Whether you want to be in the kitchen and serving meals to those in need or helping out some furry friends at a pet shelter, there are plenty of ways to get involved and volunteer in Philadelphia and around the area. 

With the holidays right around the corner, you might be starting to get in the giving spirit. And what better gift to give than your time to organizations in need of helping hands during the busiest time of year?
Whether you want to be in the kitchen and serving meals to those in need or helping out some furry friends at a pet shelter, there are plenty of ways to get involved and volunteer in Philadelphia and around the area. 
If You’re Into Serving up Some Holiday Spirit:
The Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger no doubt needs some help during the holidays. The organization partnered with more than 100 providers in the area that they have listed on their website to showcase those who need support this season.
While they aren’t specifically Jewish-oriented, the mitzvah of “tzedakah” can be exercised anywhere.
“They’re small little organizations run by volunteers and they need all the help they can get,” said Tom Mahon, communications manager for the Coalition Against Hunger. 
The coalition reached out to many organizations across the region to see which ones are holding holiday-specific meals. The coalition itself also takes volunteers to help out with administrative tasks.
“Year-round, we bring in volunteers to answer phones and screen people for their food stamp applications,” he said. “It gets so busy with food pantries and soup kitchens — we work with over 100 providers in the region.”
Those who volunteer in food pantries are often shocked by how great the need is, Mahon added — especially when they discover a food pantry in their own neighborhood.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to go out and serve a meal to people who face food insecurity on a daily basis; it really could be anybody in that situation,” Mahon continued. “A lot of people are surprised when they call us and they tell us there’s this pantry right down the street. It’s kind of a little bit shocking to some people. It’s good — it’s important for them to see that as well.”
These organizations are always looking for help, he said. The holidays, however, are a perfect time to start getting involved.
“Especially this time of year, there are so many people looking to volunteer, and it’s great a lot of people want to come out. We’re thankful everyone’s in that holiday spirit, and they want to reach out and help people — but these places need help year-round,” he emphasized. “If someone wants to make a difference, they can call in July and there’ll be the same opportunities.”
More information and a list of places to volunteer to serve meals can be found at hungercoalition.org. 
If You’re More Into Being Behind the Scenes:
The Jewish Relief Agency has a big food distribution on Dec. 20. (A November drive was held closer to Chanukah as the holiday arrives early this year.)
The JRA is always looking for volunteers and, with its new website, JRAid.org, finding ways to help out has never been easier. 
Volunteer gigs and specific jobs are posted on the site that anyone who is able to can do, said JRA Philadelphia executive director Amy Krulik. The holidays are the perfect time to get involved because it is really the giving season, she added. 
“I think people have an incredible capacity for kindness,” she said. “These projects give you an opportunity on the food delivery side to come together with over 1,000 other people on a Sunday morning to bring people a basic need, which is food, and you’re doing it with a ton of other people.”
According to Krulik, volunteering for JRA, a Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia supported agency, provides the chance to do more than just deliver food. During this particular time of year, maybe someone needs help taking their air conditioner out of the window in addition to receiving a food delivery. Those kinds of opportunities are listed on the JRAid site.
While Jewish values teach us to be charitable at all times, Krulik understands that the holidays create a pull for people. She wants to make sure JRA is there if they wake up one morning and say, “I want to do a mitzvah today.”
“It’s not like you can dial 1-800-bring-me-food for the holidays — it doesn’t exist,” Krulik said with a laugh. “This fills in that space there for people in need of support. And it gives a time of giving to people who are looking to be giving. We have a few really good outlets to engage people that way.”
There are designated distribution days and people can sign up in advance to participate — but Krulik doesn’t mind if you “just show up” on the day of.
More information can be found at jewishrelief.org or JRAid.org. 
If You Prefer Dogs to People:
PAWS is essentially entirely volunteer-run, and with three locations — in Old City, Northeast Philly and South Philly — extra “paws” are always welcome. Though they are not open on Christmas Day, there are plenty of other times where you can volunteer around the holiday season and during the rest of the year.
There are definite perks to volunteering to work with the animals, according to Donna Bright.
“They get to know what it’s like to have adoptable animals in the shelter waiting to be adopted, how many unwanted cats and dogs there are,” said Bright, the nonprofit’s administrative and operational assistant. “Hopefully, they learn how important it is to spay and neuter your pets. There are so many unwanted animals in the city.”
There are multiple orientation sessions; those looking to volunteer can attend in order to get pup-erly acquainted (sorry) with the animals and other duties as needed.
Volunteers are always welcome for cat care, dog walking and cleaning, but there is also plenty to do if they don’t want to get hands-on with the animals, Bright said. They could use help with administrative tasks and website maintenance. 
More information can be found at phillypaws.org.
If You Are a Thrifty Shopper:
Jewish Family and Children’s Service has a thrift store boutique in Northeast Philadelphia that makes it a one-stop shop for holiday shopping — and for volunteering. 
Those interested can fill out an application on JFCS’ website, said Robin Henkin, manager for volunteers and community engagement. Volunteering shifts are typically during the day, as per the store’s hours.
But that isn’t the only way you can volunteer with the Jewish Federation supported agency — though shopping is one of the most important parts of the holidays, joked Suzanne Myers, JFCS vice president of marketing and communications.
JFCS offers multiple ways to volunteer, including its Silver Wheels program, in which volunteers can offer rides and other service for the agency’s older adult population who might need more help during this season. They may not be able to drive to pick up a medication, for instance.
“We have a lot of older adults that get very isolated and lonely around the holidays, and we have a couple opportunities to help them and help them stay engaged in the community,” Henkin said.
Even just volunteering your time to spend time with one of JFCS’ older clients is a great way to give, she said. 
Volunteers also have the opportunity to get to know one another while they receive proper training and tools in order to be effective volunteers through workshops.
The workshops, called “The Joy of Giving…of Yourself,” will be held on Dec. 3 in Elkins Park and Dec. 7 in Center City.
This is a perfect time to volunteer and give of your time, Henkin said, because that’s a key part of this season.
“This is a time people want to give back, and many want to give ‘Jewishly,’ which means to give of themselves and their time,” Henkin said, “and they think about how fortunate they are and often in counting blessings, they want to give back to other people.”
Giving back to someone less fortunate, she continued, is a “wonderful way to get to the essence of giving.”
More information can be found at jfcsphilly.org/volunteer.
If You ‘Heart’ Giving Back:
KleinLife’s Adopt-A-Family and Heart-to-Heart programs provide a way to give tzedakah through gift cards to families in need.
The gift cards can range from places like Target and Amazon, where they can be used on anything, to more specific places like grocery stores, gasoline gift cards or movie theaters. It’s up to the donor’s discretion as to how much they want to give.
This is a great way to help families in need, said Karen Gurmankin, program director of Heart-to-Heart.
“It’s an opportunity for donors in particular to enhance the holidays for families that are so challenged by their material needs that they don’t have the extra means for a festive holiday celebration,” Gurmankin said.
Heart-To-Heart is a self-sufficiency program that assists Jewish families and individuals under 60 with financial stability and health services. 
Those who wish to donate on behalf of Heart-To-Heart for Adopt-A-Family can also do so. 
Adopt-A-Family runs twice a year, on Chanukah and Passover — the two holidays that might cause the most financial stress for those in need.
The gift cards free up some room for the families and individuals who receive them — who remain anonymous to the donor to protect their integrity — so they can pay for other bills they might be struggling with.
“There are single people out there who have been out of work for a long time and have trouble paying rent, and something that helps them with other bills frees up money for them to pay for necessities,” Gurmankin said.
Donating gift cards and volunteering to participate in the Adopt-A-Family program also provides a lesson for children, she said. 
“If you have a family with children,” Gurmankin said, “it teaches your children about giving as well as receiving, it provides donors with an opportunity to share their blessings, and to remember there are people out there within the Jewish community — there is poverty out there, there are people who need a little bit extra to get their lives back to a quality level.”
More information can be found at kleinlife.org. Contact: mstern@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here