volunteering in pittsburgh

Spreading cheer: 10 ways your family can volunteer and give back this holiday season

It’s great to see kids enjoying gifts during the Chanukah and Christmas season. This can also be the perfect time of year to introduce kids and teens to the experience of giving back. Family volunteering or gathering donations for a local cause can be great way to foster a spirit of gratitude and giving as the year ends, especially for kids.

If you’re looking for opportunities to make a difference, here are a few local events and ideas you’ll want to check out:

Global Links Family Volunteer Day:

Global Links, which works to improve health locally and globally, is hosting two events this weekend where families can volunteer. On Saturday, Dec. 9 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. or from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., you can join them in this fun, supportive and educational environment and have a profound impact. Get details and register here.

Here Comes Santa Paws: Art Fur Animals at Trust Education Center

At this family workshop happening Sat. Dec. 9 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., your family can learn to make pet toys to take home or donate to Animal Friends. Registration is $25 for up to six family members.

Founder Cami Teacoach making a VolunTOTS delivery to the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.


VolunTOTS was created to give young kids the chance to volunteer with their families. This year they’re hosting a wide range of volunteer events, including:

Sunday, Dec. 10: Join VolunTots and Our Giving Kitchen as we prepare traditional Hanukkah foods for individuals and families experiencing food insecurity. In addition to preparing food, there will be a snack and storytime for participants! This event is best geared towards aged 2-5 years old, but all are welcome!

Weds., Dec. 13: Help wrap gifts at Bethany Christian Services (10521 Perry Hwy #200, Wexford). Come for the entire time (4:30-7 p.m.) or just come for an hour.

Sat., Dec. 16: Again this year, VolunTOTS is helping Bethany Christian Services put on a holiday for children in foster care and their foster families. Volunteer to help set up at 9 a.m. or arrive a bit later to help run games, distribute food and help with kids’ crafts.

Find more VolunTOTS events here.

Children’s Museum’s Mister Rogers Sweater Drive:

Now through Dec. 15, the Children’s Museum’s 24th annual Mister Rogers Sweater Drive is happening. Donations of new and gently used adult-size and child-size sweaters are being accepted in drop boxes around the Pittsburgh area. Find details and the full list of locations right here.

The Great Birthday Bake with Beverly’s Birthdays 

On Dec. 17, your family can help Beverly’s Birthdays raise funds to bring cheer to kids throughout the Pittsburgh region — and all you have to do is eat cookies! At the sixth annual Great Birthday Bake, 30 youth bakers will share their very best cookies in hopes of winning titles including Best Fruity Cookies, Best No-Bake Cookies, Best Drop Cookies and more. All guests will get a chance to vote for the Overall Best Cookie. Get tickets right here.

South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM):

One of the most powerful things you can do at the holidays and year-round is gathering groceries for families struggling with food insecurity. The need is great, and organizations like SHIM are gladly accepting food donations.

“We strongly encourage kids and families to host donation drives,” says SHIM’s development manager Rachel White. “We’re reliant on community members to supply 20% of the food and personal care items that we distribute, and we’ve seen kids have an incredible impact.”

Families can host their own mini food drive among their neighbors or friends. Or a family can simply do a food shopping trip to gather their own donations. Click here for their list of most needed items. Financial donations also help SHIM to buy food from the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, so they are much appreciated.

You can drop off donations at SHIM’s Bethel Park headquarters, 5301 Park Avenue on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (Contact White at 412-854-9120 ext. 112 with any questions.)

The folks at SHIM also host quarterly volunteer events where families help to repackage dried goods like beans,  lentils and rice that come in large packaging from wholesalers into smaller packages that are more distributable to families. Learn more here about volunteering with SHIM.

(More great places to help with food insecurity: Check out North Hills Community Outreach and learn more about the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.)

Photo courtesy of SHIM.

Foster Love:

There are currently more than 15,000 kids in foster care in Pennsylvania, and each day children transition to new homes — often with only a few personal items packed in a trash bag. Foster Love gives “placement bags” to every foster agency they can connect with — organizations that share Foster Love’s vision of ensuring that kids are able to take a bag of new belongings with them when they change homes.

So far, they have collected and distributed more than 16,000 FLP placement bags, and this holiday season you can donate a bag of requested items for a child in need.

Foster Love also provides more than 250 holiday gifts to kids who are impacted by foster care and adoption. Families can reach out here to see how you can help.

Fleet Feet Run for the Boys & Girls Club:

Every year, Fleet Feet Pittsburgh hosts a Holiday Lights Charity Run, during which runners, walkers, and their families join together in a run or walk past many of the holiday light displays in Pittsburgh. Prior to the run, participants will have the opportunity to purchase raffle tickets ($1 per ticket) for a chance to win a wide variety of prize baskets donated by Fleet Feet vendors, community partners, and local businesses.

This year, on Thurs., Dec 14., Fleet Feet Pittsburgh will host their Holiday Lights Run to raise funds for the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania’s Shadyside Clubhouse. Doors will open at 5:00 p.m. at Nova Place (100 S. Commons on the North Side). Raffle tickets will go on sale at 5:30 p.m. and the run will begin at 6:45 p.m.

First Night Puppet-Making Workshop 

If you’re feeling the urge to donate some of your creative talent, you can even volunteer to help create giant puppets for the First Night parade that will happen Downtown on Dec. 31.

Get details and sign up here to help out at this hands-on workshop for all ages led by Pittsburgh artist and teacher Cheryl Capezzuti. Volunteers will meet on Sunday, Dec. 17, 1-4 p.m., at the Braddock Battlefield History Center. If you attend the workshop, you’ll be invited to march in the parade with your creations. (Meet under the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on 10th St. before the parade at 7:15 p.m. during the First Night festivities.)

Fox Chapel’s Jingle Bell Bash to benefit Backpack for Hunger

On Monday, Dec. 18, at 6 p.m., the Fox Chapel Area High School junior class council is sponsoring their first-ever Jingle Bell Bash. At this party for children ages pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, high schoolers will oversee activities including holiday craft stations, games, story time with elves, pictures with Santa and a hot chocolate bar.

The event is being held to raise food donations and money for the district’s 2023 telethon charity, Backpack for Hunger. Reservations are required by Dec. 13.

Backpack for Hunger is a local volunteer organization that provides weekend food for students in the Fox Chapel Area School District. The group provides children with nourishing food over the weekends via bags of food that are sent home with them every Friday.