From collecting donations to cleaning up polluted areas to making packages for troops, PTOs and PTAs have a long history of organizing service projects that serve the wider community beyond the school. Such efforts not only help teach students the value of giving back; they also establish your group as one that wants to extend—not just be the recipient of—generosity and goodwill.

If your group is thinking of planning a community service project this year, keep the following considerations in mind:

Your school community. It could be that your group need only look within, as was the case with the Nate Perry Elementary PTO in Liverpool, N.Y. The PTO set a goal to provide food for school families in need, especially over weekends—so each Thursday evening, volunteers stuff food into backpacks that are ultimately distributed to students via their bus drivers on Friday.

The kids. When possible, it’s a good idea to involve students in your efforts—it helps them learn about community and their place in it. Such projects include letting kids organize a donation collection effort or make a craft project.

Find community service ideas for kids, classrooms, and families

The timing. When deciding on a project, consider the events on the school calendar as well as the needs of the organization. Many charitable organizations, like food banks, see increased demand during the holidays. Find out whether the organization would prefer donations to help meet the need at that time, or at a later time to help restock their shelves, for example.

Favorite PTO Community Service Projects and Ideas

Coin drives are quick and easy to set up; plus, the money collected can be donated in the to any charity in the school’s name. Run one all year long or just for a short time, and use incentives to increase participation and excitement.

Collect stuffed animals and create “activity bags” with puzzles and games to give to patients at a children’s hospital. Students can also easily make no-sew fleece blankets.

Small gestures can have big results. Homeless shelters and shelters for victims of domestic violence are often grateful to receive toiletries for their residents. At a food pantry, students can help create meal packages that will be served in-house or delivered to those in need.

Schedule a beautification day outside the school. Planting, pruning, raking, and similar tasks will let kids get their hands dirty in a good way.

Boost someone’s spirits with handmade greeting cards. Share them with patients at a veterans hospital or residents at an assisted-living facility.

Run a hat and mitten drive. Collect new hats, mittens, gloves, earmuffs, and scarves in a range of sizes for boys and girls and give them to social service agencies (or, if appropriate and needed, members of your school community).

Animal shelters are always in need of volunteers for simple tasks and donations like pet food and used blankets and towels. Contact a local shelter and speak with a volunteer coordinator to see what help is needed.

Most towns and cities have a senior center or private nursing home where volunteers can contribute; even a small amount of time with a senior can make a difference. Start by contacting the center’s recreation or activities director.

Supporting active-duty U.S. service members is a great initiative for tweens and teens. Begin by contacting an organization that ships packages to troops, such as Operation Gratitude or Operation Troop Support.