Whether you've been naughty or nice this year, we recommend swinging the pendulum of judgment back to the nice side because Santa Claus is coming to town and he's got a list. There's no better way to make a difference than by digging in, helping out, and having a positive impact on the world around us. From kids who have a parent in jail, to families down on their luck, to donating blood and even serving up the mother of all Christmas dinners, we've got the 411 on the best bets for volunteering this season in Houston.
So here's the thing. Once you've gone down the path to full-on Star Wars cosplayer, you start looking for opportunities to carry your lightsaber in public while channeling your inner Princess Leia, Ewok, Han Solo or Anakin Skywalker. The local Star Wars Enthusiasts of Houston Fan Group will be in full force for the 3rd Annual #FeedTheForce Winter Food Drive where they'll generate bad puns and collect canned goods for the Houston Food Bank. It's a special occasion — the premiere weekend for the long-awaited Star Wars: The Last Jedi film — so the cosplayers can volunteer before or after seeing the flick (or both). So check your pantry for canned goods and nonperishable items and drive over to the Marq'E Entertainment Center to hand your donation to your favorite Star Wars character. 4 to 8 p.m. December 16, Edwards Houston Marq'E Stadium 23 & IMAX, 7620 Katy Freeway. For information, visit the enthusiast group's Facebook event page.
Bigger than Santa's workshop — because everything's bigger in Texas — Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s 23rd Annual “Toys for the Kids” 2017 is taking over George R. Brown Convention Center with oodles of toys, games, dolls, trucks, bikes and skateboards. More than 5,000 kids from low-income families will swarm the hall for their Christmas loot and to get a chance to meet NASA astronauts, firefighters, players from the Houston Rockets and Houston Dynamo, and Santa Claus himself. Lunch is provided for the kids, plus entertainment by Trae Tha Truth, Imaj, Blush and other local bands and entertainers. Volunteers have been burning the midnight oil wrapping gifts, and more volunteers are needed to set up, break down and serve during the event. Decorating is from 7 to 10 p.m. December 15, working the "Toys for Kids" holiday party is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. December 16, and break-down is from 3 to 5 p.m. December 16, 1001 Avenida de las Americas. For information, visit Sheila Jackson Lee's Facebook page. Register here to volunteer for a shift.
The dead won't be rising up from their graves, but the Houston National Cemetery will see plenty of action on December 16 with the national initiative, Wreaths Across America. It's an opportunity for groups and individuals to honor our fallen heroes and offer thanks for their service and sacrifice. It all happens, rain or shine, with an 11 a.m. ceremony followed by the laying of the wreaths beginning at 11:45 a.m. WAA Houston is requesting a $15 donation for each wreath, though they will accept any amount for donation. Early birds will want to catch the 7:15 a.m. motorcycle escort from Porter, Texas, a sort of rolling tribute with police and Patriot Guard Riders that marks the final leg of the journey from Maine to Houston. 11 a.m. December 16, Houston National Cemetery, 10410 Veterans Memorial Drive. For information, call 281-540-9444 or visit waahouston.com.
Get away from the hustle and bustle and do some good this holiday season with the Holiday Hugs Blood Drive. Dr. Nataly Perez is taking a break from her chiropractic and acupuncture practice to pay it forward in organizing this drive, and it comes with all the perks of working out of the Heights. The restaurants and shops along 19th Street are serving up tasty treats, which we think is tons better than the requisite crackers and apple juice, plus it only takes 15 minutes to donate. This time of year the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center is making plans to deliver cuddly teddy bears to local hospitals and, if you donate blood, you can write a personalized holiday card to send along with a bear. 1:30 to 5 p.m. December 18, The Heights Theater, 339 West 19th. For information, visit the Facebook event page.
Many hands make light work, and one look at the streamlined efficiency over at the Houston Food Bank and you'll be a believer, too. Both the Portwall warehouse and its Keegan Kitchen are busy year-round, but this seems like a great time to chip in and do our part helping hungry Houstonians. The warehouse always needs people inspecting and sorting food, repacking dry goods into family-sized bags, and restocking the Emergency Food Pantry. If you've been watching a few too many cooking shows on TV, then give it a go and help cook hot meals in the Keegan Kitchen that will be sent out into the community. 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to noon Sundays, 535 Portwall. For information, call 713-223-3700 or visit houstonfoodbank.org/volunteer/volunteer. Free.
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If you've got the need for speed, then by all means head over to Stubbs Harley-Davidson to ogle your next ride. But while you're there, take a moment to give the gift of life because the Bloodmobile will be in the parking lot for the December Blood Drive. Each donation can save as many as three lives, with blood earmarked for local hospitals and, when possible, to assist with natural disasters and accidents in other areas. Now, as for that bike, if the last six digits of your Texas driver license match the VIN of the 2018 Heritage Softail on display, it's yours, but the contest is limited to the first 50 customers of the day. Stop for pics with Biker Claus and his sidecar from noon to 2 p.m., nosh on free food and drink, and start your adventure with a test drive on new and pre-owned inventory. The blood drive is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. December 23, 4400 Telephone. For information, call 713-568-9945 or visit stubbshd.com. Free.
There's nothing typical about a Christmas wish list for a child who has a parent in jail. Instead of asking for the hottest new toy, these kids just want a chance at feeling normal again. The Houston Peace and Justice Center aims to do just that by sending a little bit of Christmas cheer in the form of Santa Claus, lots of smiling faces, and a big ol' pile of toys and teddy bears. Christmas at the Jail 5 means the world to those children who have just visited the Harris County Adult Detention Center, bringing back the wonder and magic of the season, even if it's just for an afternoon. 3:30 to 6 p.m. December 24, 1200 Baker. For information, call 713-204-4010 or visit hpjc.org/event/christmas-at-the-jail-5. Free.
Bragging rights for the biggest, baddest Christmas dinner goes to the City Wide Club of Clubs, which helps those in need find their way off the streets. The annual Thanksgiving Big Super Feast was just the warm-up lap, and they're bringing it all home with the 39th Annual Christmas Eve Big Feast at George R. Brown Convention Center. Just two shifts are available on Christmas Eve, and they fill up fast, so procrastinators can get in on the action by donating food, winter coats, sheets and blankets, toys, or the universal gift certificate: cash. There was a shortage of food and clothing at Thanksgiving, so they've put out the call for plus sized clothing (2XL, 3XL) and tween sizes (boys and girls ages 10-16). And even if you don't get in under the wire, resolve to take part next spring with the annual Easter Egg Hunt. 7:30 to 1 p.m. and 12:30 to 4 p.m. December 24, 1001 Avenida de las Americas. For information, call 713-752-2582 or visit citywideclub.com. Register here to work a shift. Free.
Volunteer Houston, our city's digital matchmaker for volunteers and service opportunities, is your one-stop shop for events, agencies and folks wanting to help out. Log on and see what calls to you, but we're digging The Holiday Project's 2017 Christmas visits to nursing homes, hospitals and residential institutions. No matter what part of town you're in, there's a trip planned near you: the Medical Resort (Sugar Land), the Spring Branch Transitional Care Center, Grace Care Center (Cypress) and Park Manor (Humble). Volunteers can sing Christmas carols, make Christmas cards and just spend time visiting. It's a great way to bring the spirit of the holiday to those who otherwise might not have a celebration. 10 to 11:30 a.m. (Sugar Land), 10 a.m. to noon (Spring Branch and Humble), and 9:30 to noon and noon to 2 p.m. (Cypress), December 25. For information, visit volunteerhou.org/need/index or holidayproject.info/home. Free.