The latest update for this article is written by Lindsay Podolak.
You may think of giving back to the community as a seasonal activity. Something like putting together food baskets at Thanksgiving or buying gifts for the needy during the holidays. But the truth is that there are people who need help all year long. Fortunately for those who wish to contribute, the Garden State has plenty of opportunities to make a difference.
Whether you’re interested in putting in some time volunteering or are able to make a donation, you’ve got plenty of choices. The below programs provide some options for ways to give back locally or throughout New Jersey. Take a look and grab some friends, because a few hours of your time can go quite a long way!
Location: 120 Morris Avenue, Summit
Mission: To provide necessities such as food, toiletries and clothing to those who are homeless or in dire need in Newark, Irvington and New York City. Bridges also provides backpacks and school supplies to children in shelters in Summit, Newark and Irvington.
How They Operate: Bridges volunteers go on weekly runs to Newark and Irvington. They bring food as well as other essentials to those in need. Volunteers can also host birthday parties for sheltered children or get involved with Bridges’ program at St. John’s. This program aims to connect the homeless with housing and medical help as well as other social services. Sign up as a group or on your own (you can also sign up to make lunches and toiletry packages).
How to Sign Up: Reach out to email@example.com to register.
Why I like it: An infographic on the site shows the impact that your donations had in the previous year. For example, the number of pairs of socks and underwear distributed (8,600), the number of individuals employed (22) and the number of individuals entered into substance abuse treatment programs (11), just to name a few.
More Info: >www.bridgesoutreach.org or call 908-273-0176
Color A Smile
Location: Mailing address is PO Box 1516, Morristown, NJ 07962. UPS and FedEx address is 166 Ridgedale Avenue, Morristown.
Mission: To spread smiles. It’s that simple.
How They Operate: Volunteers draw pictures for senior citizens, soldiers overseas and anyone in need of some cheering up. Thousands of drawings are sent out per month to those on Color A Smile’s mailing list, with more than 1,000,000 drawings sent out in the program’s history. This might be the simplest way to help someone in need.
How to Sign Up: No sign up is required. Just choose a drawing from the website, sign with your name and age and send to the PO Box listed above.
Why I like it: This is a great way to get kids involved in volunteerism. Just have them draw a few pictures and drop in the mailbox! What could be easier?
More Info: colorasmile.org or call 973-540-9222
Grace Healthcare Services Hospice
Location: Many locations throughout New Jersey
Mission: To bring comfort to those facing times of poor health.
How They Operate: Companionship volunteers spend time with hospice patients. Meanwhile, craft volunteers make comfort objects such as blankets, shawls or stuffed animals. Additionally, junior volunteers draw pictures or make holiday cards to brighten patients’ rooms. Companionship volunteers must take hospice training classes, which are free of charge and take place on an ongoing basis. It’s so worth the time to bring a little bit of joy to a place that can be quite lonely to live in.
How to Sign Up: Just fill out this form!
Why I like it: Know a veteran who wants to give back? Grace Healthcare has a special group of Veteran Volunteers who provide support to fellow military personnel in need.
More Info: www.gracehcs.com or call 866-447-0246
Community Foodbank of NJ
Location: The headquarters is located at 31 Evans Terminal, Hillside and the southern branch is located at 6735 Black Horse Pike, Egg Harbor Township
Mission: To fight hunger and poverty while creating long-term solutions through donations and partnerships with similar programs.
How They Operate: Volunteers spend their time sorting and packing donated food and children’s clothes to be distributed throughout the state. Additionally, off-site options include the Pediatric Mobile Pantry Program. Here, volunteers will assist with site set-up and unloading of groceries as well as bringing food to clients. The food show pick-up program is another off-site chance to help out, with volunteers collecting food that has been donated by the vendors. Those interested, but short on time, can also start their own virtual fundraisers to collect donations. Those are just a few of the options that Community Food Bank of NJ offers; their website offers more volunteer options.
How to Sign Up: To volunteer as an individual or family, fill out the volunteer form here.
Why I like it: This charity doesn’t just put a bandage on the problem, it addresses the root cause – poverty. One of the Community Foodbank of NJ’s most important initiatives is its Food Service Training Academy, a free, 15-week culinary and life skills program that provides its graduates with the skills to land a job in the food service industry.
More Info: www.cfbnj.org or call 908-355-3663 (main) or 609-383-8843 (southern branch)
Simon’s Soup Kitchen
Location: 100 Grant Avenue, Seaside Heights (Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish Center)
Mission: To provide nutritious meals and companionship to anyone in need of either.
How They Operate: Simon’s Soup Kitchen offers the type of meal you’d expect to get at your own dining room table, and in a warm and welcoming space. Thirty weeks per year, Simon’s hosts dinner on Tuesdays and Fridays for locals and local families in need. They also feature “Breakfast with Al,” which ensures that each child goes home with a meal for breakfast for the following day. Volunteers are needed to cook meals (more than 250 per dinner), serve food and help with clean up.
How to Sign Up: Individuals can fill out this form, and organizations can register here.
Why I like it: Each guest receives a meal fit for a king – placemats, fresh bread, homemade soup, salad, entree, starch, vegetable and dessert.
More Info: www.simonssoupkitchen.org or call 732-270-5941
CASA for Children of Middlesex County
Location: 77 Church Street, New Brunswick
Mission: CASA (which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocators) stands up for children in foster care. The program ensures that the children’s physical and emotional needs are being met.
How They Operate: CASA matches volunteers with a child or sibling group in the foster care system. It is the role of the volunteer to monitor the well-being of the children and advocate for them when necessary. Volunteers are trained for these positions, then monitored throughout the process. Notably, children with CASA volunteers are proven to spend nearly eight months less in foster care, as well as show educational improvement. Simply fill out the form below to step up for a child in need.
How to Sign Up: You can find the volunteer application here.
Why I like it: If you have a passion for helping children in the foster care system but aren’t able to adopt, this is the organization for you. You can train to be a voice for someone who needs an advocate and help a child win the best possible outcome for his future.
More Info: www.casaofmiddlesexcounty.org or call 732-246-4449
Center for Family Services
Location: 584 Benson Street, Camden (headquarters), with many program-specific locations throughout southern New Jersey.
Mission: Center for Family Services offers many programs which cater to the health, happiness and education of children of families in need. From cooking breakfast, to tutoring a child, to taking in a foster child, volunteers provide many services. During the holidays, the center accepts donated presents for children and teens that would otherwise not receive any gifts at all (donation info here).
How to Sign Up: Click this link to apply for individual volunteer opportunities.
Why I like it: Those who are able can host a community drive for items like baby essentials, luggage, winter coats and more. It’s a good way for youth to take initiative as well as involve their peers.
More Info: centerffs.org or call 856-964-1990
Habitat for Humanity in Monmouth County ReStore
Location: 193 Long Branch Avenue, Long Branch
Mission: To help build a world where everyone has a decent place to live.
How They Operate: Habitat for Humanity does a lot of good for the community. In addition to building homes, they provide furniture and home decor at a discount in their resale store. The ReStore shop (45 South Street, Freehold) has kept over 2 million pounds of unwanted materials from landfills since 2015. It needs such positions as sales associates, cashiers, social media administrators and more, filled. Meanwhile, on Wednesday through Saturday, construction volunteers have the chance to help out. All you need to do is sign up; there are jobs for everyone!
How to Sign Up: Fill out this form.
Why I like it: Habitat for Humanity accepts tax-deductible vehicle donations. If you’re looking to unload a car, this is your chance to do so while helping those in need.
More Info: www.habitatmonmouth.org or call 732-728-0441 for Habitat for Humanity in Monmouth County business offices, 732-577-8160 for ReStore
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson & Union Counties
Location: 500 Broad Street, Newark
Mission: To provide mentorship to children in need of a positive and helpful relationship.
How They Operate: Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers spend a few hours per month mentoring a child or teen. As a result, children in the program spend time with someone who can offer the friendship and guidance that’s missing from their lives. Above all, this is the chance to work with someone who truly needs a force of good in his or her life.
How to Sign Up: Follow the steps here.
Why I like it: You can be sure that this program makes a lasting difference. All in all, 83% of former Little Brothers and Sisters surveyed were in favor of the program. They agreed that their Big Brother or Sister taught values that have guided them through life.
More Info: www.bbbs.org or call 973-642-2447
Location: 1262 Whitehorse-Hamilton Square Road, Building A, Suite 101, Hamilton
Mission: To work one-on-one with people with special needs and their families to provide recreational activities, healthcare and meaningful employment.
How They Operate: Allies Day Program volunteers spend time helping with activities such as arts and crafts, fitness classes and music classes. Another Allies program, Spruce Ups, also needs volunteers. They’ll assist in planting flowers and raking leaves, as well as the upkeep of the residential group homes. Those interested can also organize a clothing drive. Items go to Greensleeves Thrift Boutiques, which provide training and jobs for people with disabilities.
How to Sign Up: Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to register for volunteer opportunities.
Why I like it: If you make purchases on Amazon.com, register Allies, Inc. as your chosen charity at smile.amazon.com. You’ll automatically have 0.5% of your purchase price donated to Allies, Inc. every time you shop.
More Info: www.alliesnj.org or call 609-689-0136.