Volunteer Opportunities in Los Angeles: How Kids Can Help During the Holidays and All Year
Volunteering during the holidays not only helps our community, but also teaches kids the joy of giving back. Sharing traditions with our children is what the holidays are about—baking pies, lighting candles, giving gifts, singing songs—and volunteering to help those in need is another wonderful family tradition. In fact, dishing up food or singing Christmas carols may be the best gift of all, setting up our kids for a life of sharing and empathy.
These are some of our favorite local organizations that offer up ideas for volunteering with kids of all ages: delivering food, helping lonely grandparents, fostering animals, and spreading cheer for the holidays and beyond! Also, check our calendar for more upcoming charitable events. 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.
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 $125, which will provide over 20 meals for the unhoused in Los Angeles. There are limited tickets to volunteer so act quickly!
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. 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.
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. Kids must be 13 & up to volunteer with parents, and over 16 to volunteer alone.
On November 21 meal boxes are being prepared 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 23, volunteers help distribute prepared Thanksgiving dinners. On November 24 there are Thanksgiving Day community events with private sit-down dinners for residents held at multiple smaller locations.
Other volunteer opportunities include making "Welcome Home Kits" for people moving into or out of transitional or permanent housing facilities. These kits provide them with the resources they need to rebuild their lives. Your family can also volunteer to provide sack lunches to the shelter residents and other community members in need.
Food Forward is an organization that collects surplus fruit from backyard trees. Visit the website to sign up for ways to help harvest private produce. This is an easy way to involve kids, and teach them about eliminating food waste!
This organization is based out of Playa Del Rey. It's not just a food bank; this year the organization is creating holiday-themed bags with snacks, everyday essentials like toothpaste and socks, and more! The bags will be filled on Saturday, Nov. 26 from 9am-5:30pm; volunteers are asked to sign up for shifts that last a minimum of three hours.
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 still isn't happening in 2022, 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.
Westside Thanksgiving Community Dinner in Santa Monica is back for 2022! This event takes place on Thanksgiving Day, November 24 but also needs volunteers to help set up the day before. Then, you can volunteer on actual turkey day for a two-hour shift. There's a limit of one shift for the event so everyone can help!
Volunteer Opportunities To Help the Elderly
Normally we point families toward local nursing homes that welcome visits from young people over the holidays. While nursing homes have made it through the worst of the pandemic, we still advise you to call ahead to inquire about visiting times. If you want to carol at the retirement community up the street, consider serenading residents from the front steps, courtyards, or outside grounds. Sending cards is another great way to bring socially-distanced cheer this holiday season to a still-vulnerable population.
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. 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, updated with additional reporting by Matt Matasci