for use on college applications.