Sharing traditions with our children makes the holidays all the sweeter. The pies we bake, candles we light, songs we sing, and the gifts we give enrich the rhythm of this festive season. Volunteering to help those in need is another tradition we can offer to our kids. Giving our time and attention to our communities, whether we're dishing up food or singing Christmas carols, is often the best gift of all. And setting up our kids for a life of sharing and empathy is a gift we give to them and to the world they inherit.
We've collected a list of websites and resources to help you find volunteer opportunities that match your family’s interests and abilities. Also, check our calendar for upcoming charitable events.
Here are some more ideas to get you started on a holiday tradition of giving:
LA Works matches volunteers with non-profits that need volunteer help. Enter your zip code and key words to describe your interests, and you will find an abundance of volunteering possibilities. Age requirements, if relevant, are also listed.
GenerationOn hosts its annual Joy Maker Challenge from November 21-December 23. The website lists several home projects that can spread some joy in the community or beyond, and for each person who takes up the challenge, Hasbro donates a toy to Toys for Tots.
Food Banks and Soup Kitchens
Local food banks and soup kitchens often offer food drives at this time of year. Small children can help load a bag with canned goods and non-perishable items. Children of all ages can ride along to help you deliver food. Check with area organizations to see what might be needed and how you can help.
Each December, One Voice’s Holiday Food Program distributes food, book and toy baskets to 2,500 Los Angeles families in need. All ages are welcome to help sort the food for packaging. More than 2,000 volunteers participate in this fun and festive “Kid Safe” evening.
Westside Food Bank welcomes help from kids ages five and up, accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Los Angeles Regional Food Bank has a minimum age of 14 for volunteers, and the teens must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Many local churches and organizations offer a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal for the homeless. Consider preparing a turkey or baking a pie to donate. You can also volunteer to serve or clean up. Check the following websites for a few dates and locations:
St. Monica’s Church - Santa Monica
Westside Thanksgiving Community Dinner and Celebration - Santa Monica
Union Station Homeless Services - Pasadena
One Incredible Family, Inc. – Culver City/ Playa del Rey
Our furry friends also need extra care during the holidays, especially those without permanent homes. The Pet Save Foundation in Hawthorne helps domestic rabbits that have been abused or abandoned. Volunteers young and old can help feed and groom the bunnies, and clean cages.
The Lange Foundation appreciates help from adults and children who can share some love for their adoption-ready animals - either at the Westside facility or by bringing home a foster animal temporarily.
Help make our parks and neighborhoods clean, keep trash from floating down to the ocean, clear trails or plant native plants. There is always something to do, even during the holidays, to protect and beautify our environment.
TreePeople seeks volunteers year-round to plant and care for trees, and promote and maintain the natural splendor of Los Angeles. Check the group's calendar for the many ways you can participate.
Ballona Wetlands Trust sponsors weekend restoration projects at the Wetlands in Marina del Rey. Volunteers as young as five (accompanied by a parent or guardian) are invited to help clean up trash and plant plants.
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities often seek seasonal volunteers of all ages to visit with their residents. Consider caroling at two area nursing homes.
Or share stories with residents of other senior facilities. Sign up through LA Works.
Thank goodness orphanages sound like something far away and long ago to most of our kids, and yet just over the border in Mexico there are orphanages filled with children who will never have the kinds of family homes our children are blessed with. A trip to visit one with Corazon de Vida Foundation offers a chance for our kids to share some of their time, their caring, and their energy with kids who really appreciate the effort and attention. Bus trips go down regularly; check the calendar for upcoming trips.
If you are unable to volunteer your time, but your family is still eager to help, consider donating new and gently used toys. Your children may more willingly give up forgotten and outgrown toys if they know the toys will be well loved by children in need. Check out our toy donation suggestions to find a donation location near you.
Originally published November 21, 2011