With holiday season on the horizon, it can be easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle that comes with this time of year.  Travel tension and gift-getting can oftentimes become all-consuming (for both young and old), which is why it’s a good idea to find ways to remind everyone what is truly important. Sometimes the best way to give thanks and spread cheer is by lending a hand to those most in need.  Keep reading for a list of volunteer opportunities (for everyone from tots to tweens) for the holidays and all year long.

Giving Back at Thanksgiving

Westside Thanksgiving Dinner

For 37 years this community celebration has welcomed all those seeking a festive and fun volunteer experience. Hundreds of do-gooders 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, blankets, clothing, dental and medical services (even vaccinations) are provided to guests. There’s such a massive turnout of little ones volunteering that the organization even hosts a carnival the morning of to keep kids 12 and under 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, get everyone 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, 90025
310-394-3153
Online: westsidethanksgiving.org

photo: One Incredible Family

One Incredible Family: 26th Annual Homeless Feeding and Banner Creation

At One Incredible Family, they accomplish one incredible feat. They bring the holidays to those who may not otherwise have the means to celebrate. The annual homeless feeding and banner creation event benefits LA County residents who are either elderly, homeless or disadvantaged children and gives them the care and attention they deserve. OIF needs volunteers to roll up their sleeves and get to cooking and creating. You and your kiddos (ages 8 and up) will assist in preparing 1,600 Thanksgiving meals as well as 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 30th from 6:30 a.m.–8 p.m. at Westchester Masonic Center.

Westchester Masonic Center
7726 West Manchester Ave.
Playa Del Rey, 90293
310-313-0123
Online: oneincrediblefamily.org

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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 $125 per person (including children) on Thanksgiving Day. Your generous gift will be used for the food and gift cards you’ll help distribute on the day from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. 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. ($25 donation per person) for an equally rewarding experience handing out food and clothing to those less fortunate. Children 6 & up are welcome to volunteer. Sign up online (it’s a breeze) and prepare to make some lasting memories.

1625 N. Schrader Blvd
Hollywood
(310) 860-0022
Online: foodonfoot.org

Getting into the Christmas Spirit

photo: Patty S. via Yelp

Midnight Mission’s Christmas Day Brunch and Toy Village

Midnight Mission is perhaps one of the most highly regarded organizations of its kind and a place where every Angeleno hopes to volunteer at one point or another; volunteers who don’t sign up in time for Thanksgiving (spots go quickly!) only need to wait a month to participate in the Christmas Brunch held on Christmas Day from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Even better, there is no minimum age requirement which makes this the perfect choice for families looking to bring even their youngest helpers along! Having been around for over a century (105 years to be exact!), 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. This is truly bucket-filling like no other!

601 S San Pedro St.
DTLA, 90014
213-624-9258
Online: midnightmission.org

One Voice

On Thursday, December 19, grab the kiddos and head over to the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport where you’ll sort and pack food items for local Head Start centers. Children (all ages welcome, but there must be at least one adult to supervise every 2-3 kids) and parents gather around over 100 tables to sort vegetables and fruit. Kids will get a kick out of identifying and counting the piles of different produce. It’s all pretty mellow, so parents don’t mind keeping their little ones up past bedtime (“kid-safe” sorting is from 7:30p.m. – 9p.m. but the event goes until 11p.m. for families with older ones). At the end of the night, your brood will have helped fill about 2500 food baskets for low-income families at Head Start centers throughout Los Angeles.

3021 Airport Ave.
Santa Monica Airport

Santa Monica, 90405
310-458-9961
Online: onevoice-la.org

photo: AngryJulieMonday via Flickr

Santa Monica – Venice Christmas Run 5k/10K

Proceeds from the Santa Monica-Venice Christmas Run support Harvest Home, a non-profit residence for homeless pregnant women in Santa Monica. The run takes place on December 7 beginning at 6:30 a.m. Volunteers help with registration, packet pick-ups, and water stations throughout the course (kids under 14 must be accompanied by an adult). 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 (for ages 1 – 12) which takes place after the 5k/10k. Registration fees are $20 for the kids run and $55 for the 5k/10k.

Ocean View Park
2701 Barnard Way
Santa Monica, 90405
Online: christmasrun.com

Doing Going All Year Long

Heal the Bay

Calling all Los Angeles water babies! Heal the Bay is a perfect way to volunteer year-round for ocean lovers big and small. This environmental nonprofit is dedicated to revitalizing the coastal waters and watersheds of Los Angeles and protecting our precious coastlines. 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

photo: Creative Commons

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 check the minimum age requirements which vary depending on location and type of assignment.

Online: calparks.org/help/park-champions

Big Sunday

With over 2,000 opportunities to get involved each year, Big Sunday is the mama of all LA charities. Here 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 their Thanksgiving Stuffing event, which includes arts & crafts, a bluegrass band, and a fantastic community breakfast for everyone!

6111 Melrose Ave.
Hollywood, 90038
323-549-9944
Online: bigsunday.org

—Janelle Connor & Jenifer Scott

featured photo: Union Station Homeless Services

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