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Where kids can volunteer on Long Island during the holidays

Eileen Burke, far right, and members of the

Eileen Burke, far right, and members of the SPARK club in Mineola bag Thanksgiving food donations at The INN in Hempstead. Photo Credit: The Inn

Each year during the holidays, many charities on Long Island see a spike in the number of their youth volunteers.

At a time when charity can easily be eclipsed by gift-giving and overindulgence, local organizers say the generosity of young community members makes clear that altruism is possible at any age.

These organizations make it easy to volunteer and help children see the real-world effects of their generosity.


One of the largest social service agencies on Long Island, The Mary Brennan Inn was founded in 1983 as a single soup kitchen. It now has nearly two dozen locations where children as young as 10 can volunteer. The agency can accommodate the most volunteers at its Hempstead location and recruits help from social media.

The INN has more than 100 high school-aged children on its youth advisory board that meets once a month from October through April to plan and implement food drives and fundraisers.

The holidays are a popular time for high schoolers to visit the soup kitchens and serve food, says Dana Lopez, communications and public relations manager.

TO VOLUNTEER 516-486-8506 or email


Island Harvest is the largest hunger-relief organization on Long Island. Its student leadership council, which includes elementary, high school and college students, tries to host at least one event in every Long Island school each year. About 500 young people volunteer with the organization annually.

“Children always are eager to help out, to be involved in something good, so response is always favorable,” says Joan Flynn, the charity’s volunteer and community relations manager. “We see many families who participate together in such events as food drives.”

Over the past eight years, 15-year-old triplets Jack, Emma and Luke Farrell of Huntington have volunteered with the group’s annual Coin Harvest, a competition among elementary schools to raise funds and awareness about hunger on Long Island, and the Students Feeding Students Challenge, a food- and fund-drive competition among junior and high school students.

Jack Farrell, a Huntington High School freshman, was introduced to Island Harvest by his older sister Greta, who for many years raised funds to purchase turkeys for those in need at Thanksgiving. “We continued that tradition when she went to college last year,” Jack says.

Jack and his siblings say they believe that by donating their time, they are helping the community grow stronger.

“It’s not how much you do, it’s what you do,” Jack says. “Anything you do helps, no matter how big or small.”

TO VOLUNTEER Contact Joan Flynn, 516-294-8528, ext. 121, or email at More info at


Parties aren’t only for the privileged. That’s the belief of Birthday Wishes, an organization that helps homeless children celebrate their birthdays.

Founded in 2002 by three friends from Massachusetts, Birthday Wishes initially served one homeless shelter. “It really came out of a desire to find a way for our own kids who were young at the time to be able to give back in a way that they could relate to,” says co-founder Lisa Vasiloff, 54, whose children were 6 and 8 at the time.

In 2008, Jamie Rapfogel, 49, of Woodbury launched the charity’s Long Island chapter, which hosts about 90 parties a month and has more than 300 active volunteers in addition to those who donate materials.

Volunteers can sign up on a monthly basis to sponsor a party, bring a cake or provide goody bags.

“Long Island has a very vibrant social-media following,” Vasiloff says. “They get a lot of their cakes donated through Facebook.”

Part of its popularity is its accessibility: There are ways for people of all ages to participate.

“Elementary school kids can stuff goody bags, host toy drives and make cards,” Vasiloff says.

TO VOLUNTEER Visit 516-390-3505 or email

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