51 ways to give back in Boston this holiday season

Spreading cheer starts here.

We’re entering a season focused on family, friends, and getting festive. But the season for gift giving is also the time for giving back.

Charities and nonprofits throughout Massachusetts are always accepting volunteers and donations, but even more so throughout November and December. Our guide to volunteering and donating in Greater Boston will help you find the organizations that best fit your passions and lifestyle.

1. Animal Rescue League of Boston

The Animal Rescue League of Boston is the only animal welfare organization in Massachusetts that has an emergency rescue services team dedicated to assisting domestic animals and wildlife in distress. Regularly scheduled volunteers are needed to help with yard cleanup, dog walking, and organizing pet food. (10 Chandler St., Boston; [email protected]  for more information)


2. Guiding Eyes for the Blind

Are you a dog lover looking for a serious commitment? Become a puppy raiser. Puppy raising classes are held on the second and fourth Saturday of each month at various locations across Massachusetts. Pre-placement classes to introduce you to puppy raising are held two to three times a year. (Headquarters: 611 Granite Springs Road, Yorktown Heights, New York; [email protected]  for more information)

3. MSPCA-Angell

The animal advocacy group has a variety of volunteer opportunities available to those who wish to support the organization’s mission to protect animals, relieve their suffering, advance their health and welfare, prevent cruelty, and work for a just and compassionate society. Volunteers are needed at adoption centers in Boston, Nevins Farm (Methuen), and Cape Cod (Centerville), and at MSPCA-Angell West Hospital in Waltham. Each location has specific commitment guidelines for its volunteers. (Learn more about volunteering here.)

Volunteers and MSPCA staff helped clean up a dog.

4. Zoo New England

“Zoodopt’’ an animal to help raise money for this nonprofit that oversees Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and Stone Zoo in Stoneham. The zoos spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to feed their animals, and this adoption program helps alleviate costs to provide food and care. Packages range from $25 to $250 to sponsor a gorilla, bald eagle, giraffe, lion, zebra, otter, or other animal of your choice. (Franklin Park Zoo, 1 Franklin Park Road, Boston; 617-989-2076 to order a package)


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5. Big Sister Association of Greater Boston 

This group is one of more than 300 affiliated Big Brothers Big Sisters of America organizations across the country, but they are the only one focused exclusively on mentoring girls. (20 Park Plaza, Suite 1420, Boston; [email protected] for more information on giving and 617-236-8077 for volunteer opportunities)

6. Boys and Girls Club of Boston

This organization, which is devoted to helping young people build character and recognize their full potential, helps children and teens, ages 6 to 18, in their Clubs and through programs and partnerships. (200 High St., 3rd Floor, Boston; [email protected] for more information)

7. Cradles to Crayons

This organization provides children through age 12 who are living in homeless or low-income situations with the items they need to thrive — at home, at school, and at play — free of charge. Added bonus: Anyone age 5 and above can volunteer at the Giving Factory, making this a great organization to volunteer for with your family. (155 North Beacon St., Brighton; Information on volunteering here.

Three-year-old Johandra Valle played in the snow without having to go outside at Christmas in the City.

8. Christmas in the City

They’re known for their annual party, that draws over 3,000 guests per year, that lessens the impact of being homeless on families and children living in shelters by giving each child one toy they actually requested. Before their largest event, the organization also provides Thanksgiving food baskets to families who need help to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal. All programs within Christmas in the City run entirely on volunteers. (Kennedy Brothers Physical Therapy, 45 Franklin St., Boston; [email protected] for more information)


9. Globe Santa

Globe Santa is a nonprofit run by Boston Globe Media Partners (’s parent company) that delivers presents to families in need during the holiday season. Globe Santa has served more than 1 million families and more than 3 million children over the past six decades. To help, donate toys, go to one of their events, or wrap your gifts in Globe Santa-themed holiday newsprint paper. ([email protected] for more information)

10. Horizons for Homeless Children

This nonprofit focuses exclusively on the needs of young homeless children in Massachusetts. Throughout the year, they look for volunteers to spend two hours a week at one of their “Playspaces’’ across the state. (Horizons for Homeless Children Headquarters; 1705 Columbus Ave., Roxbury; Donate here[email protected] for more information)

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11. AIDS Action Committee

They’re always looking for help with their “Check-In” program, through which volunteers connect with a set of clients living with HIV/AIDS over the phone and develop a relationship with them. (75 Amory St., Boston)

12. Cambridge Neighbors

To help a community of residents stay independent, safe, and happy as they age, Cambridge at Home needs volunteers to help with anything from driving, grocery shopping, and meal prep to snow shoveling, computer assistance, and home repair. (545 Concord Ave., Suite 104, Cambridge; [email protected] for more information)

13. Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity builds simple, low-cost homes by forming partnerships with low-income families in need of decent and affordable housing. Volunteers help on construction sites or in the organization’s ReStore, which sells donated furniture, appliances, and home improvement items at a low cost to help fund the construction of Habitat homes. (240 Commercial St., Boston; [email protected] for more information)


14. Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly

Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly – Boston Chapter was founded in 1979 to aid those 70 years and older who are without the benefit of family or social contacts. The organization is looking for help delivering meals and providing companionship and flowers during the holiday season. (3305 Washington St., Jamaica Plain; [email protected] for more information)

15. The Boston Public Library

The BPL’s Literary Services department offers opportunities for volunteers to work with either adult English as a second language (ESL) learners or adults who are in need of developing basic reading and writing skills. (700 Boylston St., Boston; [email protected] for more information)

16. Marshfield Community Christmas

This all-volunteer organization aims to provide food gift certificates to families in need and toys for children during the holiday season. People can donate their time by volunteering at the Marshfield Community Christmas Headquarters or delivering gifts to homes, or they can make a donation. (Marshfield Fairgrounds, Route 3A, Marshfield; 781-837-8405 to schedule)

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17. Action for Boston Community Development

ABCD is always looking for volunteers to help with meaningful projects to assist low-income families in Boston neighborhoods, but this holiday season they are also seeking donations. (For more information: [email protected] )

18. Coats for Kids

Anton’s Cleaners and Jordan’s Furniture locations are collecting warm winter coats for Coats for Kids through Jan. 6. Anton’s Cleaners will clean all donations before the coats are distributed by partners such as the Massachusetts Community Action Programs, the Salvation Army, Women’s Lunch Place, DCF, and Catholic Charities. (Various locations; More information here.)


19. FamilyAid Boston

FamilyAid Boston is collecting household items, cleaning supplies, clothing, and gift cards for families who have struggled with homelessness. All donations will be given directly to a homeless or recently homeless family. (727 Atlantic Ave., Boston; [email protected] for more information)

20. Room to Grow

Room to Grow serves families from just before their child’s birth through age three to provide individualized parental support and education, high-quality material items, and referrals to community resources. The goal: to help children from low-income families have a secure start in life. Room to Grow’s donation center accepts clothing, diapers, books, blankets, and more. (142 Berkeley St., Boston; [email protected] for more information)

21. Salvation Army

The Salvation Army collects clothing, furniture, automobiles, household goods, and appliances. Drop-off centers are located across the region. Find a drop-off location near you here.  ([email protected]  for more information)

22. Toys for Tots

The mission of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is to collect new, unwrapped toys each year for needy children in the Greater Boston community. Every State Police barracks in Massachusetts, most fire stations, and many local businesses will accept toys on behalf of Toys for Tots. (More information here.)

Twins from Rowley bring toys to the Danvers Police Department for Toys for Tots.

23. Back On My Feet Boston

This national nonprofit empowers homeless people through running. They have several groups that meet during the week at locations around the city and throughout Greater Boston. You’ll have to attend a short orientation before volunteering for a run. ([email protected] for more information)


24. Bikes Not Bombs

Each year, Bikes Not Bombs collects roughly 6,000 used bicycles and bike parts from around Greater Boston and New England. They ship most bikes overseas to economic development projects, and the rest get put toward the group’s youth program. They are always looking for help processing donated bikes during their volunteer nights. (284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain; [email protected] to schedule)

A Bikes Not Bombs sticker is seen on one of the hundreds of bikes that the nonprofit is shipping to Kenya.

25. Santa Speedo Run

The Santa Speedo Run began with five guys running through the streets of Back Bay in only Santa hats and speedos. Now in its 19th year, the Dec. 8 run is about a mile long, and all of its participants will be decked out in speedos, bikinis, and festive gear. Registration is $30, with a commitment to fundraise $400, or $250 if you’re 30 or younger. Proceeds benefit the PlayBall Foundation. (Race begins at Lir Tavern and Whiskey’s at the corner of Boylston and Gloucester Streets; [email protected] for registration questions) 

26. Walter’s Run 5K

Hosted by the Parkway Running Club, this holiday 5K will take place on Dec. 9 and is in its 24th year. It was formerly known as the Santa Scamper 5K; however, one of the running club members, Walter Burgess, died suddenly in 2003, and the race is now in memory of him. Race proceeds go toward the Globe Santa program, the YMCA Reach Out Campaign, and the Walter Burgess Scholarship Fund. (Parkway Community YMCA, 15 Bellevue St., West Roxbury; $30 race-day registration)


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27. American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay Food Pantry

The Boston Food Pantry is always looking for volunteers, especially throughout November and December. (1033 Massachusetts Ave., Boston; [email protected] to schedule)

28. Boston Living Center

They serve meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, and they’re always looking for volunteers. They also host their annual Celebration of Life event, this year at the Hynes Convention Center on Dec. 20, where people living with HIV/AIDS can have a free, full-course meal and learn about available resources while celebrating the holiday season. (29 Stanhope St., Boston; More information here.)

29. Boston Public Market

The Boston Public Market is looking for volunteers to help in the BPM Kitchen, with both classes and events. The market partners with the Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit land conservation and historic preservation organization, and greatly relies on the help of volunteers. (100 Hanover St., Boston; [email protected] for more information)

30. Boston Rescue Mission

Founded in 1899, the Boston Rescue Mission serves approximately 130,000 meals a year, including meals to their resident clients and to the Safe and Healthy overnight shelter clients. Volunteers can help in the kitchen or with outreach events. (39 Kingston St., Boston; [email protected] to schedule)

31. Community Cooks

Community Cooks mobilizes people to prepare home-cooked food for groups that, due to lack of funds or facilities, struggle to provide food for those they serve. Volunteers can cook individually or help make meals as a group, called a serving circle. (337 Somerville Ave., Somerville; [email protected] to schedule)


32. Community Servings

Community Servings prepares and delivers 9,600 meals each week to the homes of individuals who are homebound with an acute life-threatening illness. They rely on volunteers to accomplish their mission. (More information on volunteering here.)

Volunteer Larry Wilkins, 14, and prep cook Lakeisha Hall build bags of food at Community Servings.

33. Daily Table

The Daily Table is a not-for-profit retail store that offers convenient and affordable healthy foods. It’s able to offer lower prices because it sources surplus foods or goods nearing their “sell-by’’ dates. The Daily Table always needs help working the front and back of the store. (450 Washington St., Dorchester; [email protected] to schedule)

34. Elizabeth Peabody House Emergency Food Pantry

The Elizabeth Peabody House emergency food pantry opened in 2009 to help individuals and families facing food insecurity. The pantry feeds over 1,200 people a month. Volunteers are needed to stock the pantry and to help build bags of food. (275-277 Broadway, Somerville; [email protected] for more information)

35. Friday Night Supper Program

Since 1984, the Friday Night Supper Program has provided over 7,000 nutritious, home-cooked meals a year to Boston’s homeless and hungry every Friday night. Volunteers can expect to help by serving meals, dishwashing in the kitchen, sorting through clothing, and cleaning up at the end of the supper. (351 Boylston St., Boston; [email protected])

36. Greater Boston Food Bank

You can help by volunteering your time, inspecting, sorting, and packing grocery products. You can also donate $20 and provide five meals this holiday season. (70 South Bay Ave., Boston; [email protected] for more information)


37. Lovin’ Spoonfuls

Lovin’ Spoonfuls collects and distributes healthy food that would otherwise be discarded to community organizations and resources like the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, Project Bread, and the Friday Night Supper Program. They are looking for volunteers for their events and community fundraising days. (1304 Commonwealth Ave., Boston; sign up for the mailing list for volunteer opportunities here)

38. American Red Cross

The American Red Cross hosts blood drives at various locations throughout the city in November and December. When you donate blood, one pint can save up to three lives. ([email protected] for more information)

Maura Heidcamp, of Plymouth, chatted with Red Cross workers.

39. AstraZeneca Hope Lodge Center

This is a place for cancer patients traveling more than 40 miles to stay for free during their outpatient treatments. Since 2008, the center has provided more than 130,000 nights of free lodging to 4,000 cancer patients, saving them more than $28 million in housing costs. Volunteers are needed to prepare meals, plan activities, provide entertainment, drive patients, and improve the facility and grounds. (125 South Huntington Ave., Boston)

40. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute & The Jimmy Fund

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute helps individuals who want to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients by donating bone marrow. They assist donors in joining the bone marrow registry, as well as those who would like to volunteer their time at a donor registration drive. To support the Jimmy Fund this season, celebrate the holidays with gifts designed to fight cancer. Dana-Farber Holiday Cards & Gifts includes original cards designed by New England artists and Dana-Farber patients, as well as items like ornaments and stuffed animals. All of the proceeds benefit patient care and cancer research at Dana-Farber. (450 Brookline Avenue, Boston; [email protected] for more information)


41. Kindred Hospice Foundation

Kindred Hospice Foundation is a hospice organization dedicated to the support and care of people with limited life expectancies. The service helps them live as comfortably and fully as possible. Volunteers can provide administrative support or provide bereavement support to families with phone calls and visits. (130 Rumford Ave., Suite 211, Auburndale; call 866-546-3733 for more information)

42. Mass General Hospital Blood Donor Center

This donation center is one of the largest full-service transfusion and donation services in the country, supplying approximately 75,000 blood components annually. The donor center  is in need of donations and will be open throughout the season Tuesday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (55 Fruit St., Boston; call 617-726-8177 or email [email protected] to make appointments)

43. Samaritans

Samaritans has a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline comprised entirely of volunteers who answer phone calls and provide support to those battling with depression. All volunteers are thoroughly trained to service callers. (41 West St., 4th Floor, Boston; [email protected] for more information)

44. Friends of Boston’s Homeless

Founded in 1987, Friends of Boston’s Homeless supports innovative, solution-oriented programs to help homeless individuals lead independent lives. The group is looking for volunteers to host drives in their communities for socks, underwear, toiletries, and winter accessories. (12 Wise St., Boston; [email protected])

45. Haley House

This is a shelter and advocacy nonprofit that focuses on fighting inequality through promoting economic independence. Haley House offers different programs for volunteers; you could potentially work in their soup kitchen, at their community dinners, or even assist with their nutrition and cooking classes, urban farming, and on art and performance nights. (23 Dartmouth St., Boston; [email protected] for more information)


Boxes of fresh produce are delivered and unloaded with the help of volunteers to Haley House.

46. Pine Street Inn

Every year, more than 5,000 volunteers help provide shelter, housing, and other crucial services to homeless men and women at this shelter. (444 Harrison Ave., Boston; [email protected] to schedule)

47. Rosie’s Place

Rosie’s Place offers free meals 365 days a year and runs a food pantry with non-perishable items and fresh produce. Volunteers can help by serving a meal, working in the food pantry, teaching a class, or by connecting with women in the community. (889 Harrison Ave., Boston; [email protected])

48. St. Francis House

St. Francis House has provided nutritious meals, clothing, access to medical care, counseling, vocational rehabilitation, and housing to homeless men and women since 1984. Volunteers can help with food services, sorting through clothing donations, and can even assist with mock interviews. (39 Boylston St., Boston;[email protected])

49. Somerville Homeless Coalition

They provide homeless and near-homeless individuals with supportive services and tailored housing solutions. The coalition needs volunteers to coordinate food drives, prepare meals, and create care packages for new apartment residents. (1 Davis Square, Somerville; [email protected])

50. Women’s Lunch Place

Women’s Lunch Place is a day community for all self-identified women who are experiencing homelessness, poverty, or trauma. Volunteer opportunities include helping with community dining and assisting in the resource center. (67 Newbury St., Boston; [email protected])

51. Elizabeth Stone House

The shelter, which serves more than 2,000 adult and child survivors of domestic violence and related trauma each year, is seeking a myriad of gift donations for the holiday season. (8 Notre Dame St., Roxbury; [email protected] for more information)


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