“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Gandhi’s words made me aware that I can create the world I want to live in, moment by moment, choice by choice, from the instant I wake up to closing my eyes before falling asleep. I want to live in a community where everyone has yummy food, cozy shelter, and lots of love, connection, and safety. I’m sure you want the same.
Volunteering is a great way to take action and embody your highest desires for your community. By being there for others, you’ll also be showing up for yourself. I’m in close contact with many Asheville volunteers, and I’ve heard them say, “I just couldn’t keep watching the news and being upset about what’s going on. I wanted to do something, and supporting a neighbor is a great place to start.” Getting upset and complaining doesn’t transform anything except your mood.
While we might not be able to solve all the planet’s problems today, there is a lot we can do right this minute just by acknowledging that everything we do has an impact and creates a ripple effect that can transform people, families, communities, and yes, ultimately the entire world.
Volunteering is a win-win situation. It increases social health and impacts your personal and emotional health, adding vitality, connection, and a sense of purpose. You’ll give so much more than your time or skills – you’ll share your unique love and get so much love in return!
Fortunately, Asheville has many nonprofits that do fantastic work year-round. We have a comprehensive offering that goes from caring for elders and providing shelter to unhoused folks, supplying diapers to families, and supporting adults who can’t read.
I’ve compiled a list of one-time Asheville volunteer opportunities you can do during Thanksgiving and Christmas (some of them with your kids!) and some long-term, ongoing ones that can be part of your New Year’s resolutions – because being the change you want to see in the world is a continuing process.
I’ve tried highlighting some lesser-known local nonprofits and leaving the national ones out – they do great work, but everyone knows them! Of course, donations to nonprofits are always welcome, in place or in addition to sharing your time.
I couldn’t include all the Asheville volunteer opportunities in this list – there are so many! Please make sure you check the fantastic platforms VolunteerMatch and Hands On Asheville (United Way’s Volunteer Center) in October, November, and December to find more seasonal chances to give back.
My advice as a volunteer and recruiter: Find the right volunteering opportunity for you by choosing a cause that makes your heart sing and makes you happy. Joy is the mother of all positive change!
Finally, if you or someone you know needs immediate assistance, please call United Way’s 211, and they’ll connect you with the best available resources.
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase or booking through one of our links we may earn a small commission (don’t worry, it’s at no extra cost to you).
Holiday Volunteering Opportunities in Asheville
1. Help Provide 1,000 Meals a Week with Downtown Welcome Table
The Downtown Welcome Table of Haywood Street Congregation is where I volunteer regularly and a place that brings my level of joy and love for life (which is already high) to the highest point. This ministry provides 1,000 meals to 500+ people a week. You’ll love being part of an amazing community where everyone is welcomed, respected, and loved for who they are.
Even though I adore the ceramic plates, the tables decorated with fresh flowers and candles, the ever-changing menu, and the abundance of food, my favorite part is their motto: “Connection above everything else.”
This Asheville volunteer opportunity requires special efforts during Thanksgiving and Christmas, including assisting in cooking “Miss Mary’s Meatloaf” in November (fantastic fundraising!) and hosting a cozy Christmas meal full of surprises. This is an excellent opportunity for families with kids to volunteer. Even the younger ones will love helping with small tasks!
You can volunteer in the kitchen preparing and cooking food, serving tables in the main room (this is what I do), cleaning up after meals, or working in the garden. They call their volunteers “companions” and offer regular orientations, although you’re welcome to go on a Wednesday or a Sunday (when they serve meals) and see what it’s all about. Check out their ministries and volunteer opportunities here.
2. Help Increase Social Health by Collaborating with Seek Healing
The last months of the year and the holidays are wonderful times to reconnect with friends and family, travel, and honor traditions. But this season, and the experiences that come with it, can also create lots of stress and cause emotional triggers to some folks.
Seek Healing is a terrific organization (I’ve done this awesome Asheville volunteer gig, too) that “makes opportunities for human connection universally accessible in order to improve social health in local communities and reduce deaths of despair.”
The first step is to take the Listening Training that will give you tools to do your volunteer work and deal with your personal life issues in a healthier, more compassionate way. It’s a truly transformative experience that I’ll cherish forever. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the last training day will be unforgettable!
I loved their emphasis on how this is a “give and receive” experience because volunteering opportunities often remark only the giving part of it. You can do the training and the volunteering in person or remotely. It’s super rewarding!
3. Volunteer at Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum
Winter Lights is one of the most beloved Asheville holiday traditions, with hundreds of local families visiting it annually. This open-air walk-through show features over one million lights from November to January. It includes hot chocolate and marshmallows, live music, local beer, a fun gift shop, and… it needs volunteers!
You’ll love dressing up in your best holiday outfits and being part of such a celebration! Imagine being the happy face who greets the fire pit attendants where Santa himself will roast marshmallows or the operator of a G-scale holiday train. (Oh gosh, I might have to sign up for this sometime!)
Volunteers must be 18 or older, and those who complete three shifts will receive a complimentary ticket to enjoy the festival with their loved ones. (You can also gift that ticket to someone else.) Click here to learn more about this joyful way to volunteer in Asheville.
4. Join Jewish Family Services to Deliver Meals on Holidays
The Jewish Family Services Elder Club Group Respite Program allows isolated seniors to socialize while providing respite for their caregivers. They host ongoing organized activities that require the loving presence of volunteers and offer special opportunities during the Jewish holidays, delivering flowers and meals to elders living in nursing homes on Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, and Passover. (You can include the kids!)
Jewish Family Services welcomes everyone who wants to gift their time and energy to help them fulfill their mission “to enrich the lives of our clients by providing a broad array of clinical and social support services to adults of all faiths, with special emphasis on the older adults.”
Besides their seasonal volunteer opportunities, they offer ongoing chances to collaborate with their community by serving meals, hosting cultural, fitness, and artistic activities, or simply listening to the stories of the elders (some of them with dementia) who participate in these activities to leave their homes and have a chance to socialize and connect. Check out their volunteer options here.
5. Volunteer to Make the Asheville Holiday Parade a Success
The Asheville Holiday Parade occurs annually on the third Saturday of November at 11:00 am on Biltmore and Patton avenues. This is a very fun way to welcome the holiday season. While it may seem like the parade runs smoothly on its own, it takes the work of 100 volunteers to make it happen!
The Asheville Downtown Association offers volunteer perks like free T-shirts, beverage tokens to use after shifts, and a fantastic Volunteer Appreciation Party held in January with local food and beers.
But, of course, the biggest reward will be watching those little cold noses smile when Santa and Mrs. Claus make their grand entrance. The parade features 75 to 100 entries, including marching bands, dance teams, youth sports, churches, and local nonprofits and businesses.
Other activities around downtown after the parade include bouncy houses in Pack Square and the Grove Arcade’s kickstart of its holiday season, with a Christmas tree competition, festive decorations, and events for the family, including free photos with Santa. Sign up for this Asheville volunteer opportunity.
6. Support Women with ABCCM Transformation Village
ABCCM Transformation Village provides up to 100 transitional housing beds and emergency shelter beds for homeless women, mothers with children, and veterans. Eight out of 10 women leave the village with a living wage job and permanent housing.
The best news? You can be part of their success! Although this is a religious organization, everyone is welcome to lend a hand.
They need volunteers to prepare and serve meals to their residents for lunch and dinner daily, including weekends. You can cook in their commercial kitchen and interact with their active community or team up with friends or family to cook meals at home and bring them to the village. This Asheville volunteer opportunity is even more meaningful (and cheerful!) during the holidays centered around food and community!
There are other ways you can volunteer with the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, including working at prisons, supporting veterans, and those walking their path to recovery from addiction. You can check out all the volunteer opportunities here.
7. Help End Chronic Homelessness with Homeward Bound WNC
The causes of homelessness are diverse and complex. While the solution is not easy and has many different aspects to be addressed, you can do something now to alleviate the living conditions of our unhoused neighbors.
Homeward Bound WNC is one of the many Asheville nonprofits working with this population (some others address food insecurity, healthcare, clinics for their pets, harm reduction, etc.), focusing on providing safe, equipped housing. Nothing screams holidays louder than a cozy, warm house, and you could be the one to help make it happen for a neighbor!
They have four volunteer opportunities. AHOPE is the only day center for unhoused people in the area, offering showers, coffee, mail services, and storage. It serves 172 people a day! Boy, they need the help of volunteers.
You can also work at the Welcome Home Donation Center, which receives, organizes, and distributes donated furniture and household items to people transitioning from homelessness to housing. This work is critical because “creating a furnished home is key to Homeward Bound’s 92% retention rate.”
Finally, you can do administrative work at their offices or organize a donation drive. Please call them first to know what items they need and accept. Sign up to volunteer.
8. Work with Eblen Charities’ Saint Nicholas Project
While magical creatures might be helping us from other realms, humans who support and love each other do the real magic that transforms the world. The Eblen Charities Saint Nicholas Project allows all families to have an abundant Christmas despite their financial circumstances. People can sign up at the beginning of November to receive Christmas toys, clothing, and stuff for teens.
Eblen Charities’ mission is “to assist families and individuals in our community during times of crisis and hardship whether medical, financial, or an emergency need.” They do terrific work in our community!
The Saint Nicholas Project needs volunteers to collect the toys at the Smokey Mountain Toy Run (the oldest toy run in North Carolina) and the Ingles Magical Toy Drive and to work at the store where families will pick them up.
Spanish is my first language, and I volunteered once to call Latino parents who don’t speak English so I could write their “letters to Santa” for them. When the toys were ready to be picked up, I’d let them know. I’m not a Christmas person, but I’m all about magic, and being Santa’s helper was a super rewarding experience! Sign up to volunteer.
9. Cook Farm-to-Table Meals with Equal Plates Project
Equal Plates Project is another fabulous Asheville nonprofit addressing food insecurity. It started in 2020 due to the pandemic, has distributed over 135,000 meals in 2020 and 2021, and aims to 150,000 in the 2022/2023 school year! Its mission is “to connect WNC’s agricultural communities with our neighbors who need access to fresh, locally-grown, nutritious meals.”
Their meal partners include schools and organizations like the AHOPE Center described above, 12 Baskets Cafe (another great nonprofit offering free donated food and an awesome place to hang out), and the Buncombe Council of Aging.
I recently met some of their volunteers at an event, and I loved their passion for being part of this project. I also tried some of the food, and it was delicious! Too bad I don’t enjoy cooking much, but if you do, this Asheville volunteer opportunity is for you. They offer Thanksgiving cooking opportunities. You can sign up here.
10. Deliver Food with the Council on Aging of Buncombe County
The Council on Aging of Buncombe County‘s mission is “to promote the independence, dignity, and well-being of adults through service, education, and advocacy.” They have different programs that truly make a massive difference in the lives of local seniors. Plus, hanging out with seniors is so much fun and so rewarding. I’ve done it, and believe me, you will learn the most valuable life lessons from them.
They offer many volunteer opportunities in Asheville, including teaching neighbors new skills, helping them navigate the Affordable Care Act, providing rides, doing office work, and delivering groceries and meals.
They need special assistance to deliver food to seniors during the holidays. You can check out all their volunteer opportunities and sign up for them here.
11. Become Part of the Greatest Support System with BeLoved Asheville
BeLoved Asheville “brings people together to put love into action every day.” This simple yet bald statement translates into an amazing community of people from all walks of life who work together to create solutions to some of the toughest challenges, including homelessness, food insecurity, and inequity. BeLoved has no paid staff and relies on the work of volunteers and donations.
They have created many wonderful projects, including BeLoved Village, a village of 12 micro-homes built by volunteers with donated materials, destined to host people who can’t otherwise afford a home.
Street Medic Outreach is a team of “first, first responders” paramedics (some of whom have experienced homelessness in the past) who provide first aid on the streets and offer food, warm clothing in the winter, relief on hot days, and several clinics throughout the year.
I love this statement from their Facebook page: “We believe in the perspective that we gain when we know that we are loved and we see others as equally loved. That is the knowledge of our belovedness. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. calls the place where there is no longer the oppressed and the oppressor, but each is reconciled to the other – “the beloved community.”
Please take some time to explore all their amazing projects here and decide where and how you want to volunteer this holiday season and beyond.
12. Pack Diapers with Babies Need Bottoms
Babies Need Bottoms was founded by two young moms (now Co-Executive Directors) who acknowledged the diaper need in our area (nationally, nearly 1 in 2 families struggle to afford enough diapers). Their mission is “to improve the lives of babies, toddlers, and parents in Western North Carolina through diaper distribution, community awareness, and partnerships.”
They don’t give diapers directly to families but distribute them (along with diapering supplies) through a partnership with over 50 community-based organizations in Western North Carolina.
Babies Need Bottoms couldn’t do that vital work without the participation of volunteers. Some of their opportunities include at-home diapers, in-person diaper wrapping, delivery truck unloading, hosting diaper drives, and serving as a board member. They welcome kids and youth (an adult must accompany a child under 12).
This is a perfect opportunity to give back over the holidays and introduce your little ones to volunteering. If you can’t volunteer, please donate diapers, diaper supplies, or money to this wonderful organization.
13. Help Improve Literacy Skills with Literacy Together
Literacy Together is listed as VolunteerMatch’s No. 1 Asheville nonprofit and aims to transform lives and communities through the power of literacy. With 1 in 10 Buncombe County adults reading below the 3rd-grade level, Asheville City Schools having the fifth-largest race-based achievement gap in the country (yep, you read that right), and hundreds of immigrants and refugees waiting to learn English, their services are much needed in our community.
They work with over 350 kids and adults in Buncombe County, and all their teachers are volunteers. There are three volunteer tutoring opportunities. The Youth Literacy Program works at several Asheville after-school programs primarily serving children of color. The Adult Literacy Program supports adults whose native language is English to improve their literacy skills and offers classes to prepare them for the GED tests.
The English for Speakers of Other Languages is their most extensive program, serving about 250 students, and it has a waiting list of 100 students who have been waiting months for a tutor. Tutors can work in person or remotely and don’t need to speak the student’s language.
Literacy does change lives. People with better literacy skills have better jobs and can support their families without struggling. There is a clear correlation between low literacy and poverty, and this nonprofit’s work helps break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.