East Bay volunteering with little kids?

Hi families, 

I've been looking for (COVID safe) volunteering or community engagement opportunities to bring along my (almost) 3yr old toddler - while he's a surprisingly detail oriented, worker bee (for a toddler), I've worked for years with nonprofits so I also understand that hosting families + kids is a lot of work in and of itself. However, I really want to get him used to the idea of service as early as possible and the experience of working closely with very different people is critical and especially hard these days. My work used to provide great opportunities but with COVID, all service based work is shut-down (senior centers, YMCA's, community centers) or are too busy with COVID (food banks, etc.) so I'm at a loss. I was thinking of a street or beach clean-up, perhaps small meal serving (maybe a church or community group?), other homeless supports, or donating to a family during the holidays - thoughts? I've already checked Volunteer Match (not a great fit/filter for this search), searched past BPN msgs (ahh, pre-COVID!), and prefer not SF. With COVID, WFH and limited childcare support, it's become even harder to stay engaged as a mama & a family in the community - looking for any tips or thoughts! 

Parent Replies

Parents, want to reply to this question? Sign in to post.

I've done a beach morning with my kids (4 & 2) that included doing clean-up (along with playing & snacking, of course), and that was pretty successful. Perhaps we could organize as a group to do it with more families (in a socially distant way)? We'd certainly be interested, and I can think of one or two more families with young kids that might be as well

We have sponsored a family through Brighter Beginnings every year since our eldest (now 4.5) was born. We're planning to have her help pick out gifts for the children in the family this year, and we'll all go together to drop them off at the Brighter Beginnings office. It's a little less hands-on than maybe you're looking for, but it's very kid-friendly and very safe in this weird time. Some families in our neighborhood also did a canned goods/toiletries drive last year on MLK Day and walked up and down the street with a wagon and lots of toddlers :) We flyered a few days ahead of time so people would know we were coming.

It may not be exactly what you're looking for, but my family has set up a Little Free Pantry with free food and toiletries outside our house.  Every day, my 3-year-old and I check it and restock it.  She likes to choose some things and put them in the box herself.  It sounds like you're looking for a sense of community, and admittedly there's not much interaction with the people we're helping or with other neighbors who add things to the box, but for now I think loving people from a distance is safer.  I like your idea of adopting a family for Christmas--your son could help pick out the toys.

Feel free to message me if you have questions!

One thing our family does we call "happy packs". We go shopping for things like healthy foods, warm socks, and personal care supplies. Then, at home, we assemble them into bags. Then we'll drive around to the homeless encampments where there's always someone with a sign on the street corner and (if it seems safe) let our kid hand a bag out the window to the person. We also do it with party leftovers, and sometimes would cook a meal, package it in those disposable foil containers and hand them out the same way. Not 100% Covid safe, but you can wear masks and maybe even come up with a delivery pole, or stop the car at the nearest safe spot, get out and put the bag on the ground, then point the person to the location.

You could adopt a Town Fridge - there are several throughout the city (map here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CGdHU6PBlsR/?igshid=13t4n1r882022)

Anyone can go drop things off, and it’s easy to incorporate dropping off food or checking to see if more supplies are needed into a walk around the neighborhood depending where you are. Or you can do something every time you go to the grocery store, etc. You can also get more deeply involved by filling out the volunteer form here: linktr.ee/townfridge

check out Town Fridge! ( @townfridge on instagram) If you live in Oakland, there's probably one near you -- it's an all-volunteer network of refrigerators, plugged in and running but accessible from the sidewalk, that are kept stocked by neighbors with food and drinks for anyone to take. I've brought my almost-3yo along to stock our neighborhood fridge, specifically with bottles of water during the last couple of heatwaves. It's totally decentralized, which in my opinion makes it great for preschoolers: there's no scheduled events to miss due to a poorly-timed meltdown, there's no in-person groups of people to worry about, but there is an easy-to-understand object interaction and opportunity to think about others. You could make it part of a daily or weekly walk routine. (And I like the unofficial slogan, 'solidarity not charity.')

I've also recently done distribution of hygiene kits, hot food, pet food and batteries to Oakland encampments through a group called North Oakland Mutual Aid. It was really well run and folks were glad to see us, but I don't know how well it would work to bring a kid along -- not because of worries about interactions with the people, but because it involves getting in and out of the car every few minutes to drive to a new site and I know my kid would get sick of that fast. Still, there's lot of mutual aid groups now who all need help in different ways; could be worth it to check around and see who needs what.

You might consider doing a book drive for African Library Project (www.africanlibraryproject.org). You would be collecting gently-used children's books and then sorting and packing them to send to a specific school. It's super easy to get the books in the East Bay - HalfPrice Books in Berkeley will donate as many as you can pick up and you can also spread the word to friends and neighbors. Efficiently packing the books requires sorting them by size (after first picking out which ones to send) and counting them - maybe your toddler can make stacks of 5 books that are all the same size? If you have an outdoor space you can have a few people over to pack together safely outside which would bring in a little bit of a community element!

We have been adopting a family through Brighter Beginnings for many years, which was suggested by another post.  As it turns out, this year, to keep staff and families safe, they are accepting GIFT CARDS only, so the fun and involvement of picking out gifts will be missing.  But keep it in mind for next year!