It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The holiday season reminds us to give thanks and spread cheer, and there’s no better way to honor the holiday spirit than to help those in need. Families who volunteer together sow seeds of compassion, altruism and empathy that will last children a lifetime. Scroll down for a list of volunteer opportunities (for everyone from tots to tweens) for the holidays and all year long.

photo: Westside Thanksgiving via Facebook

Thanksgiving

Westside Thanksgiving Dinner
This long-standing community celebration invites all those seeking a festive and fun experience. Hundreds of volunteers unite to serve dinner to thousands of folks, especially low-income families, veterans, seniors and anyone who is homeless. In addition to dinner, free haircuts, hygiene kits and medical services are provided to guests. There’s such a massive turnout of little ones volunteering that the organization hosts a carnival in the morning to keep them entertained. Two hour shifts begin as early as 6 a.m. and you must call ahead to be assigned a slot on Thanksgiving Day.  They collect donations of money, non-perishable foods and clothing (men’s pants especially) at the event, but also need cooked food donations, such as turkeys and pies. If your family is unable to attend, recruit the kiddos to help you make food at home, and drop it off. Check the website for further details and get your little gobblers in the giving spirit.

West LA Civic Center
1645 Corinth Ave.
West LA
310-394-3153
Online: westsidethanksgiving.org

Thanksgiving Volunteers at One Incredible Familyphoto: One Incredible Family

One Incredible Family: 24th Annual Homeless Feeding and Banner Creation
At One Incredible Family, they accomplish one incredible feat. The annual homeless feeding and banner creation event benefits LA County residents who are either elderly, homeless or disadvantaged children. OIF needs volunteers to roll up their sleeves and get to cooking and creating. You and your kiddos (ages 8 & up) will assist in preparing 1,600 Thanksgiving meals and create artistic, inspirational banners for numerous homeless shelter residents. Participation involves a minimum $5 donation and registration is available online. This event takes place on Saturday, November 25th from 6:30 a.m.–8 p.m. at Westchester Masonic Center.

Westchester Masonic Center
7726 West Manchester Ave.
Playa Del Rey
310-313-0123
Online: oneincrediblefamily.org

photo: Food on Foot via Facebook

Food on Foot
Food on Foot is committed to assisting low income and homeless people through programs that offer meals, clothing and work placement. This organization receives no government funding and relies entirely on donations. For that reason, volunteering requires a donation of $100 per person (including children) on Thanksgiving Day. Your generous gift will be used for the food and gift cards you’ll help distribute. If you’re interested in volunteering for Food on Foot but would like a more affordable option, visit any Sunday from 3:15-5 p.m. ($20 donation per person) for an equally rewarding experience. Children 6 & up are welcome to volunteer. Sign up online (it’s a breeze) and prepare to make some lasting memories.

1625 Schrader Blvd
Hollywood
(310) 442-0088
Online: foodonfoot.org

photo: Midnight Mission

Christmas

Midnight Mission’s Christmas Day Brunch and Toy Village
Midnight Mission is perhaps one of the most highly regarded organizations of its kind and every Angeleno hopes to volunteer at one point or another; volunteers who don’t make the cut for Thanksgiving only need to wait a month to participate in the Christmas Brunch held on Christmas Day from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. There is no minimum age requirement which makes this the perfect choice for families looking to bring even the youngest ones along! Midnight Mission provides a holiday meal to thousands of LA’s most impoverished. While volunteers serve up plates, Santa Claus and his helpers provide toys to children in need.

601 S San Pedro St.
DTLA
213-624-9258
Online: midnightmission.org

photo: One Voice via Facebook

One Voice
On Thursday, December 14, grab the kiddos and head over to the Barker hangar in Santa Monica where you’ll sort and pack food items for local Head Start centers. Children (all ages welcome, but under five years old, there must be a one-to-one, adult to child ratio) and parents gather around over 100 tables to sort vegetables and fruit. Kids will get a kick out of identifying and counting the different produce. It’s all pretty mellow, so parents don’t mind keeping their little ones up past bedtime (sorting begins at 7:30 p.m. and ends at 11 p.m.). At the end of the night, your family will have helped fill about 2500 food baskets for low income families at Head Start centers throughout Los Angeles.

1228 15th St.
Santa Monica
310-458-9961
Online: onevoice-la.org

photo: Santa Monica-Venice Christmas Run via Facebook

Santa Monica – Venice Christmas Run 5k/10K
The Santa Monica-Venice Christmas Run supports Harvest Home, a non-profit residence for homeless pregnant women in Santa Monica. The run takes place on December 9 beginning at 6:30 a.m. Volunteers help with registration and water stations throughout the course. All participants are invited to dress in holiday costumes, which are judged at the end of each race. Little ones who join their parents to volunteer will have a chance to run wild in the Kids Fun Run which takes place after the 5k/10k. Registration fees are $20 for the kids run and $50 for the 5k/10k.

Ocean View Park
2701 Barnard Way
Santa Monica
Online: christmasrun.com

photo: Heal the Bay

Year Round

Heal the Bay
For all the water babies of LA, Heal the Bay is a perfect way to volunteer year round. This environmental nonprofit is dedicated to revitalizing the coastal waters and watersheds of Los Angeles. On the third Saturday of every month (except December), Heal the Bay organizes an all-ages beach cleanup bonanza! Each month they tackle a different LA County beach. Cleanups run from 10 a.m.-noon in light rain or shine.

Online: healthebay.org

California State Parks Foundation Park Champions Program
Park Champions projects are a wonderful way for the whole family to spend time outdoors together while maintaining and beautifying our state parks. Projects in the past include trail repair, habitat restoration and fence construction. If your kids love being outdoors and want to help the environment, becoming a Park Champion is the surest way to make a difference. Visit their website for more information and to the check the minimum age requirements which vary depending on location and type of assignment.

Online: calparks.org/help/park-champions

photo: Big Sunday

Big Sunday
With over 300 opportunities to get involved each year, Big Sunday is the mama of all LA charities. According to Founder/Executive Director David Levinson, he believes in “Community building not community service. We bring together diverse people in the name of helping other people. It’s not about the haves and haves not but the haves and have mores.” At Big Sunday you’ll find the rich and famous working alongside homeless teens, in the name of developmentally challenged children. If your kids want to help others but aren’t sure where to start, Big Sunday is the perfect place. All children are welcome to join every event all year round. Check out their website for holiday happenings, and mark your calendar now for MLK day, which includes a clothing drive and Motown music show that is not to be missed.

6111 Melrose Ave.
Hollywood
323-549-9944
Online: bigsunday.org

Do you know of any great Thanksgiving/Holiday or other volunteer opportunities that let kids show how grateful they are for what they have by helping others? Let us know in the comment section.

—Janelle Connor