Are you looking to make a real difference in your community? There are plenty of opportunities right here in Northern New Jersey. By volunteering your time and creativity at local agencies in need, you can see up close the impact you can have. As the temperatures drop, organizations often rely on the hard work of volunteers even more. Consult the list below for some ideas to warm your heart and the hearts of many others this holiday season and beyond.
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Soup Kitchens and Community Support
Something many of us may take for granted is the availability of meals we have the fortune of partaking in 3+ times daily. While we will surely enjoy the gargantuan Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with our families, consider spending at least a portion of your holiday serving others at a local soup kitchen.
Franciscan Kitchens in Newark offers the opportunity to help set up, cook, and clean up on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10:30 am to 2 pm at St. Ann's Soup Kitchen ( 355 South 6th Street, Newark). If preparing food is not your forte, St. Ann's has a Literacy Program on Saturdays where you can help turn a child into a bookworm. St. Rocco's Food Pantry (212 Hunterdon Street, Newark) is also in need of folks to help in distributing groceries to patrons on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Friday of the month. Life too busy but still want to help? Join the Angel Network, where you'll receive emails for high-need items with convenient drop-off points in Watching, Summit, Howell, Chester, and Newark.
Sant John's Soup Kitchen's Feed the Hungry program serves up 700+ hot meals per day in Newark, all purely due to the funding of donors and volunteers of time. Breakfast takes place from 8:30 to 9 am, and lunch from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm. The organization's website also lists out specific needs for your next trip to the grocery store. 22 Mulberry Street, Newark
Montclair locals (or those traveling from other communities) can register to volunteer at Toni's Kitchen. You'll help with everything from gardening to dishwashing to cooking food. Lunch is served at 11:30 am on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and dinner is held every Sunday at 5 pm. Toni's focus is on providing healthy options to the community (a weekly donation from Whole Foods helps!), ensuring each meal contains at least 6 oz. of protein, limited salt, fat, and sugar, and is planned around thoughtfully constructed nutritional targets. Plus, Toni's Kitchen offers crisis support, mentoring, active solicitation of warm-weather accessories, skills training classes, and a backpack outreach program. 73 South Fullerton Avenue, Montclair
Paterson is home to one of the nation’s highest-rated charities, Eva’s Village. This well-established anti-poverty organization provides much-needed services to hundreds of people daily. It lifts up members of the community by providing meals, housing, workforce development and job training, medical and dental services, and substance abuse recovery programs. Volunteers ages fifteen and older can offer aid in multiple programs. Because it’s such a large operation, the community kitchen is always in need of volunteers. The Kitchen serves 1,300 meals on an average day—not counting the extended needs for Thanksgiving and winter holidays. As demonstrated in its other programs as well, the mission of Eva’s Community Kitchen is “dignity and respect”. Volunteers can help prepare food and serve it to guests in the seated areas indoors and in the picturesque outdoor courtyard. The greatest need for volunteers is for shifts during breakfast and lunchtime on weekdays. Volunteer slots for the Community Kitchen are scheduled several weeks in advance. The Village is also looking for volunteers who can utilize their talents in specialized areas such as counseling and job training. Volunteer orientations are once a month. If you’re interested, you can fill out a short form on the organization’s website in order to attend an orientation and to find out more information about specific volunteering opportunities. 393 Main Street, Paterson
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If you love animals, volunteering at an animal shelter is a great place to start. Nearly every town has at least one animal shelter, full of adorable pets who’ve been rescued and are just waiting to be adopted into loving homes. While the responsibilities of volunteers will vary at each shelter, many similar tasks exist at each one. Some shelters work in conjunction with others in nearby towns or counties.
The Montclair Animal Shelter, for instance, often houses animals from neighboring shelters if those shelters fill up. Volunteers can be as young as ten, providing a fantastic experience for idealistic kids who love animals! You’ll gain insight into how to care for a variety of animals after attending mandatory orientation and training sessions. From cleaning cages and litter boxes to taking dogs for walks, volunteers are the backbone of the shelter. Bathing and feeding are other traditional tasks available to volunteers. If administrative work is more your thing, there’s always new cataloging to be done from the time animals enter the shelter to the time they go home with their forever families. Perhaps some of the most fun activities are playing with the cats and engaging with the dogs in what the shelter terms “real life” rooms to help them acclimate to life in their new family’s home. The Montclair Animal Shelter is always looking for volunteers and can be reached by phone seven days a week. Note: Due to a fire, the shelter is currently undergoing major repairs and is temporarily closed to the public, but keep watch on the Facebook page for up-to-the-minute updates! 77 North Willow Street, Montclair; 973-744-8600
The Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge offers fostering opportunities for special needs animals, office and kennel help, and fundraising. Though training and orientation are necessary and volunteers must be 18 and older to work directly with animals, there are ways kids can contribute as well. Bottom line: dogs and cats love attention, so any time you can give is time well spent. Volunteer hours are as follows: Tuesday and Sunday - 8:30 am to 4 pm, and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday - 8:30 am to 6 pm. 2 Shelter Lane, Oakland
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Helping Our Youth
With more than a dozen chapters in the Northern New Jersey area, volunteers can find a Boys and Girls Club practically in their backyard. Each chapter benefits from the resources and model of a well-known organization that has a proven track record of success in supporting children and adolescents nationwide. Volunteers can directly engage with youth aged five to eighteen as well as help with fundraising for single events, ongoing events, and classes, or for individual programs. Because each chapter has its own programs at its facilities, the needs of each chapter vary. Volunteers can find out more information about their local chapters by visiting the Boys and Girls Club of New Jersey Website. North Jersey locations include Clifton, Jersey City, Hoboken, West Orange, Lodi, Hackensack, Newark, Wayne, Paterson, Union, Plainfield, Roselle, and Hillside.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is an extremely rewarding charity with a North Jersey chapter. Volunteers aka "Big"s meet with their "Little"s, 3-5 hours per week and ultimately make a huge lasting impression on a child's life. Whether it's homework help or devouring a large pizza with extra cheese together, you'll have the chance to enrich a young person's life through true friendship. Sometimes as a kid, you just need someone in your life who is consistently "there", and that's what you'll be for your Little. 333 Route 46 West, Suite 105, Mountain Lakes
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Rebuilding a Community
When Hurricane Sandy ravaged the state, many New Jerseyans incurred significant damage to their homes. Some residents suffered storm damage so bad that their homes were unsalvageable. After disasters like these, it’s the selfless work of volunteers for Habitat for Humanity that literally recreates the foundations for their neighbors’ lives. While Sandy is one of the most visible symbols of destruction, there have been countless other storms and floods that have destroyed homes in the area. Habitat for Humanity also builds new, state of the art housing for lower-income residents. Volunteers can work in groups to build houses from scratch, honing their carpentry and construction skills along the way. Additional options include organizing fundraisers and coordinating the efforts of local partners in raising money through such programs as Cars for Homes. Habitat’s motto is “a hand up, not a hand out”. Lend a hand today at your local Habitat for Humanity, with locations in Hudson, Morris, Bergen, Essex, Monmouth, Passaic, Sussex, Warren, and Union counties.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Counseling and Hotlines
Though volunteering at crisis hotlines requires more training and investment of time than other volunteering opportunities, this is perhaps the most crucial of help you can provide to fellow New Jersey men and women.
Caring Contact, based in Westfield, is a crisis hotline that helps 6,000+ people per year by providing a safe haven and an active-listening ear. As a volunteer, you undergo 54 hours of training and perform 24 internship hours, after which you will be certified in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills and Mental Health First Aid. Becoming a part of the Marketing or Quality Assurance Committee or helping through fundraising are also options to involve yourself with the organization. P.O Box 2376, Westfield; Office: (908) 301-1899
The Jersey Battered Women's Service is based in Morris County. As a volunteer, you are required to complete 40 hours of training in order to work directly with clients, after which you can work a 2-4 hour shift on the helpline or with the children's program per week and make recommendations and referrals based on each situation. You can also become a mentor to a JBWS client for 12 months as she moves into her own home, or you can work with your local police department and become a "Crisis Response Team Volunteer" and actually respond to Domestic Violence calls, providing emotional support, access to shelter, and more. P.O. Box 1437, Morristown; Office: (973) 267-7520
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More Ways to Help
Still don't know where you'd like to donate your time? Jersey Cares has a wonderful calendar full of opportunities to help across the state, from Mobile Meals in Paterson to Mentoring and Enrichment in Hoboken.
United Way of Northern New Jersey also has a list of volunteer opportunities, including the upcoming Gifts of the Season event in December, where you'll help sort, organize, and distribute gifts to families in the program.
Where do you volunteer your time? Share your stories with us on Facebook and Twitter!