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14 Ways to Make a Difference in LA for Every Type of Do-Gooder

Here’s how (and where) to lend a hand to the City of Angels.

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TreePeople | Adam Corey Thomas
TreePeople | Adam Corey Thomas

The world is on hold and we’re all looking for ways to help. But with what feels like a million worthy causes in Los Angeles (The environment! Women’s rights! Homelessness! LGBTQ youth!) it can be overwhelming to find the right fit. That’s why aligning your interests and skills with volunteer opportunities is a good place to start. Many organizations have pivoted their approach to volunteering to accommodate social distancing, and there are plenty of alternative ways to help others until programs are back in full swing. Here are 14 incredible LA organizations to get involved with that’ll help you support the city and its residents in a way that suits you best.

For the outdoors person (and climate protector)

Planting a micro garden and educating friends about the dangers of microplastic have become normal hobbies in 2020. If you find yourself in that camp, TreePeople relies on volunteers to plant trees to renew depleted landscapes lacking protection from climate change. Donations to its emergency fund help keep programs, like DIY greening projects, going during the coronavirus outbreak, too. If you’re more of a beach person, join one of Heal the Bay’s monthly beach cleanups or volunteer at their aquarium to care for animals and educate the public about marine life and conservation. If you can’t volunteer, consider donating to support its programs like the webinar Knowledge Drops, which provides science lessons for the million-plus LA children now learning at home. You can also “aquadopt” a marine animal and donate toward its care -- take that, pet-free apartment buildings.

LA Animal Services

For the animal lover 

If you were the kid trying to adopt every stray you found, channel that animal love into providing TLC to dogs, cats, rabbits, and other creatures at LA Animal Services, where volunteers socialize animals to get them adoption-ready. You can also help out at home by fostering an animal or making a donation. If pups and coffee are your two weaknesses, The Dog Cafe combines drinking lattes and helping rescues find their forever homes. Volunteers can walk dogs, plan activities, take photos, foster, and fundraise. If you’d rather live out a childhood fantasy, there’s a horse for that: Dream Catcher of LA provides horse therapy to city residents dealing with cognitive, physical, and emotional issues. From providing lessons, to caring for the horses, to fundraising, there are plenty of ways to get involved or you can donate; proceeds keep services affordable for clients.

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The Getty | Elon Schoenholz/J. Paul Getty Trust

For the creative who wants to give back 

LA is full of opportunities to use the right side of your brain for the greater good. Writers should consider volunteering as a teacher for InsideOUT Writers, which provides creative writing classes to current and formerly incarcerated youth, or donate to help fund their free classes and support groups. Then, there’s volunteering at the world’s largest cultural and philanthropic institution dedicated to the visual arts: The Getty. Art fanatics can help out assisting guests, carrying out daily operations, and directing visitors to events and programs. Even though the museum is temporarily closed, you can donate to their fund that directly benefits LA art programs affected by the crisis. Once social distancing guidelines are relaxed, the musically inclined can donate their skills to the Cedars-Sinai Music for Healing Program, comforting patients and their loved ones.

School on Wheels

For the spreader of knowledge 

Plenty of social causes to fight for means there are lots of programs looking for mentors. Volunteer at the Los Angeles LGBT Center in their “Resistance Squad” to take direct action on protecting LGBT rights by writing to representatives, joining marches and rallies, and participating in phonebanks. You can also mentor LGBT youth as one of their LifeWorks mentors. If you can’t volunteer in person, consider donating to the center, which remains open to provide essential health services to patients. If you’re one of those people who could have stayed in school forever, School on Wheels provides free online and in-person tutoring and mentoring to children from kindergarten through 12th grade. Other ways to help include hosting a backpack or school supply drive to get kids much-needed supplies.

The Midnight Mission

For the person whose love language is food

Eating in LA is always an adventure -- and so is giving back through food institutions. Get involved in the kitchen at The Midnight Mission, which serves thousands of meals to the homeless every day. Donating to-go food containers, disposable utensils, single-serving beverages, and other food items is another way to help vulnerable citizens who come to the mission during this time. If you love hanging out at farmers markets and reducing food waste, check out Food Forward. The organization sends volunteers to farmers markets across LA and Ventura counties to rescue unsold produce and deliver it to agencies helping food-insecure families. They’re suspending volunteers during the coronavirus outbreak, but if you happen to grow produce, you can donate it to their food relief effort.

Coach Art

For the hobbyist

Do you spend hours juggling a soccer ball? Do you love to bake? Are you super crafty? Whatever your talent, there’s likely a spot for you at Coach Art, which relies on volunteers to provide sports and art lessons to kids with chronic illnesses. In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Coach Art has pivoted to 100% online lessons, so you can still give back virtually. And since it is SoCal, of course there is a volunteer opportunity that has to do with surfing and spending time on the beach. One More Wave provides wounded and disabled veterans with surf lessons and customized surfing equipment to accommodate their needs. Applications for volunteer surfing instructors are on hold until things are back to normal, but One More Wave currently needs volunteers to fundraise on their behalf so that surfboards, wetsuits, and other equipment remain free for the folks they serve.