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

Now, imagine your alarm went off today, long before the temperature drops, when volunteering can mean giving a fraction of your time to park cleanups or garden work, playing with kittens or lending a hand to lost tourists on the Mall.

For some, volunteering is about serving those in need, while for others, volunteer jobs can help polish a resume, expand a group of friends or be a way to access the arts for free. And newcomers can make friends at a large volunteer event organized by Greater DC Cares or One Brick DC without a regular commitment.

The Washington-based Corporation for National and Community Service estimates that 63.4 million Americans volunteered in 2009. And Kevin Foster of volunteer matching group One Brick DC says that as the economy has faltered, he has seen an increased need for volunteers among nonprofit groups.

So if you’ve always wanted to help out at a food pantry, work with shelter animals or even pour beers, 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.

1. 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, Ext. 201.

2. HandsOn Greater DC Cares 9/11 Day of Service

To mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, this organization is planning 50 major service projects across the region on Sept. 9-11 — with a goal of 10,000 volunteers. Registration is required. 202-777-4441.

3. Bread for the City

Bread for the City needs groups of five or more to glean crops from farms, as well as folks to harvest from fruit trees right in Washington. Volunteers are also sought for three-month stints of weekly shifts at the pantry, stocking shelves and helping clients pick out groceries; sign-up begins Sept. 1. 202-265-2400. E-mail

4. Ronald McDonald House Charities

Nearly 60 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, working at special events and cooking meals. 703-698-7080 or 202-529-8204.

5. Starlight Children’s Foundation Mid-Atlantic

Volunteers pitch in for three to four hours at monthly weekend Great Escape events for families of seriously ill children. The events include trips to museums and movies in the D.C. area; occasionally, volunteers are needed for face-painting or clowning.
202-293-7827. E-mail

6. Manna Food Center

This Montgomery County-based food bank needs volunteers to sort donated food and pack boxes to deliver to clients. Family packing days —
participants must be 7 and older — are several times a month.

Culture Vulture

With festivals and the arts,
giving can reap rewards. Usher at a theater or arts center and
see a show free of charge. Pitch in at
a festival, and hang out after
your shift.

7. Capitol City Brewing Oktoberfest

This major annual event, set for Oct. 8 in Shirlington, enlists 300 volunteers each year to set up, pour beer and clean up. Volunteers (who must be 21 or older) work a four-hour shift and in exchange receive a glass and free
admission and can sample beers
after their shifts. Hardly sounds like work to us. E-mail

8. Signature Theatre

Ushers at this Arlington theater run ticket scanning and helm the coat check; administrative work and data-entry positions are also available. In exchange for each three- to four-hour shift, volunteers can see a performance free. One orientation session
required. 571-527-1842. E-mail

9. Hostelling International

This downtown D.C. hostel needs volunteers to act as “fun event hosts” at barbecues and taco night dinners (ingredients are provided). In turn, volunteers get to meet people from different countries and backgrounds. Other in-the-know locals can act as concierges for hostel guests.
202-737-2333, Ext. 107. E-mail

10. Artisphere

Volunteers at Arlington’s cultural hub work two or three shifts a month over six months, tearing tickets and handing out programs, among other duties, and can sit in on performances. Frequent volunteers can qualify for discounts at Artisphere artisans’ shop. 703-875-1115. E-mail

11. The Phillips Collection

This Washington museum enlists art information volunteers who greet visitors; departmental volunteers who help with research and clerical work; and docents who work with school groups. All receive training and are asked to commit to a year. In exchange, they get invites to special events at the Phillips and badges for free or discounted access to museums around the world, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, special exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art and more.
202-387-2151, Ext. 222.

12. The Writer’s Center

Love a good book? You can be a docent at this Bethesda center’s author events, helping with ticketing and ushering guests to seats or judging writing samples for scholarship and fellowship programs. Volunteers also help with fundraising efforts.
301-654-8664, Ext. 205.
. E-mail

Passionate about animals?

Feed shelter animals or tarantulas, run with the dogs or hang with the butterflies — the options abound.

13. The Washington Humane Society

Volunteers meet weekly at local parks to run with adoptable shelter dogs as part of the PACK (People & Animal Cardio Klub) program; provide basic care for animals, including sweeping and preparing food, at one of two D.C. shelters; and help socialize animals.
202-723-5730, Ext. 149. (click the volunteer tab). E-mail

14. National Museum of Natural History

A passion for science and tolerance for a little heat are all you need to guide visitors through the D.C. museum’s popular butterfly pavilion, or you can pitch in at the Orkin Insect Zoo and help with public tarantula feedings. A one-year stint, working one four-hour shift a week, is requested. 202-633-1077.

15. Black Hill Visitor Center

Few volunteer jobs are as quirky as feeding the flying squirrels at this Montgomery County park; volunteers work one evening a week at dusk.
Others help naturalists during
stargazing events, pontoon boat
rides, story times and other special events. 301-528-3482. E-mail For similar jobs at other Montgomery County parks, visit

16. The National Zoo

Volunteer opportunities change often at the zoo and can include coveted jobs working directly with animal keepers or interpreter positions to engage the public in exhibits. An interest in science and animals is a must, and so is time. An interpreter job, for example, requires a commitment of three shifts a month for a year, and orientation is a seven-part process (the next sessions begin Sept. 29).

17. 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. E-mail

18. Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County

This all-volunteer organization has opened a new Gaithersburg cat shelter and needs volunteers to help care for the animals, meet potential adopters twice a month and take cats to vet appointments. Not your thing? Volunteers also are needed for such administrative tasks as answering phones and keeping track of the center’s finances. 301-740-2511. E-mail


Many of your favorite 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.

19. Gray Ghost Winery

Get a peek at how wine is made at this Amissville winery, where volunteers help with the grape harvest each fall. The winery hosts four to six harvest days in late August or September —
all on weekend mornings beginning at dawn. In exchange, breakfast and a barbecue lunch is provided, and you can stay to watch the grape processing and have a taste. Visit the winery in person through August to sign up. 540-937-4869.

20. Little Falls Watershed Alliance

Join one of this organization’s monthly 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 are open to all 14 and older, making these ideal family outings. E-mail

21. Common Good City Farm

This Northwest Washington community farm provides fresh produce and teaches gardening skills to low-income locals to diversify their diets. Volunteers, who must attend an orientation session, plant seeds, weed and pick up trash. 202-330-5945.

22. 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. Docents work alongside park rangers at high-profile sites, including the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Old Post Office Tower. 202-245-4688.


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

23. Literacy Volunteers and Advocates

This Washington organization promotes literacy, including math and computer literacy, and enlists tutors for such jobs as teaching basic computer skills and applying for jobs
online. Others might offer assistance
in reading, writing or math. Training is provided. 202-387-1772. E-mail

24. Facets

This Fairfax County-based organization helps low-income people and has myriad volunteer-staffed programs,
including a food pantry. One particularly worthy undertaking: community-based programs for youths, such as Homework Help, Computer Lab and
a reading club. Volunteers work one hour a week for the duration of a
program, usually two to six months.

25. Girls on the Run

This organization encourages healthful living and positive goals for girls in grades three to eight through running, and volunteers are its coaches. Over the course of a season, coaches lead girls through one-hour practices twice a week; meets begin in mid-September and end with a 5K on Dec. 4. Other once-a-week positions are available, too, and running experience isn’t necessary. A training session is required. E-mail 443-223-3356.