Give Back this Summer

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop

One of the best lessons we can teach our children is how to give to others. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is a powerful emotion and one that, if taught early, can lead to a lifetime of service and philanthropy. What better way to teach empathy then to give back to and care for members of our own community? The summer provides ample time to explore new volunteer opportunities and we are fortunate that there are several local organizations that not only serve community members, but also offer opportunities for youth involvement.

Haymarket Regional Food Pantry

The Haymarket Regional Food Pantry (HRFP) is a local food bank whose mission is to eliminate hunger by providing food and support to families in the Haymarket and Gainesville areas.  Comprised solely of volunteers, HRFP relies on donations and volunteer service. With supervision from parents or a guardian, all children are invited to volunteer. Children under 16 need a guardian, who can be a sibling or babysitter; teens over 16 can volunteer alone.

“We have plenty of opportunities for kids to volunteer at the Haymarket Regional Food Pantry. Our focus over the summer is to provide breakfast and lunch to children who receive free or reduced meals at school during the school year. Many don’t realize that families we support live in our neighborhoods and have children who attend our local schools and they rely on our help. In addition to welcoming volunteers at the pantry, we would love to have parents and kids work together to donate foods they think other children would like for these meals. Working together we can continue to make a positive impact in our community.” –Eileen Smith, Executive Director

Volunteers are needed for a variety of activities including food stocking and receiving, assisting with cooking demonstrations, giving tours of the facility, and more. If getting to the pantry is a schedule challenge, kids can hold their own food drive. Check the website for complete information on this and all volunteering opportunities.

Haymarket Regional Food Pantry / 6611 Jefferson Street, Haymarket / 703-963-5918 /

Comfort Cases

There are over 435,000 children in foster care.  These children often move to multiple homes and stay with different families over the course of their time in foster care. Comfort Cases provides them with a special bag filled with comfort items and personal belongings to keep with them and provide a sense of security during this uncertain time in their lives. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to get involved with Comfort Cases, particularly in the packing parties held in our area.  

Comfort Cases provides children with an opportunity to help their peers. There are many opportunities for children to support Comfort Cases such as hosting a donation drive for a specific item that goes into a case, creating cards of encouragement to be placed in cases, or hosting a ‘night out’ at a local restaurant to support Comfort Cases financially. Our most treasured volunteers are our local youth.”  –Terri Stevens, Vice Chairperson, National Board

Comfort Cases collects new items but will accept one type of gently used item: books. Summer is a great time for kids to go through their collections and select books they’re willing to pass along.

For information on upcoming packing parties, visit the group’s Facebook page, Official Comfort Cases of Virginia. Dates are added regularly. If your child would like to host a donation drive, check the website for information or send an email to Terri Stevens.

Comfort Cases / / On Facebook at Official Comfort Cases of Virginia / Contact: Terri Stevens at

Serve Our Willing Warriors

Serve Our Willing Warriors is a local organization that began in 2006 when the pastor of Park Valley Church challenged small groups within the congregation to go into the community and make a difference. One group focused its attention on giving back to service members undergoing treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  In short order, the Warrior Retreat at Bull Run was created. A serene environment where service members and their families can go for respite and a feeling of home while healing, the Retreat continues to thrive thanks to the support of the community, many of whom are children.

SOWW welcomes and treasures the support of our wounded, ill or injured service members by the youth of our community. Many little hands have enthusiastically pulled weeds, written thank you notes, made cookies for bake sales and built lasting structures on the Retreat grounds.  We never cease to be amazed by the generosity of their hearts and eagerness to help.” –Heidi Tamke, Director of Volunteer Services

Kids can get involved by participating in SOWW Beautification Days of gardening, weeding, and trail maintenance, hosting donation drives for such items as board games, comfy socks, and fleece blankets, and writing “thank you” letters. These encouraging, hand-written notes are included in welcome baskets given to each family and placed throughout the Retreat. Fundraisers are welcome as well.  Lemonade stands, penny drives, and cupcake decorating contests are just a few of the creative ways kids have helped SOWW over the years.

For complete information on volunteering or hosting a drive or fundraiser, visit the SOWW website.

Serve Our Willing Warriors / / 866-277-5853

Rainbow Therapeutic Riding Center

Equine therapy is a form of treatment involving interaction between people and horses. Horses are peaceful and empathetic animals, and have long been used in therapy for a multitude of health and emotional challenges. Rainbow Therapeutic Riding Center’s mission is to “enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities through participation in equine assisted activities.” Riders come from all over Northern Virginia, but many are from our community. Volunteers at the Center must be at least 16.  However, some exceptions can be made based on experience with horses and riding.

I’ve witnessed firsthand the positive benefits of volunteering for our riders and our volunteers. Our riders feel more at ease when they have someone assisting that they can relate to and our volunteers are enriched from the experience. It’s empowering for young people to become involved; they have so much to give, and are so capable.  We are grateful to all of our volunteers, and love seeing youth from our local communities give back.” –Scottie Heffner, Volunteer Coordinator

Volunteers can train to be side walkers, those who walk along with the student while they ride, providing as much or as little help as needed. More experienced volunteers can be leaders.  Leaders groom and tack up the horse for riding, lead the horse during a lesson, and care for the horse afterward. 

The Center also welcomes help with farm and barn chores, fundraising and special events, and the camps it conducts throughout the summer.

For information on volunteering, send an email or visit the website.

Rainbow Therapeutic Riding Center / 16198 Silver Lake Road, Haymarket / / Email:

Frannie Barnes
About Frannie Barnes 45 Articles
Frannie Barnes is a content writer and editor, and the owner of ForWord Communication. She lives in Gainesville with her husband, three active kids, cat, and dog. To contact Frannie, you can e-mail her at

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