Most people would be forgiven for assuming that volunteering while travelling means a relatively long-term time commitment, or that you need to pay to volunteer. Well, think again! I spent a day volunteering in New York City, for a few hours at a time with four different organisations. How? New York Cares has partnered with 1,350 not-for-profits, public schools, and city agencies to offer residents and visitors free, short-term volunteering in New York City. Here is my day of caring to show you just how easy it is!
9.30-12 am: Pantry Preparation at Church of the Village
Each Tuesday, Church of the Village in the West Village provides groceries for those in need who have access to a kitchen, as well as food bags for those living on the streets. Volunteers are divided into two shifts, with the first helping receive food deliveries and preparing the food, and the second shift serving the clients directly.
The food is donated from food banks, City Harvest, and even generous individuals, and it is then sorted and divided up into portions for the clients. I worked alongside other foreigners, locals, students and retirees as we unpacked boxes of groceries and vegetables. During my shift, we unpacked and sorted boxes of salad dressing, cereal, pasta, rice, juice, milk, vegetables, and salad… including more broccoli than I’ve ever seen before!
It was hard but rewarding work that had a strong community feel. Many of the volunteers come each week and we were all able to talk as we worked. While the number of clients served differs week to week, my particular shift served grocery bags to 208 clients – how incredible is that?!
1-2pm: Resume Preparation with the Center for Employment Opportunities
The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), offers employment services and support for people who have been recently incarcerated or with criminal records. Over the last decade, they have helped 17,000 people find full-time employment.
I signed up to spend an hour doing one-on-one resume preparation, however, volunteering is all about flexibility! My partner already had a resume prepared so we spent an hour on interview practice instead. We went through previous interviews he had been to, noting down questions that had been asked and tips for making sure your answers mention key phrases and words.
This is a great volunteering activity for anyone to help with we have all gone through the job application process and know what employers are looking out for. If you work in the Financial District, you can even do it over your lunch break!
3.30-4.30pm: Summer Science with the Educational Alliance After School Program
I have to admit that this was the volunteering activity that I was the most nervous about. I haven’t studied science since school and it definitely wasn’t a subject I was particularly good at or enjoyed!
Luckily, the kids were great and the science project was easy to follow. We each were partnered with a student and then we worked together to make catapults out of popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and a spoon. We talked together about which type of catapult we thought would launch the furthest and why and then went into the hall to try them out!
It was great fun watching the kids get excited about science and testing their hypotheses. I was disappointed when it came to an end, especially when my partner said he was excited to see me again next week but I would have left NYC by then!
This is a fun activity, but I was a bit put off by the fact that the organisation let people volunteer with the kids without a police check or clearance (which I already have from my time volunteering at a rescue shelter in Guatemala City). These sorts of checks and requirements are the responsibility of the individual organisations rather than New York Cares, but I feel that this is an area that could definitely be improved.
6-7.30pm: Train with Achilles International
Achilles International is a global organisation that meets in gyms, parks and tracks all over the world. I met up with the NYC Chapter in Central Park and was amazed and how strong their community is. It was by far my favourite activity of the day and I encourage everyone to check out their local chapter.
Able-bodied volunteers and disabled runners are matched together based on their speed and ability. Just because the runners may be disabled doesn’t mean that they aren’t fast! A group of runners even participated at the last NYC marathon!
My sister and I were matched up with Barbara, a blind lady who has been part of the Achilles community for some time. As it was so hot, we decided that we would walk around the Reservoir rather than running around and we had the best time! We had similar interests (mainly food), and we chatted about restaurants and travel while we walked.
Everyone we met at this event was friendly and welcoming. If you are only visiting NYC for a short time, volunteering with Achilles will give you a connection with a local that you would otherwise miss out on. Do you live in NYC? I guarantee that if you join these guys once that you will be back again the next week!
Great, I’ve convinced you! What next?
Signing up with New York Cares is an easy process. You fill out their application form online and then attend one of their induction sessions. If you are only visiting NYC for a short time, you are able to complete this easily online. Next, you just check out the hundreds of volunteering opportunities available and register for the event that matches your skills, interests, and schedule. Too easy!
Are you interested in reading more real-life volunteer stories? Check out the Grassroots Nomad monthly ethical volunteering series for more!