The Best Volunteer Opportunities in San Francisco, California

The St Anthony Foundation provides clothes and food to those in need in San Francisco
The St Anthony Foundation provides clothes and food to those in need in San Francisco | © REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Samantha Simonich
30 March 2021

Heavenly it may be but, for some, the San Francisco Bay Area can be a hell of a lot tougher. However, help is at hand in this beautifully diverse city, and whether you live here or are just visiting, you can make things sunnier in the Golden Gate City by lending a hand to local non-profit groups. Your kindness will not go unnoticed when you volunteer with these humble, honest organizations.

Musicians On Call

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If you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity that rocks, Musicians On Call is playing your tune. This harmonious organization brings live and recorded music to the bedsides of patients who are facing all manner of challenging health issues. Musicians of all talents are encouraged to volunteer and play for those who are hospital-bound. Anyone who wants to get involved but doesn’t play an instrument can volunteer as a guide, serving as a liaison between patients and musicians.

Shanti Project

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This special project cultivates compassion to help eliminate the isolation San Francisco’s at-risk populations face. It accepts both single and group volunteers to care for those who have life-altering or life-threatening conditions. Solo Good Samaritans can work one-on-one with adults as peer-support volunteers, including providing PAWS pet assistance services to the pets of ageing adults. Those who want their whole crew to join can help organize one of two annual events, help create holiday gift bags for the afflicted or even participate in group dog washes.

Community Forward SF

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For nearly half a century, Community Forward SF has extended kindness and empathy to those who are homeless in the Bay Area. Not only does the organization feed and clothe them, but it also puts them on a path to permanent housing and self-sufficiency. Volunteers can assist the many programs by lending a hand in their facilities and, most importantly, making sure every San Francisco resident seeking help feels cared for, seen and respected.

Sprouts Cooking Club

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Sprouts Cooking Club works hard to prepare the next wave of culinary creatives. It provides hands-on training programs for underprivileged youth to encourage their passion for cooking and eventually secure employment in the restaurant industry. Volunteers can lend a hand in cooking classes for children, helping individuals as young as seven hone their talents in the kitchen, express their creativity and learn a valuable skill set that will see them through life.

Nature in the City

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As the name suggests, Nature in the City is an environmental organization that looks after San Francisco’s original locals – it aims to connect the city with its natural roots by conserving local habitats. It hosts multiple monthly meet-ups at places like Alemany Farm and Palou Phelps Park that volunteers help restore. From pulling up invasive weeds to creating bird sanctuaries for migration routes, Nature in the City welcomes anyone who wants to help make San Francisco a happy habitat for flora, fauna and folks alike.

St Anthony Foundation

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From its base in the Tenderloin, the St Anthony Foundation keeps the neighborhood spirits up with daily hot meals and clothing donations to those in need. As a volunteer you can assist by sorting through clothes or serving in the dining room and interacting with community members. The dining room is a warm, welcoming environment, and the opportunity to share a meal with and listen to the amazing stories of those around you is an unparalleled experience.

The San Francisco Surfrider Foundation

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The San Francisco chapter of the Surfrider Foundation seeks to preserve the ocean and beaches by raising awareness of pollution. Every first and third Sunday of the month, the foundation organizes beach cleanups at Ocean Beach, while every last Sunday, there is a similar session at Baker Beach. No advanced registration is required to participate; all you have to do is roll up armed with a positive attitude and be ready to get a bit wet and windswept in the battle to make sure the coast is clear.

Outside Lands

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Volunteering at Outside Lands music festival – October 29-31 in 2021 – in Golden Gate Park is an excellent opportunity for anyone but especially for music lovers. Pledging 12 hours of your time to help with operations can net you a one-day general admission ticket. There are two ways to get involved. You can sign up to be a general volunteer, which means you’ll be responsible for anything from handing out flyers to liaising with sponsors. Alternatively, you can join forces with the team at Clean Vibes – event waste and recycling services – and help stop thousands of pounds of trash discarded by carousers from ending up in the landfill.

Project Open Hand

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Project Open Hand prepares and dispatches 2,500 meals around San Francisco every day. It makes runs to senior citizens and those combating illness and isolation. As a volunteer, you’ll have the opportunity to prepare dishes, sort and package food items in the warehouse, get deliveries out to those in need and serve lunch to seniors on a weekly basis. There are also opportunities to participate in special events throughout the year.

Ronald McDonald House of San Francisco

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Since it opened in 1989, the Ronald McDonald House of San Francisco has created a supportive, safe, home-away-from-home space for the families of critically ill children receiving treatment at a nearby hospital. As a volunteer, you have all kinds of options, including cooking and serving food to the families via the megaBITES program.

Friends of the Urban Forest

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Dedicating themselves to the upkeep of San Francisco’s green infrastructure, Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) plants and cares for trees and sidewalk gardens to keep the city beautiful and the air clean. The organization and its volunteers have planted more than 60,000 trees since first putting shovel to soil in March 1981. You can volunteer for a single day or take part regularly. You can also join one of the free walking and bicycling tours of the city’s trees, parks and natural spaces, arranged by FUF to show off the beautiful fruits of their labor.

Special Olympics

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The Special Olympics program has become one of the most successful sports organizations worldwide, providing many opportunities for volunteers, including in San Francisco. It facilitates participation in sporting events for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Anyone aged 14 or older can become involved with coaching, managing games and events, fundraising and much more. It’s a great opportunity to give back to the community and make some incredible new friends in the process.

Nick Dauk contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on March 30, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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