Mercedes Howze Williams figures it’s well worth the cost of gasoline to transport groceries to help feed the hungry.
“Why? Because I’ve been there before – single parenthood, homelessness, and poverty,” says Mercedes, who makes volunteering a family affair with her husband, Keith, and their kids, Marlena, 1, Zaire, 9, and Marjani, 11. They all help out with 412/724 Food Rescue deliveries.
Early on, Mercedes delivered a Food Rescue donation to the East Liberty Family Support Center, a place where she was a client seven years ago.
“I am eternally grateful that I am in a position now to help someone else,” Mercedes says.
To the staff at 412/724 Food Rescue, they are known as #FoodRescueHeroes on a team that helps the food recovery nonprofit transport surplus food from grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers markets to organizations that serve people in need.
“I have met some amazing people along the way – from restaurant owners to homeless people. They each have a story to tell, providing me with a unique Pittsburgh perspective,” Mercedes says. “To take this journey with my family means a lot, and has been an eye-opening, illuminating experience.”
There are lots of ways families can team up and pitch in. Here are nine kid-friendly volunteer opportunities for Pittsburgh families who want to make a difference.
412/724 Food Rescue
There are a few different ways families with kids can volunteer with 412/724 Food Rescue, which is dedicated to rescuing perishable food and transferring it to organizations that can use it right away. Download the Food Rescue Hero app, which will send a notification to your phone when there is an available rescue in the area. If it fits into your schedule, you can claim it, grab the family, and complete the rescue. Volunteers can sign up for a regular rescue, which takes place on the same day around the same time each week. Group volunteering opportunities are available, too, through the Hidden Harvest program.
Foster Love Project
Foster Love Project, recently opened the region’s first free donation center for kids in foster care. The Dormont center serves all foster families in Western PA, providing clothing, diapers, and all the gear needed to welcome a foster child into a new home. The center is completely run by volunteers, making Foster Love dependent on those willing to give their time. Kids from age 4 and older are welcome to help. Volunteers work with inventory, sort donations, help shoppers and with cleaning. The upcoming bag drive, running Nov. 13 to Dec.16, might be a fun way to get started.
Giving It Forward Together
Kids can enrich the lives of senior citizens in Giving It Forward Together (GIFT). Rochel Tombosky started the organization to harness senior citizens’ abilities while helping them stay active.
“We have family volunteers help us with our various project assembly programs, and we are working on an intergenerational cooking program for kids,” Rochel says.
Volunteer Kat Akers and her daughters, Gretchen, 5, and Pepper, 2, enjoy helping out. At a recent event, they helped assemble 200 backpacks with seniors.
“My family and I try to do good as much as possible, and genuinely want to leave the world a better place,” Kay says. “So, they always come with me when they can to GIFT’s charity events.”
Volunteers are currently needed to help with cooking, purchasing kit contents, assembling, and delivering Thanksgiving kits from Nov. 8-20.
Families with kids of all ages are invited to work together sorting and packing medical supplies during Global Links’ Family Volunteer Days. The Pittsburgh-based medical relief and development organization is dedicated to supporting health improvement initiatives locally and around the world. The group works with U.S. healthcare institutions to recover hundreds of tons of high-quality surplus medical materials that would otherwise be tossed out. Shifts for Global Links Volunteer Days are available on Nov. 18, Dec. 9, and Dec. 16.
Play It Forward Pittsburgh
Play it Forward collects gently used toys and offers them free to families in need. Volunteers families with kids of all ages are welcome to help. The Play It Forward “Shop for Free” day is set for Dec. 16 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. But help is needed to collect and sort toys in advance, as well as set up the day before. Volunteer families can register for slots and view other opportunities to help, such as donating toys. Check the website for drop-off locations.
No Crayon Left Behind
Rescue takes on a whole new color with No Crayon Left Behind. Emily Skopov founded the non-profit with the idea to empower all kids with crayons that would otherwise have been tossed out in the trash. A perfect task for kids as young as 3, volunteers sort through crayons collected from restaurants and other places. The best-quality crayons are packaged for immediate distribution. Those that are damaged are set aside for future events where they are melted down and molded into new crayons. Recipients are organizations that serve underprivileged kids, including elementary schools in the most economically challenged areas.
The Education Partnership
Leaders of The Education Partnership believe the first step to “remake learning” is to ensure kids and their teachers have the materials they need. The non-profit provides basic school supplies for free to more than 60,000 students in our region. Volunteers are needed for a variety of projects, from organizing supplies for teacher distribution and building homework kits to working events or painting signs. The Students 2 Students program engages kids to support their peers in other schools through fundraisers, supply drives, and other community service opportunities.
Adopt-A-School connects volunteers with nearby schools to coordinate the collection and distribution of supplies.
Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
All ages of volunteers are appreciated at Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Regularly scheduled programs include Volunteer Events Days when volunteers join Conservancy staff members out in the parks. Schenley Park Volunteer Sweeps will be held Nov. 18, when helpers tear down invasive vines, pull weeds, and clear trash. Tools, gloves, and training are provided.
Lessons in ecosystems are a side benefit of volunteering with this group. Opportunities include becoming a garden volunteer, a volunteer naturalist, and docent. Urban EcoStewards are long-term volunteers who work in specific park sites throughout the year.
Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank
The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank distributes more than 31 million meals annually. Once a month, the food bank opens its warehouse to families with kids as young as 6 during Family Engagement Days. Through projects designed for little helpers, families have the chance to work alongside each other to support the community. Each session includes a volunteer project and tour of the facility.