group of women holding up artwork and standing on scale

Photography by Jacklyn Atlas

5 fun group volunteering opportunities in Toronto and the GTA

Rewarding ideas to make your next date with the girls more than just a coffee catch-up 

My friends and I have a horrible habit of relying on social media to stay in touch but let’s be honest, a thumbs-up emoji on their latest Instagram post really doesn’t count as a meaningful connection.   

And yet, between work, kids’ activities and other demands, it’s almost impossible to find a time to get together that’s a fit for everyone. When we finally do pick a date, we’re so mentally exhausted from the effort that we can’t think of anything better than to book a quick catch-up over coffee or a glass of wine.   

While connecting offline is always worth the scheduling drama, this time we decided to sleuth out activities that were easy to arrange and more rewarding than our old standbys. Here are five ideas we found, and two we actually tried. (Spoiler alert: they were super fun!)  

collage of women working on art together

Jubilee Design 

What it is:
A social enterprise at the Yonge Street Mission’s Evergreen youth drop-in centre, Jubilee Design employs homeless and at-risk youth artists to lead crafting workshops as well as produce hand-made products—from funky arm warmers to unexpected ninja-star boutonnieres—that they then sell online.  

What we did:
Our six-person group (most of us self-confessed crappy crafters) booked a two-hour session for a silk-screening workshop with two totally rad young women: Zoe and Shaq. We got a 10-minute how-to, then chose from items like canvas bags, baby onesies and T-shirts, created our designs, and commenced silk-screening. It was a success for everyone, even with our dubious creative talents. (I made a black T-shirt with a silkscreen of my black lab—in bright pink, of course.)  

What we liked about it:
It was easy to register the group online, which meant no additional scheduling drama. The only stress came from asking a group of Type A women to be creative! In the end, we stopped trying to make the perfect silkscreen and just talked, laughed and let go. We also got a tour of the Centre and walked away with some fun new items for friends and family, all in under 2.5 hours.  

What you need to know:
There is a $350 minimum charge for the group that covers the cost of the supplies, and wages for the staff and youth artists. You can purchase as many pieces as you want to silkscreen for $5 each or bring your own from home for free. All told, if you have six to 10 people, everybody is paying less than they would for a dinner out.   

Group of women volunteering at Daily Bread Foodbank

Daily Bread Food Bank 

What it is: 
In addition to their research and advocacy work to reduce poverty in Toronto, Daily Bread collects food donations and distributes millions of pounds of food to more agencies supporting individuals and families across the city who are experiencing hunger.   

What we did: 
Our group of eight got to work in the “clean room,” peeling and chopping fresh carrots that were donated by a local farm. When we were done, another team bagged and froze the carrots for distribution to the more than 200 food programs supplied by Daily Bread.  

What we liked about it:
Our 3.5-hour shift wasn’t all work and no play. We chatted and caught-up, we rocked some seriously hot hair nets (and captured a few selfies while we were at it) and we even got a snack and a tour of the facility on our 20-minute break.   

What you need to know: 
There are number of different group volunteer opportunities available that include everything from sorting food into similar categories and repackaging bulk food into smaller portions to cleaning kitchens and working in the on-site food bank. Some of the opportunities do require lifting so be sure to let them know when booking if you have any back issues.

Here are three more ideas we can’t wait to try:  

Knitted Knockers of Canada 

Get your friends together for a “stich n’ bitch” and create soft, comfortable knitted prosthetics for breast cancer survivors. Knitted Knockers of Canada provides everything you need to get started, including the patterns and wool requirements. Once completed, unstuffed knockers can be dropped off or mailed to select yarn store partner locations across Canada, including spots in Newmarket, Toronto and Mississauga. (Some stores even offer yarn discounts for Knitted Knocker volunteers.)   

Habitat for Humanity 

Grab your steel-toed boots and head-out with your crew to help build houses for low-income families. Habitat for Humanity operates in Brampton, Caledon, Toronto and York Region with multiple building sites underway at any given time. Most opportunities are during the week, but that’s the perfect excuse to take the day off, leave your to-do list behind and get your hands dirty helping build not just a house, but a home, for a family in need.   

Blue Door Shelter   

Instead of embarking on a shopping trip for yourself, why not go for a good cause? Grab your gal pals, head out to your favourite department store and stock up on everything from socks and shampoo to body wash and backpacks for Blue Door Shelter in York Region. Providing safe shelter and housing support for families, single men and youth, Blue Door welcomes gifts-in-kind and provides a list of the items they need most.