Washington DC

18 Ways DC Can Use Your Help Right Now

For anyone who wants to lend a hand in DC, these are the places to look.

Humane Rescue Alliance
Humane Rescue Alliance
Humane Rescue Alliance

In the face of hardship, hunger, and tragedy, the people of DC have shown that we are resilient. Now, as we move forward, we’re still looking for ways to give back, especially to the Black community. There are new and unique needs today, from ramped up emergency feeding and donations of critical supplies to virtual organizing and online activism. Whether you want to pitch in from home or you’re willing to safely venture out to lend a hand, there are countless organizations seeking helpers. We’ve rounded up a list of worthy causes where you can donate your time or resources, depending on your interests.

Hook Hall
Hook Hall
Hook Hall

For the food altruist

Providing meals and groceries for folks who can’t access them is critical right now, and there are safe and easy ways to get involved. Chef, humanitarian, and hometown hero José Andrés has set up numerous emergency kitchens around the country via his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen. Locally, there’s a big operation at Nationals Park and many more at restaurants around DC where chefs and volunteers prepare, pack, and distribute thousands of meals for those in need. Join their volunteer corps to find out about opportunities to help.
 
You can also enlist in the efforts of numerous local emergency feeding and relief programs. Help Real Food for Kids distribute meals for families affected by school closures. Donate to Hook Hall Helps to provide aid to restaurant workers. Pack grocery boxes at the Capital Area Food Bank or Bread for the City warehouse to help get provisions to the food insecure.
 
Culinary workforce and economic development nonprofit La Cocina VA is still operating during the pandemic, continuing their mission to support minority groups with bilingual culinary training. Currently, interested volunteers should inquire about skill-based needs like graphic design for special projects, and in the coming months, the program will begin recruiting helpers to prepare meals for food assistance.

Emma Mae Pollock
Emma Mae Pollock
Emma Mae Pollock

For the animal lover

You’ve probably heard that pet adoptions are booming as a result of quarantine, but animal shelters can still use your help. The Humane Rescue Alliance recommends checking in on elderly and vulnerable neighbors and volunteering to buy pet supplies or walk their dog. They’re also seeking donations of supplies.
 
Lucky Dog Animal Rescue still has many volunteer roles open to assist with their virtual adoptions, including coordinators, matchmakers, and adoption or foster screeners. You could also choose to donate items like food, disinfectant, and leashes via their Amazon Wishlist. City Dogs Rescue & City Kitties doesn’t operate out of a physical shelter location, so their volunteer opportunities are always remote. You can sign up to be an adoption counselor, foster assistant, or pet-profile writer.

Robbie O'Donnell
Robbie O’Donnell
Robbie O’Donnell

For the tree hugger

Despite the false accounts of dolphins in the Venetian canals, there are real signs that nature is doing quite well during the pandemic. But you can always help further that progress by volunteering with an environmental nonprofit. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been inviting folks to bring the Bay home with webinars, educational videos, and coloring pages. You can get involved by learning how to reduce your impact on the Bay using the Bay footprint calculator, or join their virtual fundraiser to Walk the Watershed.
 
Smaller waterway preservation organizations also offer great options for socially distant stewardship. Potomac Conservancy will be hosting virtual gatherings for volunteers. Anacostia Riverkeeper has virtual trainings and virtual cleanups to help you become a volunteer water-quality citizen scientist. Rock Creek Conservancy suggests doing a solo trash cleanup or removing English ivy from your property and planting native species in its place.
 
Chesapeake Climate Action Network also has advice for how to continue your activism right now — including writing to your representatives, taking part in the Digital Climate Strike, or attending a training to build skills to be a better volunteer. Sign up via their survey to offer your support on actions like organizing CCAN members or writing letters to the editor.

We Are Family
We Are Family
We Are Family

For the equity ally

If you’re striving to make the world around you a little more just, there’s no shortage of organizations that need you. The Black Lives Matter DC chapter has been tirelessly speaking out against injustice for years, and they are now in the spotlight with the recent protests. The organizers seek support in the form of supplies for protestors and legal funds. Sign up online to stay plugged in about ongoing opportunities to bring about change.

Ayuda provides legal, social, and language services to low-income immigrants to help navigate the immigration and justice systems and access the social safety net. While the organization’s physical offices are closed, volunteers are still needed  for teleworking tasks such as translation and pro bono legal representation. Similarly, Sanctuary DMV invites volunteers to join their community campaign in support of inclusive neighborhoods by calling your representatives and displaying the sanctuary logo in your home. Finally, now is a crucial time to support at-risk populations like seniors, and We Are Family does just that; they’re still seeking help safely delivering groceries to seniors in need.

Whichever organization you choose, now is the time to harness that pent-up energy from staying home for months and use it as a force for good.

Washington DC

15 Totally Free Things to Do in DC

A full itinerary, completely free of charge.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Washington DC is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, and for those of us who call the District home, it’s easy to see why. With dozens of world-class museums, murals that transform streets into galleries, and sites brimming with history, DC offers a full agenda-completely free of charge. Whether you want to try a new farmer’s market, explore a new hike, or polish off your roller skating or canoeing skills, here are some of our favourite free things to do in the District.

Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco

Hike, bike, or stroll along the C&O Canal

The historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is one of the most accessible nature escapes from the District. Thanks to a multi-year restoration project, the first mile of the canal is an idyllic walk that’s easy to access in Georgetown. Stick to a short stroll there, or grab a bike or lace up your hiking shoes for a longer adventure along the 184.5-mile canal.

Jump on the pickleball craze

Pickleball is working its way up the ladder past kickball and softball as one of America’s favourite games. Jump on the craze and practice your paddling at one of the District’s pickleball courts in Takoma Park, the Palisades, and more. Plus, Washington DC Pickleball invites guests to drop in to beginner sessions to try their hand at the sport before signing up for a $30 annual membership.

Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion

Bike the Mount Vernon Trail

DC is incredibly bike-friendly, and luckily that applies to the land immediately outside of the city as well. Start in the city and bike along the Mount Vernon Trail, a scenic route that hugs the water and cuts through the woods. It’s about a 10-mile trip from DC to Mount Vernon, but you can cut the trip slightly short and end at the Old Town Alexandria waterfront-just make sure to factor in time for ice cream before pedalling home.

Explore a sculpture park

While not located in the District proper, Glenstone, an expansive sculpture park in Maryland, is worth the 45-minute drive. Tickets to the park are free (just be sure to reserve several weeks in advance), and the 300-acre space offers stunning art, architecture, and open land. In addition to its indoor gallery spaces, you can spend hours walking on paths that wind through sculptures, meadows, and forests.

Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston

See the monuments at night

When the sun goes down-and the summer humidity somewhat dissipates-head to the National Mall for the rare chance to see the monuments without busloads of tourists. Moonlight will give you a different perspective as you traverse the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial or gaze up at the Washington Monument set aglow with lights.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Museum hop the day away

One of DC’s greatest strengths is its world-class Smithsonian museums that are open to the public free of charge. There is no shortage of options, from the intimate Renwick Gallery, to the sprawling National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonians offer something for everyone. Pro tip: Some of the museums are open late in the evenings, making for an ideal date night.

muralsdc
muralsdc
muralsdc

Explore the city’s murals

Washington is home to hundreds of murals that are becoming as much a part of the city’s landscape as the monuments on the National Mall. Take a self-guided tour of these colourful creations no matter which neighbourhood you happen to be in. MuralsDC, the organization behind 150 of the District’s public artworks, is a great resource for mapping out a route to explore the city’s street art.

Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington

Take in a birds-eye view of the city

Washington looks pretty stunning from up high, and there are few spots within the city that make for phenomenal vantage points. Rooftop bars and restaurants offer epic views for the price of a drink or two, but there’s no more iconic sight than seeing the city from the top of the Washington Monument, which is completely free. Book a ticket ahead of time and ride an elevator all the way to the top of the monument and step out on the 500-foot observation deck.

Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond

Wander through a garden

DC is home to some of the most beautiful urban gardens in the country, and many of them are open to the public for free. There is nothing like an afternoon spent strolling through, or picnicking, at the expansive 446-acre United States Arboretum or wandering through the Botanic Garden on the edge of the Mall. For something a bit smaller, explore the grounds at Tudor Place or Dumbarton Oaks (free in the winter), both of which are in Georgetown.

Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien

Hike the Billy Goat Trail

You can catch one of the District’s most popular hiking trails, the Billy Goat Trail, from the C&O canal. The full trail is 4.7 miles and ranges from easy to strenuous, so hike a section in and back or make the full loop for the variety.

Pay your respect at Arlington National Cemetery

Just across the Potomac from DC, Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 veterans. The cemetery is an expanse of 639 hallowed acres and the ANC Explorer allows visitors to locate graves, notable sites, and take self-guided walking tours to spots including the tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy.

Lace up your roller skates

When was the last time you went roller skating? Chances are it’s been too long. So get back into this nostalgic activity at the Anacostia Park roller skating pavilion. You can rent skates for free, just show proof of a government-issued ID, and the skating pavilion is open from 9 to 5 every day.

Help clean up the Anacostia River

We all know there’s a lot of work to be done to keep our waterways clean. Do your part, and have some fun, by participating in the city’s Green Boat initiative. On select weekends, DCers can join a two-hour guided paddle along the Anacostia River to collect trash and monitor the river’s progress.

Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market

Stroll your local farmer’s market

DC’s close proximity to the farms of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and beyond mean that the city’s farmers’ markets always have something to offer. Check out the year-round markets like Eastern Market in Capitol Hill and the Sunday market in Dupont Circle or head to seasonal markets like the pop-up in front of the White House that draws vendors like Cucina al Volo and Call Your Mother Deli.

The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress

Play tourist all around the city

It’s easy to forget that all those traditionally touristy activities can be fun for locals too. If you haven’t been on a tour of the White House, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, or the Capitol, this is your sign. All are free with advanced reservations. Plus, tucked in the northern quadrant of NW, the Washington National Cathedral is free and open to all. Tour the cathedral’s impressive architecture, 215 stained glass windows, 112 Gothically-inspired gargoyles, and enormous pipe organ. See if you can spot the sculpture of Darth Vader.

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Madeline Weinfield is a Thrillist contributor.

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