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It doesn’t have to be the season of giving or a special event to find a way to give back to your community. New Jersey state, population nine million, has hundreds of volunteer opportunities and organizations, big and small, that work to help the populations most in need in your backyard. From soup kitchens to homeless shelters to legal aid, and more, there are so many ways to get involved and be the change in your community. Check out our favorite organizations to volunteer in New Jersey for some inspiration.
1. Franciscan Charities, Newark
Franciscan Charities opened in 2004 in a then abandoned St Ann’s Church in Newark to provide hot meals and shelter to some of the city’s homeless population. Since then, the group of volunteers has grown into a full-time organization out of the church in the city’s West Ward running several different main operations. Franciscan Kitchens is comprised of a soup kitchen out of St Ann’s Church, feeding over 100,000 people a year, as well as a food pantry at St Rocco’s Church to provide groceries to families in need. The Angel Network sends emails requesting certain items, such as clothes, diapers, or an old mattress, to a list of “angels” to buy or donate these items for those in need. Angel Network drop-offs are located in Watchung, Chester, Summit, Howell, and Newark.
2. Eva’s Village, Paterson
Eva’s Village has been ranked as one of the number one charities in the United States. Based in Paterson, NJ outside New York City, their mission states that they aim to “provide care and support for people who are struggling with poverty, hunger, homelessness, and addiction” through recovery programs, medical services, dental clinics, community kitchens, emergency shelters, apartment housing, job training including culinary school, and childcare, and more. Volunteers with Eva’s Village can help by washing plates or serving meals in the Community Kitchen, serving as a mentor in the job training programs, or those with special skills can volunteer their professional skills in medical services, or in leading recovery programs. All volunteers will go through training before beginning and must be 15 or older.
3. HomeFront, Trenton
New Jersey’s state capital has more than a quarter of the population living in poverty. Rates of homelessness are high and much of the city is in need of assistance. Groups like HomeFront work to end homelessness and alleviate poverty in Trenton and the central Jersey region. The organization has a number of programs in place to help local families, including prevention and emergency help by “intervening” before a family becomes homeless, providing emergency relief funds, and addressing the root causes of homelessness and cycles of poverty. The Family Preservation Center provides emergency shelter for families, as well as free childcare for the children. Children’s programs at the center help the kids with after-school programs, trips, tutoring, and more, while the ArtSpace provides an artistic outlet for all those in HomeFront programs. HomeFront also provides job training, GED certification, a FreeStore providing household necessities as well as food items. Volunteers with HomeFront are vital in so many capacities. Volunteer your time to work in the food pantry, FreeStore, or warehouse, volunteer to tutor the kids or adults, spend time in the ArtSpace, or work with the kids in childcare, to name a few options.
4. Bridges Outreach, Summit
Bridges Outreach provides brown bag lunches and food delivery services to much of the northern Jersey area, including Newark and Irvington, as well as neighboring New York City. The organization started by handing out lunches to those living under the Brooklyn Bridge, hence the name Bridges. The organization now gives out over 65,000 lunches regularly. Volunteer your time to serve hot soup in the cold winter months, head out on a delivery run to hand out lunches, help with the packaging, or help package health kits to hand out to the community
5. CASA, Middlesex County
CASA of Middlesex County works to provide for the kids living in the foster care system in the county. The group relies entirely on volunteer efforts to realize their goals. Volunteering at CASA means having to go through training and be appointed by a judge, but the volunteers are able to meet with the children and advocate on their behalf. Volunteers must be 21 or older and must be able to stay for 18 months. Volunteers are able to interview the children, conduct research into court history and bring the information to the court to provide what the child needs.
6. Big Brothers Big Sisters New Jersey
The New Jersey chapter of this national organization has branches all across the state. Big Brothers Big Sisters is a mentorship program pairing a young adult with a kid usually between 6 and 18. Mentees usually come from low-income families or single-parent households. Volunteer mentors are carefully screened and monitored by a case manager during the first year. The pair meet two to four times a month for homework help, cooking classes, ball games, or any way to spend quality time together while doing something they’re interested in. The results of the program help with self-esteem, better grades, and better relationships for the child involved.