Holiday Volunteer Opportunities in Los Angeles: How Kids Can Help Neighbors in Need
Volunteering during the holidays not only helps our community, but also teaches kids the incalculable value of giving back. While some organizations have had to cancel big volunteering events this year, many of our favorite local charities have found ways to adapt their volunteer opportunities. We've pulled together some creative, safe, and socially distanced ways the whole family can pitch in and help out this season. Check out these ideas for volunteering with kids of all ages—delivering food, helping lonely grandparents, fostering animals, and spreading cheer for the holidays and beyond!
For more ideas to keep the holidays bright, check out our Christmas and Hanukkah Guide for Families.
Many of these volunteering slots are open year-round (it's not only the holidays that find families in need). So if one of your favorite volunteering options isn't available on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, consider signing up on a random weekend or two during the year.
Getting Started Volunteering
This organization matches volunteers with nonprofits that need volunteer help. Enter your zip code and keywords to describe your interests, and you will find volunteering possibilities. Age requirements, if relevant, are also listed. Although there are more restrictions on volunteering in the age of COVID, LA Works still finds ways for people to pitch in.
Another great way to get started with volunteering is through Big Sunday. This organization hosts weekly, monthly, and annual events that don't require any orientation or regular commitment; simply attend when you can! The projects are aimed at helping a variety of people, including low-income families and those experiencing homelessness. Each week the organization lends a hand to a different non-profit.
Volunteering at Food on Foot is an incredible experience for kids.
Volunteer Opportunities with Food Pantries and Soup Kitchens
Families with children over six can help distribute over 500 meals this Thanksgiving through Food on Foot. For the Thanksgiving event, the organization asks each volunteer to donate $100, which will provide over 20 meals for the unhoused in Los Angeles. But this organization (one of our favorites in town) isn't limited to holiday giving. Volunteering takes place every Sunday, where kids help give out boxed chicken lunches, snacks, water, and other resources including PPE supplies. The best part of the day is that kids not only get to distribute food and goods, but they get to meet and hear stories from the participants in the larger Jobs & Housing program. Sign up online to participate on Thanksgiving or any Sunday.
This food pantry has ongoing opportunities; simply visit the volunteer page and sign up for an event that fits your schedule. Each week the pantry needs volunteers for a variety of jobs, including making sack lunches to give out, packing bags of groceries to help families in need, and helping transport the bags from the packing location to the place where they will be distributed.
Volunteer at your convenience with 412 Food Rescue. Photo courtesy of 412 Food Rescue
This organization may have the most outside-the-box, effective approach to mobilizing families to get food where it's needed. The charity has an app that connects with stores or restaurants offering surplus food to donate. If a grocery store has 72 bags of salad with today's "sell by" date or a catered event has 5 big trays of ravioli left over, 412 Food Rescue will match that surplus food with those in need immediately. All that's needed is someone who can come pick it up and deliver it to the charity that can make sure the food is used. Download the app, and tell your kids you just became Food Heroes. Volunteer at your convenience to help prevent food waste and bring food to the families who need it.
Union Station in Pasadena is one of the few projects still accepting volunteers to help feed people this holiday season. Registration is open for Dinner in the Park volunteers, with 2021 events on November 17, 24, and 25. Volunteers must provide proof of vaccination.
On November 17, volunteers create "All The Fixings" meal boxes for clients who have access to a kitchen and would prefer to prepare their own meals. These boxes are filled with all the ingredients needed for a delicious meal. On November 24, volunteers help distribute prepared Thanksgiving dinners from Chef Marissa. On November 25 there are Thanksgiving Day community events with private sit-down dinners for residents held at multiple smaller locations.
Food Forward is an organization that collects surplus fruit from backyard trees. It has adapted its backyard harvest community events during the pandemic. Visit the website to sign up for COVID-friendly ways to help harvest private produce. This is an easy way to involve kids safely.
One Voice's Kid Safe evening is on hold this year, but donations are gratefully accepted. Photo by Mommy Poppins
One Voice's Holiday Food Program is one project that could use donations this year to replace its usual efforts. The project normally distributes food baskets, books, and toys to 2,500 Los Angeles families in need with a major annual event that features a “Kid Safe” evening at Santa Monica Airport. Sadly, the group volunteering event isn't happening in 2021, but One Voice is still committing to gifting families in need with $100 grocery gift cards. Donations to this project are very much appreciated, and kids can help out by asking friends and family for donations.
There are other local churches and organizations that offer a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal for the homeless and can't accept volunteers this year, but are asking for donations to help support local families in need. Two charities asking for donations instead of volunteering are St. Monica’s Church and Westside Thanksgiving Community Dinner, both in Santa Monica.
Volunteer Opportunities To Help the Elderly
Normally we point families toward local nursing homes that welcome visits from young people over the holidays; however this year we're still steering clear of that activity. Likewise, we're not recommending group caroling at the retirement community up the street. Luckily, we've found a few other safe ways to pitch in.
Color A Smile is a super easy and creative way to get your kids into the spirit of giving. What's great about this program is that it requires nothing more than simple artistic inspiration. This non-profit organization distributes cheerful drawings to senior citizens in nursing homes and hospitals, as well as Meals on Wheels recipients. They also send the drawings to overseas troops. It's so simple to volunteer—just print, color, sign, and mail!
All Together LA is a charity that pairs volunteers with isolated elderly neighbors who are in need of extra support during the pandemic. Running errands for an older person in the neighborhood who has no family nearby is a wonderful way to engage kids in the spirit of giving.
The earth could use a little love, too. Photo courtesy of TreePeople
Environmental Volunteer Opportunities
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.
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