25 ways to volunteer around Washington

The Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg needs volunteers to sort donated food and pack boxes to deliver to clients. (Amanda Voisard For The Washington Post)

This story was originally published on Aug. 11, 2011. It was updated on Nov. 18, 2022.

The urge to volunteer has a funny way of striking just as we’re about to carve the turkey, head to the mall or trim the tree.

For some, volunteering is about serving those in need; for others, volunteer jobs can help polish a résumé, expand a group of friends or be a way to access the arts free.

So if you’ve always wanted to help out at a food pantry, work with shelter animals or garden for a good cause, now’s your chance. We’ve got 25 ideas to get you started.

Good Samaritan

Whether you’re an enviable cook or have a way with clothes, there are various ways to lend your skills and your time to a worthy cause.


Suited for Change

Have a flair for fashion? You can help low-income women pick out interview and work suits and accessories from Suited for Change’s D.C. boutique of donated apparel. Volunteers also are needed for workshops on work and life skills. 202-293-0351. suitedforchange.org.


Bread for the City

There are many ways to help out at D.C.’s Bread for the City, which helps reduce the burden of poverty for local residents by providing food, clothing, medical care, and legal and social services. Sort clothing donations, bag items in the food pantry, drive to pick up donations, or lend your talents as a bilingual volunteer or pro bono attorney. 202-265-2400. breadforthecity.org.


Ronald McDonald House Charities

Volunteers help at two homes for families with sick children — in Fairfax and Northeast Washington — by tidying the houses, making sure guests are comfortable, doing administrative tasks or handiwork, creating virtual family activities, and cooking meals. 703-698-7080 or 202-529-8204. rmhcdc.org.


Bright Beginnings

Lead story time as a volunteer reader for Bright Beginnings, a nonprofit that provides preschool and child care for homeless children. Bright Beginnings volunteers also help sponsor field trips for students, clean up the center, serve as classroom assistants or work at special events. 202-236-4503. bbidc.org.


Manna Food Center

This Montgomery County-based food bank needs volunteers to sort and pack food at its Gaithersburg warehouse. Volunteers also help distribute food at locations around the county. 301-424-1130. mannafood.org.


The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project

Become a volunteer “play ranger” for the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, where you’ll sculpt Play-Doh and build block towers with kids at emergency shelter, transitional housing and community sites throughout D.C. and Prince George’s County. Training and background checks are required to be a play ranger. Other volunteer opportunities include driving shipments of donations, beautifying playrooms or even sharing a special activity with the children. 202-329-4481. playtimeproject.org.


Food for All

Pull into an alley near Dupont Circle on a Saturday morning and leave with a trunk full of grocery bags to deliver to housebound elderly residents and other Washingtonians in need. The delivery route takes two hours or less, and kids are invited to tag along with parents. Email volunteer@foodforalldc.org for more information. foodforalldc.org.

Culture vulture

With festivals and the arts, giving can reap rewards. Usher at a theater or arts center and see a show free.


The Kennedy Center

It takes a regular time commitment to land a gig as a “Friends of the Kennedy Center” volunteer. But for those younger than 40 looking to help out for a few hours, look into the NexGenFriends volunteer program. You’ll help at auditions or pitch in during special events like the annual Opera in the Outfield program. Volunteering more than 60 hours in one year means benefits such as free ticket offers to Kennedy Center performances, and everyone gets access to social activities like NexGenFriends Millennium Stage happy hours. kennedy-center.org.


Ford’s Theatre

Take in a show while working as a volunteer usher showing audience members to their seats at Ford’s Theatre downtown. Sign-ups are now available for the 2022-2023 theatrical season at this historic site. 202-347-4833. fords.org.


Planet Word

English majors and armchair linguists have several volunteer opportunities at this immersive museum downtown. Roam the exhibits answering questions as a gallery guide, volunteer at events during evenings and weekends, or take on a behind-the-scenes role. 202-931-3139. planetwordmuseum.org.


Art Enables

This studio and gallery on Rhode Island Avenue offers creative space for artists in D.C. with developmental and cognitive disabilities and mental health challenges. Volunteers are needed for jobs such as preparing supplies in the art studio or selling art in the gallery on weekends, as well as working on administrative or marketing tasks. 202-554-9455. art-enables.org.


International Spy Museum

Two free tickets to the International Spy Museum are among the perks for adults who volunteer to answer guests’ questions in the Debriefing Center, among other tasks. (Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, with orientation sessions throughout the year.) There are also two summer volunteer opportunities for teens, with applications opening this spring. Students between the ages of 13 and 18 can serve on the summer-long “X Ops” team, helping with the museum’s interactive activities (like lock picking demos). For a short-term commitment of a couple of weeks, teens ages 15 to 17 can apply to be a Spy Camp counselor in training for the museum’s day camp: You’ll help lead “junior agents” through missions inside and outside the building. 202-654-0957. spymuseum.org.

Passionate about animals?

Feed shelter animals or tarantulas, run with the dogs, or take your bunny out for a ride — options abound.


Humane Rescue Alliance

Volunteers meet weekly at local parks to run with adoptable shelter dogs as part of the PACK (People and Animal Cardio Klub) program. You can also sign up to provide basic care for animals, including walking dogs and preparing food, at one of two D.C. shelters and help socialize animals. humanerescuealliance.org.


Friends of Homeless Animals

Take dogs in the Loudoun County no-kill shelter for walks on weekends, or work at fundraising events, play with the shelter’s cats and work at the Chantilly thrift store that helps fund FOHA. No time commitment is required. 703-385-0224. foha.org.


Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County

Feline fans have their pick of the litter when it comes to helping out at this no-kill cat shelter in Gaithersburg. There’s a “Cat Crew Team” that feeds kitties and scoops litter and a “Cat Enrichment Team” that spends quality time with cats and gets to know their likes and dislikes. Or go more hands-off by volunteering in the pet food bank or helping out with the center’s bookkeeping. 301-740-2511. awlmc.org.


Pets on Wheels

If your dog (or cat or bunny!) has a sparkling personality and loves getting petted, consider applying to be a volunteer with a therapy pet. You and your furry friend will visit nursing homes and hospitals, assisted-living facilities, and more community sites in Fairfax and throughout Maryland to visit and boost spirits one tail wag at a time. petsonwheels.org (Maryland); fpow.org (Fairfax).


Many parks enlist volunteers for an assortment of tasks, from leading garden tours to keeping things in line at the monuments, and others plan park cleanups. But if you’re eager to get your hands dirty, hit a farm.


Ward 8 Woods

There’s more than 500 acres of forest in D.C.’s Ward 8, and volunteers for Ward 8 Woods spend time among the trees cutting out invasive vines and picking up trash. All you have to do is show up for monthly public cleanups: The Fort Stanton park volunteer day is the first Saturday of each month, and the Shepherd Parkway Community Clean-Up is on the second Saturday of each month. 202-520-2742. ward8woods.org.


Black Hill Visitor Center

Pontoon boat captain is one of the seasonal volunteer jobs available at this Montgomery County park in Boyds: The gig involves driving a boat and leading tours of the lake. For something more low-key, nature center hosts answer questions about the park and act as an extra set of eyes for the front desk staff. Other Black Hill Visitor Center volunteers serve as bluebird nest box monitors, native plant gardeners and helpers during special events such as MudFest. 301-528-3488. montgomeryparks.org.


Little Falls Watershed Alliance

Join one of this organization’s frequent cleanups along Little Falls Parkway and streams in this Bethesda watershed or help on regular hunts for invasive plants. The events are the second Saturday of each month, and younger children are allowed with parents, making these ideal family outings. lfwa.org.


Common Good City Farm

This Northwest Washington community farm provides 5,000 pounds of fresh produce a year to the community and teaches gardening skills and nutrition tips to low-income locals. City Farmer volunteers, who must commit to coming weekly in the same time slot for at least 12 weeks, plant seeds, build planting beds, weed and assist with other urban farming tasks. 202-559-7513. commongoodcityfarm.org.


National Park Service

If you can tolerate the elements — and tourists — the Park Service looks regularly for volunteers on the Mall, as well as at other national parks. The Volunteers-In-Parks program assigns individuals and groups to work alongside park rangers at monuments all over D.C., from high-profile sites such as the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Old Post Office to more obscure spots such as the Titanic Memorial park. nps.gov.


Cultivate the City

Learn how to grow your own food while supporting Cultivate the City, an urban farming company with initiatives like school gardening programs and its own rooftop nursery in Northeast D.C. Sign up for a volunteer shift through Eventbrite, and wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. cultivatethecity.com.


Do you have a knack for teaching children or adults? Mentors, guides, teachers and givers need apply.



This Fairfax County-based organization, which helps low-income people, has many volunteer-staffed programs, including a food pantry. One particularly worthy undertaking: community-based programs for youths, such as Homework Help and a reading club. Volunteers for these programs work one hour a week for either the semester or the entire school year. 703-352-5090. facetscares.org.


Girls on the Run

This organization encourages healthful living and positive goals for elementary school- and middle school-age girls through running, and volunteers are their coaches. Over the course of a season, coaches lead girls through two practices a week for a weekly time commitment of about four hours; the 10-week course ends with a 5K. Other volunteer positions are available, too, and running experience isn’t necessary. A training session is required. 202-607-2288. gotrdc.org.


Everybody Wins

Spend one hour a week as a “power reader” at children’s literacy organization Everybody Wins, reading with elementary-schoolers in the District, Virginia and Maryland (background checks are required). Other volunteer opportunities include hosting book drives, writing notes of encouragement to students or giving a “StoryTime” talk about a book that changed your life. 202-216-9467. everybodywinsdc.org.