Jonathan Woods was only 12 years old when he had the idea to start a non-profit. In 2006, he volunteered to buy Christmas gifts for a 5-year-old as part of a toy drive at his school. But he realized that low-income children his age were left out. So he started the Under the Tree Foundation, which continues to provide Christmas gifts to teens in need in his community.


Today’s teens are ready and eager to serve. Not only are they helping those in need, but they come away better than they were before; service builds higher self-esteem, develops leadership and communication skills, improves performance in school, and strengthens resumes for college applications. And there are plenty of ways for teens to get involved besides serving in a soup kitchen (which already have more volunteers than they need). You can make kits for people in need, give to hospitals, organize a donation drive or fundraiser, or donate meals to your local Circles program.


Make kits

From refugee centers to domestic violence shelters, many charities take kit donations for people in need. Get your young men and women’s groups together to raise money or collect donations for simple kits. There are a variety of kits you can choose from that meet specific, everyday needs:

  • Hygiene kits—These kits could go to people in your community, like those in homeless or domestic violence shelters, or even overseas. Hygiene kits include a brush or comb, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and hand towel or washcloth.
  • Kits for refugees—Refugees are in need of the basics, and welcome kits typically include bedding, hygiene products, and other such necessities.
  • School kits—A box of pencils, a notebook, a sharpener, and a book bag can make all the difference for low-income children on their first day of school.
  • Kids’ nutrition packs—Food banks and other charities partner with schools to hand out packs for low-income children every week. Each backpack contains food they can prepare themselves.

These kits don’t contain expensive items, and they’re easy to put together. Sometimes the most important things are those you use every day without thinking about them; these items can be indispensable to someone in need. Just be sure to check with your organization of choice before beginning a project, to ensure you are meeting their current needs.


Give to hospitals

Being admitted to a hospital can be a traumatic experience for a child. Most hospitals take donations that help calm kids’ nerves. For lovers of DIY projects, this can be a great way to donate items with a personal touch, like the following:

  • Fleece blankets—These are easy to make, but can comfort children. Patterns are easy to find online and require no sewing.
  • Medical play dolls—These help specialists explain medical procedures to children. The doll and gown require sewing.

Before making dolls or blankets, call or check online to make sure that’s what the hospital needs. There’s almost always a service opportunity for teens at a local hospital.


Run a drive

Organizing a donation drive or fundraiser is anexcellent way to get teens involved in service. Choose a local charity and find out what they need, and put your teens to work. Certain items are always in demand:

  • Diapers—Your local food bank, as well as homeless and domestic violence shelters, always need more diapers.
  • Laundry detergent—The food bank and local shelters need cleaning supplies like laundry detergent that are often overlooked.
  • Toys—Most communities have a center where police and attorneys interview abused children. These places usually need new teddy bears and toys. Also, many police departments have officers who give stuffed animals to comfort children after an accident or crime. These toys must be new.

Before starting any drive or fundraiser, call the charity or organization and find out what its needs are. A fundraiser or donation drive allows teens to collect for people in need, and deliver the goods to the people and places that need them.

Donate a meal

The food bank isn’t the only organization that takes food donations. Circles, a program that helps families end the cycle of poverty, needs nine meal donations each week.. In the program, low-income families are paired with volunteer mentors and learn new life skills. They have weekly dinner support groups for the whole family. They need:

  • Prepared meal for a group (the size depends on the date and location)
  • Paper products and plastic utensils
  • Drinks

Check out to find a local Circles program. Volunteering to provide meals for this community-focused program is a positive service opportunity for teens.


Start volunteering

When you serve others, you come away all the better for it. Service to others reduces stress, makes people healthier, improves school performance, and increases self-esteem. The food bank kitchen is the obvious choice for a teen service project, but there are other opportunities in your community. Make kits for people in need, give to hospitals, organize a fundraiser or donation drive, or donate meals to the local Circles program. Find a project, and get your young men and women’s groups involved in serving.