How You Can Help, Despite COVID, Around Boston This Holiday Season

There are many ways to volunteer or support Massachusetts nonprofit organizations looking to help the community in the 2020 holiday season

An illustration showing people volunteering to help others in need with boxes of donations during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic
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This holiday season is shaping up to be so different from others. One question facing many people around the Greater Boston Area is what they can still do to give back this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

For those looking to volunteer, some charity and outreach organizations around the area told us they are able to accommodate volunteers at their locations, while others are unable to, but have other ways for people to contribute. 

We reached out to organizations across the area that have been active in past holiday seasons and heard back from 11. Here’s what they told us about whether or not they’re accepting volunteers this year, and other ways you can help:

The American Red Cross of Massachusetts is accepting volunteers and will be working with Boston Public Schools as well as other local organizations in the city’s Grove Hall area to distribute food for Thanksgiving. The Red Cross also has other volunteer opportunities, including youth programs, disaster relief and blood donations.

Christmas in the City is unable to accept volunteers this year and won’t hold its usual events due to the pandemic. However, it will be working with a number of shelters and is accepting financial donations, Wish List gift donations, fillers for backpacks as well as other requested items. Donation opportunities can be found on its website, and all contributions are able to be dropped off at locations around the Greater Boston Area in a completely socially distant manner.

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Community Servings is still taking volunteers, though the program has been scaled back to individual shifts or small groups of five people or less to accommodate social distancing. The Jamaica Plain-based organization launched its 28th annual Pie in the Sky Thanksgiving bake sale with a total of 7,000 pies to sell, down from about 25,000 during normal circumstances. Buying one pie allows Community Servings to feed a critically ill client for a week. Community Servings says sellers are still needed and there is no minimum.

The Elizabeth Peabody House in Somerville can accommodate two to three volunteers at a time in its food pantry, down from five or six prior to the pandemic. Volunteers are required to follow social distancing guidelines and wear a mask at all times. The organization provides gloves and hand sanitizer to volunteers, who are encouraged to take regular hand-washing breaks. Donations are also accepted, via the Elizabeth Peabody House’s PayPal, and the organization works with BostonCares to create volunteer events.

Habitat for Humanity Greater Boston is still taking volunteers. The organization recently began having groups of volunteers at build sites again, and there are opportunities for individuals to volunteer at its ReStore in West Roxbury. Habitat of Greater Boston is also accepting financial donations and furniture donations to the ReStore. Additionally, there are opportunities like the virtual Genesis Battlegreen Run, which people can sign up for either to run in or support a runner. Habitat also has an official car donation program, Cars for Homes, where people can donate vehicles to support low-income families.

MSPCA Angell shelters in Boston, Methuen and Centerville (Cape Cod) are still adopting animals out on an appointment basis. With volunteer need very limited, the MSPCA said it is in most need of financial support -- people can donate to programs they care about most, including animals without homes, the MSPCA’s animal hospital or lobbying efforts. The organization is holding its “Catsgiving” food drive through Nov. 22, accepting unopened bags and cans of cat and dog food to be distributed to pet owners in need around Massachusetts.

My Brother’s Table in Lynn is accepting volunteers in limited numbers and is open every day, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Volunteers must perform a COVID-19 self-screening beforehand; My Brother’s Table will provide masks, aprons and gloves. All the meals it distributes are given in a contactless, to-go fashion and the organization is limiting the amount of people inside the building to keep social distance. Outside of volunteering, My Brother’s Table is holding a virtual fundraising walk, Walk Your Block, and people can register here to make dinner and lunch bags from home. The organization is trying to collect 1,000 $20 gift cards to grocery stores to be distributed for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Gift cards can be dropped off at its office through Dec. 18.

Boston’s Pine Street Inn cannot accommodate volunteers this holiday season, but there are other ways to get involved, such as donating a week of snacks or desserts. The organization has also partnered with St. Francis House, where clothing donations can be made.

Rosie’s Place had to suspend all on-site volunteering due to the pandemic. However, people can still contribute this year by donating gifts for its guests. The most up-to-date information on holiday giving is here, with more ways to get involved, including virtual food drives, on its website.

The Somerville Homeless Coalition’s Project Soup is in need of volunteers to help pack bags of food or deliver groceries to those who are unable to get to its food pantry. Volunteers can also work with their church or another group to cook a Monday night meal, held at the First Congregational Church of Somerville. This page has more ways to help out this holiday season, including Thanksgiving box distribution, unloading food truck shipments and delivering Christmas trees. Donations of gifts, Christmas trees, tree stands, decorations and more can be made to the SHC holiday drive.

Toys for Tots is once again collecting new, unwrapped toy donations for children in need around Massachusetts. Toy donations can be dropped off at local collection sites, directly at the Toys for Tots warehouse at 21 Drydock Avenue in Boston or at any Massachusetts State Police barracks or fire station. The deadline to sign up to be a toy drop-off site is Nov. 26, and toys must arrive at the Toys for Tots warehouse before Dec. 13.

United Way of Greater New Bedford will hold its Hunger Heroes Program to package 1,000 Thanksgiving meals for families in need around the New Bedford area. The number of volunteers has been scaled back from the usual 300, but families can participate together, along with children. The organization will have safety protocols, such as sanitizing stations, temperature checks and mask requirements. The United Way of Greater New Bedford also has an Amazon list where one can purchase donations to the food drive, which will be shipped directly to its office.

Victory Programs is hosting a limited number of volunteers at two of its programs in Boston, the Boston Living Center and ReVision Urban Farm. Volunteers at the Boston Living Center can help serve meals in a limited-capacity room from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. At ReVision Urban Farm, help is needed harvesting food and preparing growing beds, with shifts available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Victory Programs has virtual volunteer opportunities, from job readiness programs to art and yoga classes. The organization is working on a holiday wishlist, and is accepting gift cards to preferred retailers such as Target, Amazon, Stop & Shop, Walgreens and Old Navy. Email for more information about donating gift cards and other items.

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