Where to volunteer with your family in Toronto and the GTA
Kids can volunteer, too! Get the whole family involved by donating your time at one of these amazing places
BY VANESSA MILNE
The first time Barbara Bellissimo visited Blue Door Shelter in York Region and met its clients, something clicked. “When I met the people at the shelter and realized we could help them…that moved me,” she says. Since then, she has brought others to the shelter with her, hoping they would have similar revelations. That includes her team at Desjardins Insurance, where she’s a vice-president, and her two adult children. “I want to ensure that they’re always grounded and giving back in whatever way they can,” she says.
Young kids can give back, too, says Rebecca Diamond, a Toronto mom who volunteers with her seven- and five-year-old sons. Her family has a long tradition of donating their time to their communities. As a kid, she spent her Halloweens sorting out candy—and then bringing it to children at SickKids who couldn’t go trick-or-treating.
Diamond puts a lot of energy into making sure her sons inherit those altruistic values. They’ve done everything from sorting at food drives to working in community gardens that feed the hungry to pitching in at holiday toy drives. Most recently, they created their own initiative by putting together 180 care packages to give out to people experiencing homelessness. “I believe doing these things is more valuable than [whatever else we could be doing], like watching TV,” she says. “I try to come up with deliberate, productive ways to spend our time and give back.”
Feeling inspired? Check out these six family-friendly volunteer opportunities in Toronto and the GTA.
What you can do: Blue Door Shelters, a United Way partner agency, have been helping people experiencing homelessness across York Region for more than 35 years. They operate three sites: Porter Place for men, Kevin’s Place for male youth and Leeder Place for families, which includes a new program for preschool-aged children that lets them play and learn. Bellissimo volunteered there with her daughter one Christmas and says it was an eye-opening experience. “In York Region, you might think there’s lots of prosperity, but the reality is there are many teenagers living in the parks,” she explains. Volunteers can help make meals at the shelter or manage donations around the holiday season. Volunteers must be 18 or older, so this is a great place to spend some quality time with your adult children.
Where: Scarborough Town Centre, 300 Borough Dr., Scarborough; and Dufferin Mall, 900 Dufferin St., Toronto
What you can do: Epilepsy affects 0.6% of Canadians (or approximately 225,000 people), many of whom are children. Epilepsy Toronto, a United Way partner agency, offers people with epilepsy emotional support and teaches them techniques for managing this chronic condition. For the past 20 years, they have raised funds through their Gift Wrap for Epilepsy campaign, which takes place throughout December at two locations. Older kids and teenagers can have fun wrapping others’ gifts to help raise money for the cause.
How to apply: Go to the sign-up page if you’d like to get involved.
What you can do: Over the first two weekends of December, Second Harvest partners with Loblaws for their annual Turkey Drive. Customers at Loblaws locations across Toronto are encouraged to buy an extra turkey, which will be given to a person or family in need. Last year, Second Harvest collected more 5,000 birds. Kids of all ages can get involved by donning some reindeer antlers and putting their cuteness and persuasiveness to good use as they encourage shoppers to participate.
How to apply: Head on over to their website to sign up.
Where: Locations across Toronto, the GTA, Ontario and beyond
What you can do: This grassroots organization, which seeks to achieve equity by supplying marginalized menstruators with free period products, was started in Toronto and now has branches across Ontario (and Canada). The Period Purse delivers handbags filled with menstrual products and other small necessities (think wipes, washcloths, new underwear and socks, soap, gloves, chocolate and granola bars) to shelters, which in turn distribute them to their clients. The organization hosts its Packing Party twice a year, where volunteers help get the purses ready for donation. Families can pitch in, but kids must be at least five years old and accompanied by an adult.
How to apply: Fill out the volunteer form to find out when the next Packing Party will take place. Alternatively, reach out to your local chapter under the “locations” tab to express interest.
What you can do: Meals on Wheels delivers hot and cold food to seniors and people with disabilities who are housebound. The program ensures their clients eat nutritious food and get a chance to say hello to whoever drops off their meal. Deliveries happen over the lunch hour, and children of all ages are welcome to accompany adult volunteers. It takes about an hour to deliver meals to eight to 10 people, which includes dropping off food and having a brief visit at the door.
How to apply: Check out their volunteer page to apply to the Meals on Wheels closest to you.
What you can do: If you and your teen love to tinker, consider volunteering together at a Repair Cafe pop-up. This volunteer-led, Toronto-based group keeps useful products out of landfills and helps people save money at the same time by repairing everything from computers to bikes to clothing. Volunteers who aren’t yet confident in their fixer skills can sign up to be greeters or help visitors register.