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Volunteer and Contribute in San Francisco

Volunteering at Charity and Non-Profit Organizations


Holidays time is the season of charity and volunteering--a fact reinforced by the surge in A Christmas Carol shows and Salvation Army bell-ringers. If you’re reading this, it’s probably November or December, and you’re thinking of helping at a San Francisco nonprofit, perhaps a food bank or soup kitchen. Below, you’ll find information on how to volunteer in the San Francisco Bay Area at organizations like the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks, San Francisco SPCA and Glide Memorial.

But San Francisco nonprofits need more than Thanksgiving and Christmas volunteers. They depend on individuals, corporate staffs, and school, neighborhood, social and other groups to pitch in year-round and serve meals, as well as tutor, type, garden, drive, play basketball and do myriad other things. So this guide also contains info about helping any time of year, skills and services that are needed, one-time volunteering and longer commitments. And if you can’t give sweat equity, you can contribute by going to happy hours or buying charitable gifts.

Entities that help many diverse causes or programs are listed first, followed by some individual Bay Area organizations.

Bay Area Volunteer Information Center

A volunteer worker at the San Francisco Food Bank reaches for canned foods as he stocks shelves June 23, 2008 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Bay Area Volunteer Information Center contains a comprehensive, searchable list of organizations seeking volunteers, such as Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, San Francisco Architectural Heritage, Tibetan Aid Project and the Institute on Aging.

Changing the Present

What do you give to someone who has everything? Instead of flowers, T-shirts, sweaters or other stuff, give friends memberships to nonprofit organizations, adopt a sea otter on your sister’s behalf or buy computers for a rural school in your college buddy’s name. Changing the Present has a slew of ideas for charitable gifts.

Drink for a Cause

Add meaning to your happy hours: Go to those organized by Drink for a Cause, held throughout the year. Part of the proceeds of each happy hour goes to a designated nonprofit or community service group.

HandsOn Bay Area

HandsOn Bay Area makes volunteering easy and flexible. About 80 service projects per month are listed, and volunteers can register to help with any or all of them.

The wide-ranging projects throughout the Bay Area include teaching kids about health and nutrition; shooting hoops with disabled people; gardening and planting at San Francisco Botanical Garden and Half Moon Bay State Beach; and shopping and cooking for low-income families at Ronald McDonald House, whose children are severely ill. During the holidays, several nonprofits also need help sorting and distributing contributions to their toy, food and clothing drives.

HandsOn Bay Area is part of the international organization HandsOn Network.

The Volunteer Center

Covering San Francisco and San Mateo counties, the Volunteer Center, like HandsOn Bay Area, lists projects that need volunteers--to do everything from tutoring students to building homes with Habitat for Humanity. The center hosts The Board Match, an annual session in which more than 120 Bay Area nonprofits hob-nob with people interested in sitting on their boards of directors. During the holiday season, volunteers can help with toy and gift drives and at food pantries and holiday events.

The center was founded in the 1940s by the Junior League of San Francisco.


San Francisco-based VolunteerMatch is another service that connects volunteers with good causes nationwide.

Food Runners

Food Runners picks up extra food from restaurants, grocery stores, caterers, hotels and bakeries and delivers it directly to shelters, soup kitchens and food programs. Volunteers can do regularly scheduled or on-call deliveries, or work the organization's phones or computers.


Glide serves poor and marginalized people living in the Tenderloin and elsewhere. Holiday volunteering in 2013 includes sorting and giving out toys (on Dec. 16-21), packing and distributing bags of groceries (on Dec. 18), and preparing and serving meals for Thanksgiving (Nov. 27-29) and Christmas (Dec. 24-26). These holiday shifts typically fill up fast.

Glide also needs people to serve three meals on all other days of the year. If you’re interested in volunteering in other areas--such as mentoring, counseling, event planning, office work, singing, sales or gardening--you’ll attend an info session and be interviewed.


Located in Japantown, Kimochi offers multiple services for seniors, primarily Japanese Americans.

Volunteers can assist with the winter fundraising Silver Bells Arts & Crafts Faire, which features jewelry, gifts and other items made by Asian and Pacific Islander artisans; in 2013, the fair is on Dec. 14. Throughout the year, volunteers are needed to serve meals in the dining room, deliver meals to homes, accompany seniors on outings, help during Bingo and activities sessions, and do repairs, gardening and office work.

Larkin Street Youth Services

One-time or short-term volunteers typically help with development, finance or human resources work, or host or help sponsor a fundraising event. Ongoing volunteers, after completing information and training sessions, counsel youths, prepare food, or do administrative projects or outreach to street kids.

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