8 San Francisco Causes to Support This Holiday Season (and Beyond)

'Tis the season for giving

a hand holding a heart near the golden gate bridge.
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The giving spirit lives in my heart year-round, but it tends to swell during the holiday season. Ever since I joined a fundraising walk to support multiple sclerosis research and services when I was 12 years old, it’s been a lifelong goal of mine to give back to my local communities. But with so many phenomenal causes to support, it’s not always easy to choose where or how to give. There are many different approaches to take (you can give your time, your money, your attention and support), and ultimately it’s a very personal decision. But a little inspiration never hurt.

I like to volunteer my time (and money whenever I have a little extra to spend), and I often find projects through Hands On Bay Area and TogetherSF. Through my volunteer experience, I’ve found many organizations I keep coming back to. Here are eight Bay Area causes that are near and dear to my heart, along with different ways for you to get involved.

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1. Delancy Street Foundation

Every year, I get my Christmas tree from Delancey Street Trees, the holiday arm of the 50-plus-year-old Delancey Street Foundation. This amazing organization helps people who have a history of incarceration, addiction or homelessness. Their annual tree program is a beloved Bay Area tradition that provides real-time work experience for many Delancey Street residents. And the money made from tree sales directly contributes to the foundation’s community living spaces, rehabilitation services and vocational training programs. Check out the urban tree lot closest to you (there are five across the Bay Area), where you can buy Christmas trees, living potted pines, decorated wreaths, mistletoe and more. If you’re looking to give after the holiday season, you can still get involved by volunteering your time or making a monetary donation to support the foundation's various programs.

2. San Francisco-Marin Food Bank and Alameda County Community Food Bank

Food is a basic human right, but more than 44 million people in this country face food insecurity. In San Francisco and Marin counties, 1 in 5 residents require food assistance. In Alameda County, 1 in 4 residents are experiencing or at risk of hunger. The work of Bay Area food banks is critical to the well-being of everyone in our communities, but it takes a lot of money and helping hands to keep their doors open. If you’re looking to support a food bank this holiday season, money makes the biggest impact—it allows food banks to buy more efficiently and directly, making every dollar stretch farther. Every $1 you spend = two meals for those in need. 

3. La Cocina

La Cocina—the incubator for small businesses led by women, immigrants and people of color—is one of my favorite local nonprofits to support. Their vision is to create inclusivity in the food industry and offer equitable opportunities for living-wage work and financial security. Since 2005, they’ve provided aspiring food entrepreneurs with affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific technical assistance and access to market opportunities. While La Cocina’s ambitious Tenderloin food hall may have changed shape earlier this fall, the organization is steadfast in its mission. Donations ensure a reliable income stream for La Cocina’s work with emerging entrepreneurs, but you can also engage with the organization by dining at the Municipal Marketplace, renting the space for an event, attending pop-up dinners, launching a collab and more.

4. Manny's

I first learned about Manny’s—a community gathering space, political bookshop and restaurant encouraging civic engagement through talks and volunteer events—during a neighborhood cleanup day. Since opening in 2018, Manny’s has hosted such high-profile political figures as Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Governor Gavin Newsom and First Lady Jill Biden. Events focus on some of today’s most pressing social and political issues, from homelessness and the future of housing to trans rights. I’m grateful for spaces like Manny’s and am blown away by its overwhelmingly gracious and thoughtful owner (and activist and former White House intern) Manny Yekutiel, who has become an indispensable figure in our local community. Most recently, Manny (who was visiting family in Israel when he was caught in an air raid that was part of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks) hosted a vigil for Israelis and Palestinians.

5. Paint the Void

There are so many phenomenal causes to support, but Paint the Void is close to my heart because I’ve always believed that artists are such an important part of a vibrant and thriving city. And as a former arts & culture editor, I’ve always sought out ways to promote the amazing work of artists living and working in the Bay Area. So when I learned about Paint the Void—a nonprofit started during the pandemic that fundraises to pay artists to paint murals throughout the city—and their volunteer opportunities to help artists paint murals all over SF, I was all in. Since April 2020, the organization has funded more than 150 artists (through small individual donations, grants and collaborations with larger institutions) to paint hundreds of murals. I’ve had the privilege to work with a handful of artists on pieces in SoMa and mid-Market.

6. Sogorea Te’ Land Trust

I first found Sogorea Te’ Land Trust—an Indigenous, women-led organization that’s working to rematriate land to local tribes and revitalize the rich cultural traditions of their ancestors—while attending a Shakespeare performance at the Bruns Amphitheatre in Orinda. To open the show, the Cal Shakes emcee shared a land acknowledgment that really stuck with me. I’ve since tried to become better educated about our local Ohlone family of tribes and different ways to support them. If you’re interested in getting involved, you can start by contributing to the Shuumi Land Tax (shuumi means gift in the Chochenyo language), which supports the critical work of Sogorea Te’ Land Trust to ensure that future generations of Indigenous people can thrive in the Bay Area. Or visit Cafe Ohlone, the world’s only Ohlone restaurant, when it reopens this spring in its now-permanent location for a taste of culinary traditions. You can also learn more about Ohlone people and culture through Berkeley Public Library’s monthly conversation series with Cafe Ohlone founders Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino.

7. Refuse Refuse and Clean Streets

While participating in a disco-themed trash cleanup in the Mission, our group attracted a lot of attention. Maybe it was the bedazzled safety vests we were wearing, but everyone in the neighborhood that day wanted to talk to us and know what we were doing. I was amazed by the outpouring of thanks from all of 16th Street’s diverse residents, and it moved me to volunteer for more trash cleanups organized by Refuse Refuse. The grassroots volunteer group started during the pandemic by Richmond District resident Vincent Yuen hooks volunteers up with neighborhood cleanups all over the city. Yuen also works with Clean Streets, a small operation that collects donations and small dues from neighbors to help the Department of Public Works keep the city’s streets clean block by block.

8. The Women's Building

At a time when women’s fundamental rights are being challenged, it feels more important than ever to have safe spaces focused on women’s issues and advocacy programs. Since 1979, the Women’s Building in the Mission has done just that. The community space—which also provides affordable offices for women-focused nonprofits—offers mostly free social services for low-income women and families, including legal assistance, financial coaching, tax preparation, family reunification services, job search help, food assistance and referrals for housing, health care and domestic violence resources. Volunteers make all of these services possible, and the Women’s Building is always looking for additional help. You can also donate items directly to the Community Thrift Store on Valencia or add requested items to your Sports Basement shopping cart that will be donated to the San Francisco Women’s Center. And of course, if you feel inclined to give this season, monetary contributions are always appreciated.

allison mccarthy

San Francisco Editor

Allison McCarthy is a writer and editor with 15 years of experience in the industry. She's currently the San Francisco editor at PureWow, where she covers the best of what's...