Photo: Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock

Urban Volunteering: San Francisco

San Francisco
by Ekua Impraim Mar 12, 2010
San Francisco is eye pleasing and affluent, but like most other cities, it has its fair share of issues.

TO A VISITOR in Downtown San Francisco who wanders into the Tenderloin and catches a glimpse of the squalor there, some of these issues can be quite apparent. But many of the problems are tucked away far from tourist centers and out of sight of many of San Francisco’s own residents.

Fortunately, thinking of innovative ways to make the future better is embedded in the culture of the city. San Francisco is home to a wide variety of non-profits that work creatively to improve lives locally and around the world.

San Francisco Food Bank

The San Francisco Food Bank relies heavily on volunteers in its efforts to reduce hunger. The Food Bank’s highly organized system allows volunteers accomplish quite a bit of work in a relatively short period of time.

As a volunteer, you can sort, repackage, and prepare boxes of food that will be given away to senior citizens in need.

The Food Bank has two three-hour shifts seven days a week and two-hour shifts on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings. At the end of the shifts, you have the option to tour the warehouse and learn more about the people they serve.

Visit the Food Bank’s volunteer page for more information and send an email to Anna Fleishman at to sign up for a shift.

Literacy for Environmental Justice

Bayview-Hunters Point, a neighborhood on the southeastern edge of San Francisco, contains a disproportionately large amount of the city’s toxic sites. Most of its residents are low-income people of color who suffer from a higher rate of environmental and food-related diseases than residents of many other parts of the city.

Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ) works to rectify this situation by educating young people about the environment and empowering them to get involved, providing organically and sustainably grown produce for locals, and restoring wetlands by removing non-native plants and planting native plants.

LEJ offers monthly opportunities for volunteers to get their hands dirty while working in their plant nursery or doing restoration work at Heron’s Head Park.

Creativity Explored

At Creativity Explored, adults with developmental disabilities are given the chance to acquire new artistic skills, make art, and create income by selling their artwork.

Volunteers can share their skills with Creativity Explored in a variety of ways. There are opportunities to help in the art studio, in the office, with exhibition set up, and at special events. To sign up to volunteer, check out their website for more information and fill out a volunteer application.

At the Crossroads

Since 1997, At the Crossroads has been reaching out to homeless youth and young adults in the Mission and Downtown/Tenderloin neighborhoods.This organization strives to provide homeless youth with resources and support to achieve their individual goals: whether it’s employment assistance, drug rehabilitation, a housing program, or simply someone to talk to.

Examples of volunteer assignments include office work, food bank shopping, assembling packages of toiletries, organizing clothing donations, and getting creative by making greeting cards handed out to homeless youth for birthdays and moments of success.

The work that volunteers do for At the Crossroads leaves the small staff with the vital time they need to do street outreach and one-on-one counseling. Weekly and monthly volunteer assignments are available. If you would like to volunteer with At the Crossroads, send an email to Rachel at

Randall Museum

The Randall Museum is an interactive science and art children’s museum with exhibitions that concentrate on the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to exhibitions, the museum offers a variety of classes for all ages, lectures, summer camps, and seasonal events for children and families.

Casual volunteers can sign up to help out at special events and doing restoration work. Animal and children loving volunteers who can commit more time can sign up to be an Animal Docent.

Streetside Stories

Despite an abundance of social media, it can often be difficult for youth to feel like they can reveal their histories and let people know what they’re all about. Streetside Stories is an organization that does not overlook the need to be heard.

Their programs allow youth to share their personal stories while building literacy, technological, and artistic skills. There are several options for volunteers to put their writing abilities to use for long term or flexible assignments. People with film editing skills can also volunteer for Tech Tales, a program where middle school students learn how to make short movies based on their life stories.

To get details on all of the ways you can get involved in Streetside Stories and learn how to apply, visit their volunteer page.

Project Ahimsa

“Ahimsa” means “non-violence” in Sanskrit, and Project Ahimsa works to promote this message through music.

Project Ahimsa provides grants for youth-empowering music organizations around the world. Since Project Ahimsa began in 2001, it has helped to supply funds for music education and instruments in India, Colombia, Ghana, Uganda, Mexico and the United States.

Project Ahimsa allows volunteers to get involved in projects such as assisting with special event planning, educational ventures, raising awareness about music education, and conducting site visits. If you want to learn more about how you can give your time Project Ahimsa, send an email to

Community Connection:

Visiting San Francisco for the first time? Be sure to read Lauren Quinn’s “What NOT to Do in San Francisco.”

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