10 Fresh Ways to Give Back

It’s the December issue, which means another fresh take on our annual PUNCH list of creative and unexpected ways to serve our Peninsula community. Donating money is always a vital way to make a difference, but there’s also priceless value in your time. Read along for ideas that might resonate with your particular skills, talents and interests—and don’t forget that your help is needed all year-round. 

Photography: Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks
  1. Horse Around

    There are a bunch of long faces at Wunderlich Park in Woodside that could use your attention and care to keep their tails happily swinging. The nonprofit Friends of Huddart & Wunderlich Parks (huddartwunderlichfriends.org/volunteer) are always looking for volunteers to help with their various equestrian programming. The museum, open on the weekends, could use an extra docent to explain the rich past of horse heritage in the park as well as a docent to guide their mini horse named Lightning who introduces children to the wonders of horse stewardship. The group could also use a hand with their education hikes and are on the lookout for naturalist docents who can lead groups through the park. All the training is provided by the nonprofit and volunteers can provide whatever time they have to give.

  2. Help the Town

    Who knew that civic duty could be so fun? Whether you like to swing a hammer or a golf club, you can find all sorts of ways to contribute in your local neighborhood. For example, in Belmont, the parks and recreation department is looking for help to maintain public facilities such as parks, park benches and picnic tables. If you choose to adopt a full park, expect to yank weeds and pick up litter to keep a particular park in its best shape. There’s also the opportunity to refurbish benches and tables or even update community bulletin boards. Email parksrec@belmont.gov to learn more. If your home turf is San Mateo, there’s a need for volunteer golf marshals to assist players and cart staff and work with the pro shop to keep the city’s Poplar Creek Golf Course humming. The time commitment is one seven-hour shift per week and training occurs at the course. Bonus: complimentary golf privileges are offered for your service time. Reach out to Leo Loane, the volunteer marshal program coordinator, at loane10@yahoo.com to learn more.

  3. Art Ambassador

    It’s nearly a guarantee that you won’t find another volunteer option that celebrates art inside of a mall. The Peninsula Museum of Art in San Bruno (located within the The Shops at Tanforan) is hoping to find motivated people who want to contribute their time and skills towards developing the space into a vital art resource for the community. Volunteers are needed to help staff the space (at least one shift per week) and contribute to their evolving vision. PMA welcomes those who are curious about diverse emerging and established Bay Area art and artists and want to help connect our community. No experience needed. Training is provided and you can reach them through peninsulamuseum@gmail.com.

  4. Extra Care for Kids

    There With Care, an organization designed to assist families with children who are facing critical illnesses, is a program that excels in coalescing. When a family is struck with a tragedy for its youngest, There With Care supports them by removing obstacles and distractions that prevent the family from focusing on their loved one. Always seeking volunteers, the organization is in need of meal and grocery delivery help and childcare providers for patients or siblings. On the administrative side, they could use a hand in cataloguing donations, supporting special events and assisting in their Redwood City office. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or to help support their community events, please contact: volunteer. bayarea@therewithcare.org. Even one-time opportunities are available with no training required.

    Photography: Irene Searles
  5. Shiny New Shoes

    Since 2006, My New Red Shoes has helped to promote a sense of belonging and dignity for more than 90,000 students in the Bay Area and beyond by improving the quality of life and well-being of children and youth impacted by economic inequality. The organization provides new shoes and clothing to homeless and low-income children to help them look and feel confident before starting a new school year. Office and warehouse assistance is always appreciated, along with a call for creatives: Leverage your professional skills as a photographer, videographer or graphic designer to help get the word out about the organization. If you have time to sort donations, capture an event or promote a fundraiser, reach out to the Redwood City organization at info@mynewredshoes.org.

  6. Donate to the Donors

    Vampires need not apply! For all others, Peninsula blood centers are on the hunt for help in their facilities. Everyone knows that donating blood feels (at a conscience level) good—and even earns you free juice and cookies—but the blood banks themselves need help, too! For example, Stanford’s nonprofit community blood bank provides blood and blood products to children and adults undergoing transplants and surgery. Volunteers are needed to monitor donor safety, serve replenishing refreshments, label blood bags and tubes, shuttle blood, help in the labs and assist in various clerical tasks. Your efforts help create the (O, A, B or AB) positive experience that keeps donors coming back. Check stanfordbloodcenter.org or other blood center websites to discover ways to help.

  7. Promote Independence

    Beginning 85 years ago, Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Palo Alto has been a resource to anyone across the Peninsula living with blindness or visual impairment. It has served thousands of clients with a variety of geographically centered services and classes, and their success is dependent on the aid of volunteers. Ways to help our visually- and auditory-impaired neighbors include translators, administrative assistance and working at the store inside the Vista Center that’s stocked with a variety of products to help folks lead more independent lives. Opportunities range from providing occasional on-call office and home assistance to the Client Partner Program, a six-month commitment to support clients a few times a month. Depending on what is needed, you might read aloud, help with mail, go on walks, run errands or just have a friendly visit. Staff will match you with a client based on your location and interests. Visit vistacenter.org for more information.

  8. Treat a Trail

    Do you know why our trails remain pristine and welcoming all year long? It’s through the dedication of outdoor lovers who pitch in to help. The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District relies on assistance in Los Altos and beyond for the miles of trails they preside over. Email volunteer@openspace.org or visit their website openspace.org to learn more. The minimum age is 14. Meanwhile, over in Palo Alto, the Trail Center is a nonprofit focused on maintenance and trail work across the Bay Area. They remind us that it’s the perfect blend of community service, outdoor awareness, conservation and physical exercise. No experience or special skills are required, and the minimum age is 17. Connect with them through email info@trailcenter.org or the website

  9. English-language Support Star

    If you’re a fluent English speaker and still fumble with they’re/their/there or can admit that words like “pterodactyl” make zero sense, then place yourself in the shoes of a neighbor learning English. San Mateo County Libraries has a call out for English Conversation Club and ESL (English as a Second Language) Book Club facilitators. Meet online in small groups to chat about interesting topics, help English language learners improve their speaking and reading and transform neighbors into new friends. Whether you’re discussing books together or practicing English, the interaction happens in a convenient and welcoming way. Both teen and adult opportunities are available. Check out smcl.org/volunteer to learn more.

  10. Sing to Seniors

    A quintessential way to serve your community, spending time with our seniors is the perfect give and take. Share your time by socializing and in return, you receive a perspective earned with time. Numerous Peninsula senior facilities need volunteers, such as The Trousdale in Burlingame, which is seeking musicians to enhance the lives of their residents. Musical groups or solo artists are welcome to share vocals, piano or guitar. Learn more at thetrousdale.org/volunteer. At the Avenidas in Palo Alto, you can find a manageable commitment with one-time-only projects and events. Avenidas.org has more information. And the nearby Channing House (channinghouse.org) asks for volunteers to visit patients, help during bingo and word games and assist with their parties.