10 great places where families can volunteer in Pittsburgh

Cami Teacoach started VolunTOTS in February to teach her sons Bennett, 4, and William, 1, the joy that comes with volunteering. Now, as Thanksgiving approaches, the group with a motto of “Everybody can be a helper” is adding VolunTYKES to include first through fifth graders. She’s met many families who are seeking a place to volunteer in Pittsburgh, and she sees how it helps children discover the difference they can make.

VolunTOTS working at Millvale Community Garden.

“We think it’s important to expose them to circumstances that are different from their own,” says Teacoach, of Marshall Township. “And we believe that [volunteering] fosters civic pride from a young age.”

As their first activity, tots made Valentines for residents of nursing homes. They’ve also packed 3,000 baggies with treats for employees of Pittsburgh area hospitals, held a toy drive for the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, collected items for a Christmas in July event benefiting Jeremiah’s Place, and partnered with other organizations to distribute furniture, household items, hygiene items and diapers around the area.

On Nov. 13, VolunTOTS/VolunTYKES will pack 200 boxes with Thanksgiving dinners for lower-income families, to be distributed by Lighthouse Foundation.

The kids, says Teacoach, “realize that they want to help others, and what it means to help others. Helping others can make them feel good, and can make others feel good as well. They learn that reciprocal happy feeling.”

Along with VolunTOTS/TYKES, here are nine other organizations that give kids an opportunity to learn what it means to help others by volunteering:

Beverly’s Birthdays

Megs Yunn started the organization in 2011 after meeting a young girl named Beverly at an afterschool program. Its goal is to ensure that homeless kids or those from families in need can experience parties for birthdays and special milestones.

“I love that our organization can utilize something we all have in common — a birthday — and use it to teach children about service,” says Yunn. “Families can bake, organize a collection drive, attend a ‘Service Saturday,’ or sponsor treat bags, and they know that their work is directly helping to celebrate another child in the community.”

Second Saturdays of each month are family-friendly volunteer days at the headquarters, 9799 Laurel Ave, North Huntingdon. These events from 9 a.m. to noon tend to fill up quickly.

Create a memory for kids who might not have a chance to celebrate their birthday with a party through Beverly’s Birthdays.

North Hills Community Outreach

NHCO accepts donations for food and Wish List items for its food pantries in Allison Park, Millvale and Bellevue, operates a sharing program for distributing donated goods, and provides services for seniors such as food delivery, yard work and leaf raking. Volunteers also can help with cleaning up debris and other tasks.

Kids of all ages can help as cookie bakers for fundraisers, community events and meetings. “We count the cost of the ingredients as an in-kind donation,” NHCO explains on its website. “The time the bakers spend making, baking and delivering the cookies is recorded as volunteer hours in our volunteer database.”

Take donations to the three sites weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and also on the first Saturday of each month at the Allison Park location from 9 a.m. to noon. To volunteer, contact Harriet Klatte, 412-408-3830 X3204, or hzklatte@nhco.org.

Photo courtesy of North Hills Community Outreach.

412/724 Food Rescue

This pioneering organization to reduce food waste and hunger calls its volunteers “our personal heroes.” Families can volunteer as often as they like, even claiming a weekly “rescue.” Download the Food Rescue Hero app, which will send a notification to your phone when there is an available rescue in the area.

Though temporarily on hold because of COVID-19, the organization typically needs volunteers for ​events such as community gatherings and fundraisers, where they can assist with setup, breakdown, greeting guests, loading materials and more.  

Kids will quickly grasp the concept of reducing waste and redistributing food to those who are experiencing food insecurity. For food donation and volunteer support, contact 412-277-3831, or info@412foodrescue.org.

Photo courtesy of 412 Food Rescue.

Salvation Army

Beyond its bell ringers who keep the organization visible during the winter holiday season, the Salvation Army exists to help those with many needs, at home and elsewhere. Since its beginning in 1852 as part of the universal Christian Church, the organization has relied on volunteers as “the army behind The Army.”

Kids can collect money or goods for donation to one of the Army’s homeless shelters or food pantries, or make cards to cheer veterans who are receiving help through a shelter or adult rehabilitation center.

Older kids and teens could help prepare meals for the Salvation Army’s Homeless Feeding Outreach program, which helps displaced individuals with meals and basic sanitizing items. Or check one of the many local Salvation Army locations for current volunteer needs.

Foster Love Project

This organization, which provides support for kids in foster care and the families caring for them, will open the doors Nov. 15 at its new location: 463 S. Trenton Ave., Wilkinsburg. Founder Kelly Hughes, who started the organization eight years ago, and husband Andrew have fostered eight kids over the years.

To teach kids ways to give back during the holiday season, consider getting them involved in building a bag of requested items for kids transitioning to different homes, or donating holiday gifts for kids impacted by foster care and adoption through the Angel Tree Gift Drive.

Kids from age 4 and older are welcome to help as volunteers at the donation center, where volunteers sort new donations, take inventory, clean and perform miscellaneous tasks.

Sorting and organizing donations at Foster Love Project requires an army of volunteers.

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Volunteers of all ages and abilities are encouraged to help the parks they love by registering for Volunteer Event Days. Parks staff will join volunteers, bringing the gloves, tools and expertise necessary to oversee the weeding, removal of invasive plants or trash pickup that’s necessary.

The Conservancy also operates a Park Champions program for volunteers who raise awareness about the parks system. Or, get involved as an Urban Ecosteward, or in an event sponsored by a school or community program. To learn more, contact volunteer@pittsburghparks.org.

Ronald McDonald House

Kids love the Happy Meals and play areas they find at McDonald’s. And they can help other kids who are undergoing serious medical treatments by reaching out through Ronald McDonald House, the charity that helps families to be by their child’s bedside during these situations.

On-site volunteer programs are currently suspended because of COVID-19, but families can still volunteer off-site by assembling welcome bags, or by donating meals from a restaurant or grocery store and/or pantry items or toiletries from the Amazon Wish List for deliveries.

To learn more, contact Morgan Knox, the volunteer and outreach coordinator, at morgan@rmhcpgh-mgtn.org.

Jubilee Soup Kitchen

The soup kitchen in the Lower Hill District has been serving Pittsburghers since 1979, every day, 365 days a year, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. On a given day, 150 to 200 men and women, many of them homeless, will come through the doors for breakfast or a hot lunch.

Kids ages 13 and older are welcome to volunteer. Volunteers help set up and prepare the food, serve the noon meal, help the staff clean up and wash dishes, and help in the community garden or clothing room. They must call ahead to reserve a day.

Kids who are too young to volunteer on-site could help by collecting money to donate. Call 412-261-5417 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. weekdays with questions about how to get involved.

Wreaths Across America

“Teach your children the value of freedom,” says the Wreaths Across America website. And what better way this time of year than to involve kids in the Dec. 18 wreath-laying at gravesites and memorials in honor of America’s fallen heroes.

National Wreaths Across America Day takes place at Arlington National Cemetery and more than 2,500 other locations, including the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil Township, to mark their military service and sacrifice.

The Veterans Remembrance Tree Program is another way to remember and honor veterans: Families can tag evergreen trees whose balsam tips are harvested each year to make the wreaths. Kids might also get involved through school, scout, civic or religious group fundraisers or wreath sponsorships.