Mayor Ron Nirenberg said it best: the pandemic laid bare the inequities that existed in San Antonio and communities around the world. Volunteering as a family—and showing your children how they can make a difference—is more important now than ever. One picture from the talented team at the San Antonio Express-News went viral. And honestly, it’s not something any of us should be proud of: long lines of fellow San Antonians, waiting for hours in their cars at a San Antonio Food Bank distribution.
All these months later, it still shakes me. Ironically, we saw the picture as we were eating dinner, our pantry and refrigerator fully stocked.
We’d always talked about the importance of giving back and sharing what we have. But the pandemic made it a priority: what could our family do to put some good into the world?
Our answer has been to donate where we can and make volunteering as a family a priority. While the world was shut down, most volunteer activities were closed. As opportunities re-open, volunteering together has become one of the ways we spend our free time.
It’s opened the door to conversations about needs in our community, why those needs exist, and most importantly, why we have to work together to address them. After all, as Doctor Seuss said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
If you want to jump in and give back by volunteering as a family—or have your older kids do some volunteering on their own—check out some of our earlier suggestions (including holiday opportunities that open annually) and see which of these volunteer opportunities for families might be a fit for your crew:
San Antonio’s no-kill shelter for abandoned, abused, or neglected dogs and cats is restarting its Pet Champions program for children in August. The program has a $30 fee which includes a t-shirt, newsletter, and monthly meetings, as well as education programs and the opportunity to assist at the shelter in select activities such as reading to cats and puppy playtime. Children can do some volunteer opportunities with adults along, so volunteering as a family is also an option.
We’re avid readers who have books everywhere. The idea that a child can’t spend an afternoon reading because they don’t have their own books? That crushed my little book lover’s heart. For his birthday, he raised funds and collected books for the San Antonio Independent School District Foundation’s Book Buddies program. Helping sort books has become part of our regular schedule, and yes, if you have books your kids no longer read, you can donate them to Book Buddies. They need books for grades K–2, 3–5, and 6–8. Bilingual books are always popular. Two-hour shifts are on Saturdays and there’s no age limit, but children need to be able to work in a warehouse environment safely. (I’d suggest Book Buddies for anyone ages eight and up—and I’d say that about most warehouse volunteering. Kids need to be able to understand what they’re doing and pitch in to help.)
In Bexar County, one in four children doesn’t know where they will find their next meal. The San Antonio Food Bank has quickly grown to serve 58,000 individuals a week in one of the largest service areas in Southwest Texas. COVID has made the need larger, and families who have never needed help before are turning to the Food Bank for assistance—and 35-percent of the Food Bank’s clients are children. You can host a drive to donate food and you can volunteer in San Antonio or New Braunfels. Yes, New Braunfels. The Food Bank serves a 16-county area and has a warehouse and garden in New Braunfels. Children are welcome but must be with adults. Shifts are available weekdays and weekends, doing everything from working in the garden to the warehouse, sorting and packing donations.
Did you know that one in three families doesn’t have access to an adequate supply of diapers? The Texas Diaper Bank has been working since 2013 to change the lives of babies, children with disabilities, and seniors in the San Antonio area and 12 surrounding counties. They are always happy to accept donations (This is where you can take those extra diapers when your little grows from one size to the next overnight.) and they need feminine hygiene supplies and adult diapers as well. Volunteers help sort and organize donations to get them ready for distribution. You can sign up to sort and repackage diapers at their warehouse.
This is an opportunity you can take on with other families, your church group, your scouting group, or your neighborhood, and you can bond while helping keep San Antonio clean. Adopt-A-Spot allows you to sign up and care for a certain area, helping keep City-owned rights-of-way, street medians, drainage channels, and green spaces clear. Check out the map to see which areas near you could use some TLC. The requirements and guidelines outline trash pickup and beautification efforts you can do. And yes, even the littlest littles can help pick up trash (even when they don’t want to clean their room)! See how Alamo City Moms helps maintain the area around Yanaguana Garden at Hemisfair.
Along the same lines but only a one-day commitment, Basura Bash is the largest one-day effort to clean up waterways in Texas—and it’s right here in San Antonio. It’s also the only event that collects recyclables, and to date, volunteers have picked up 31.02 tons of recyclables. Paused due to COVID in 2020 and 2021, the annual bash is tentatively set to return on February 19, 2022. You can choose the tributary where you’d like to volunteer (and be impressed at the number of creeks that help make San Antonio so beautiful). Volunteer as a family—and bring friends along!
Ages 14–18 can volunteer with the San Antonio Public Library through the Teens at San Antonio Public Library program. It’s an online program, so kids can volunteer on their own time/schedule, creating content for the library.
The Witte offers a program for Junior Volunteers (ages 16–17) to assist the museum’s education staff during spring break and summer camps, as well as throughout the school year.
Know of any other San Antonio volunteer opportunities? Share them in the comments so we can join in.