10 Fresh Ways to Give Back

Words by Dylan Lanier

Words by Dylan Lanier

‘Tis the season! December is a time to reflect not just on what you have, but also on what you can give. And while financial donations are vital, spending your time and energy to help others is undeniably restorative and uplifting. Whether you’re a crafting machine, nature lover or science buff, we all possess unique talents and interests. In our sixth annual round-up, here’s just a sampling of different ways we can contribute. Together, we can make our community a better place—one DIY dog toy or loving letter at a time.

make a dog’s day

There’s nothing like play time after a ruff day. Animal shelters are always looking for a paws-itive way to keep their residents active and entertained. If you have a knack for crafting and a fondness for furry friends, grab some colorful materials and create your own pet toys. Whether you opt to sew a stuffy or tie up a tug blanket, you can use a wide variety of accessible materials like cloth and cotton to create the perfect puppy plaything. Call ahead to a local shelter like Pets In Need or the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA to learn about the rules regarding enrichment materials and how the donation process works. For some pro toy-making tips, check out articles on websites like thisdogslife.co and projectcanis.org.

Slash the Trash

We’ve all seen the seagull with the six-pack rings wrapped around its neck. Beach pollution is on the rise, and it impacts life both above and beneath the water’s surface. Just one day of collecting trash can make a huge difference for our local environment. For a beach day with a mission, check out Half Moon Bay’s beach clean-up schedule at half-moon-bay.ca.us or organize your own! Bring gloves, buckets, appropriate clothing and plenty of trash bags to clean up litter. If you’re the one in charge, use social media, flyers or any other type of local promotion to rally a group of hard-working ocean enthusiasts to your cause. The work is extremely rewarding, especially when you get to admire the fruits of your labor in front of the glittering sea.

send a smile

Who doesn’t love receiving a thoughtful
letter in the mail? Join the fight against senior loneliness with Letters Against Isolation, an international operation founded by two sisters during the pandemic. Every other week, volunteers access an online portal sign up to write letters to care homes across the globe. Once you get the address, come up with positive messages to show seniors that they’re not alone. Bonus points if you include fun stickers or uplifting artwork. Pen them by yourself or host a group for a writing session. Either way, check out lettersagainstisolation.com for more information.

translate to a tee

Calling all bilingual volunteers! Service organizations need translators to ensure that their information and services reach people who aren’t proficient in English. Put your multilingual mastery to the test and remove language barriers for those in need. For example, Progeria Research Foundation supports families with children who have a rare disease known as progeria and seeks volunteers who can (asynchronously) translate their newsletter as well as patient documents and letters. Pangea Legal Services, a firm that advocates for immigrants in California, also needs remote volunteers to transcribe legal and medical documents, and more. Get in touch with these groups at progeriaresearch.org and pangealegal.org.

Unleash Your Inner Bill Nye

We all remember the childhood feeling of whimsical wonder. Located at gorgeous Coyote Point, CuriOdyssey Science Playground & Zoo is home to an extensive collection of simple yet fascinating exhibits that teach young kids about the wonders of meteorology, microbiology and more. Become an exhibit facilitator to perform basic maintenance, lead activities and “help connect children to their natural world and encourage them to notice and observe its beautiful complexity.” Volunteers can also serve as wildlife docents or wildlife interpretive guides who present visitors with live animals and touchable biofacts like mammal furs and prehistoric eggs. If you prefer a permanent station, aviary aides teach visitors about the diverse and magnificent wildlife in Curiodyssey’s aviary—just watch out for the occasional dropping! Learn more at curiodyssey.org.

dive into decision-making

Ever wondered what it takes to run your town? A whole lot of dedicated volunteers! Join the ranks of everyday citizens taking a seat at the table by contributing to your local government. You can serve on a wide variety of advisory boards, commissions and committees that tackle topics like infrastructure and safety. Volunteers will amplify their voices, meet new people and make a tangible impact on their community. Though some opportunities are time-intensive, many require only a few hours each week. You can also help run one-off events like movie nights or holiday gatherings. Check your city government’s website for more information.

Fight Hunger on the Front Lines

Food for thought: 1 in 5 Californians are food-insecure, yet 40% of all food ends up in the trash can. Peninsula Food Runners began in 2013 to bridge that gap. Founder Maria Yap was motivated by her childhood in Malaysia, where she tagged along with her social worker mother and began noticing a pattern of food-related issues. The group connects grocery stores, restaurants and other food producers to outreach organizations all over the Bay Area. Volunteers pick up and deliver surplus items by car, individually or with a group. Opt for regular on-call food runs or lend a hand as an occasional backup. Peninsula Food Runners also needs help with marketing, grant writing, fundraising and recruiting food donors. Become a food waste warrior at peninsulafoodrunners.org.

Go the Extra Mile

Pick up the pace with Girls on the Run, a North American organization dedicated to empowering girls on and off the track. The organization has provided a welcoming environment for more than two million participants to get active, gain confidence and develop powerful life skills alongside their peers—and they show no signs of slowing down. There are multiple chapters on the Peninsula for volunteers to join. Become a coach and lead a season full of running, community-building and exercises aimed at strengthening character and self-esteem. Or, if you can’t commit to a full season, lend a hand at one-time events. Get off to the races at gotrbayarea.org.

use social media for good

Many of us spend a lot of time on social media—why not use it to help others? With the rise of online platforms like Instagram, nonprofit organizations can gather support faster and easier. However, it takes an avid user to understand the possibilities of the algorithm. Utilize your social media knowledge to build an online presence for groups that are struggling to get their name out into the volunteering ether. Find organizations on sites like volunteermatch.org, then check their social media accounts to determine whether or not they could benefit from a revamp. Reach out to them directly and work out how you can best support their online goals.

make music

Through music, we express ourselves and connect with one another. Empower kids with physical and mental health conditions to find their voices by helping them write and produce their own songs with Hear Your Song. Bringing the beat since 2014, this nonprofit organization has recorded over 300 songs with kids across the nation, featuring a wide variety of topics and genres. Volunteers can assist along any step of the way: helping write lyrics, recording vocals, composing instrumental tracks or filming music videos. Eager helpers with non-musical gifts can also pitch in on the business side with marketing, fundraising and more. Songwriting sessions happen over Zoom, so anyone with stable internet and the desire to jam out can get involved. Whether you love to tickle the ivories or rock and roll, jump on the bandwagon at hearyoursong.org.