Thanksgiving

16 Volunteer and Donation Opportunities in Los Angeles

Make a difference this holiday season.

It’s been a very, very tough year for everyone, but for those who were already struggling before the pandemic hit, the dire straits of 2020 are magnified. So if you’re enjoying necessities like stable housing and regular meals, there are plenty of opportunities to do some good for others right now; Los Angeles is home to plenty of amazing nonprofits, and all of them could use a little help. Yes, you can (and should) make a financial donation to a cause near and dear to you, but there are so many other ways you can lend a hand right now, too. Many organizations have set up contactless ways to donate food, clothing, and supplies or even deliver holiday meals to those in need. Educational nonprofits are looking for tutors to help underprivileged kids learn from home. And many other organizations still need in-person help. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to do it safely, socially distanced, and while wearing a mask. 

We’ve highlighted a solid variety of local nonprofits that could use your support—and be sure to check out sites like VolunteerMatch and LAWorks, where you can find programs that fit your interests, skill sets, and comfort level. It sounds cliché, but you really can make a difference with just a little time and effort. And this year, everyone needs it a little more.

Make sure everyone gets a meal this Thanksgiving

In order to deliver 1,000 meals this Thanksgiving (that would double last year’s number), Project Angel Food, a nonprofit that focuses on feeding critically ill, homebound community members, is looking for 200 volunteers to make just five deliveries each on Thanksgiving Day. Sign up online to choose a preferred shift, then show up at the organization’s Hollywood location where the meals you’ll be delivering will be brought to you car (and where you might spot a celebrity greeter or two). And then you’ll be off to make a huge difference in the lives of many who might be alone this holiday.

Westside Thanksgiving, a large-scale dinner for those in need that’s been taking place for more than three decades, is canceled this year but its organizers will instead be distributing meal cards to the people it normally feeds. Every $10 donation provides a meal card to someone who needs it and you can donate online.

Since Union Station Homeless Services isn’t able to put on its annual Dinner in the Park this year, the organization will be hosting multiple private Thanksgiving dinners for residents at its private facilities as well offering its clients with access to kitchens meal boxes and prepared meals to-go on the two Wednesdays before Thanksgiving. That means, as usual, they need hundreds of frozen turkeys, specific holiday-related non-perishable food items (like boxes of mac and cheese and stuffing, for example), and other supplies donated ahead of time. You can check their wishlists and either drop off items in person at their Pasadena location on weekdays until Thanksgiving or send non-perishable items through Amazon

The Los Angeles Mission has been holding a drive-thru canned food drive since June, welcoming any non-perishable food via contactless drop-off at either of its two Downtown locations Monday through Friday from 8am until 2pm. You can also drop off personal care items and toiletries (listed here) or have them shipped via the organization’s Amazon wishlist.

Support citizens transitioning out of homelessness

A DTLA institution for 40 years, the Downtown Women’s Center provides job training to homeless women, including in the field of product design where residents create items like cards, candles, and T-shirts. While the brick-and-mortar boutiques are currently closed, you can still support them by shopping online on the Made by DWC website. You can also check out what the center is in need of—everything from sleeping bags to shoes—and either schedule a drop off or help the nonprofit stock up via its Amazon wishlist.

The People Concern is one of LA’s largest social service agencies providing health care, substance abuse services, and permanent housing to those navigating a path out of homelessness. Despite a halt on in-person volunteering, the group has come up with plenty of creative ways for anyone to support both the Downtown and Santa Monica centers. Try filling up a grocery bag during your next shopping run and drop it off, order a catered meal to be delivered, provide them with specific sack lunch items, or donate rolls of quarters for laundry among other things. (You can check which facility needs which items here.) 

Unfortunately, LA’s homeless situation is seriously dire, but there are a slew of additional organizations working to alleviate the problem. You can find more groups to help via the Homeless Shelter Directory.

Become an advocate for foster children

Kids in the foster system have been dealt a tough hand, and the more help they get from an adult who cares, the better. CASA (which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Los Angeles needs volunteers to work one-on-one with kids in the foster system, and advocate for what’s in the child’s best interest. Not surprisingly, the process to become a CASA volunteer is multi-step, with interviews, training, and shadowing (and the group estimates that a volunteer then dedicate about 15 hours a month to case activities), so it takes commitment—but actually playing a part in getting children into permanent, loving homes is worth it.

Teach computer science skills to the next generation of coders

The goal of Black Girls Code is a lofty one: to encourage young Black girls to become innovators in STEM fields through exposure to computer science and technology at a young age, and to train 1 million girls by 2040. To help the national organization accomplish this mission, sign on to volunteer with the LA chapter, which is often seeking experts in science and tech fields (we’re looking at you, Silicon Beach crew) to help organize, lead, and teach workshops to aspiring tech divas. Most everything is safely virtual right now, so the kids can learn everything from web development to how to build a gaming app from home. If coding isn’t your thing, you can still inquire about other opportunities, like helping with social media and admin. 

Support our service members

To offer a little bit of comfort (and thanks!) to traveling members of the military and their families, LAX’s Bob Hope USO outpost provides food, drink, sleeping areas, showers, entertainment options, and children’s play areas to troops passing through. The location —which is currently open weekdays 9am to 5pm—is actively recruiting volunteers to commit to a minimum of two four-hour shifts a month to help keep the facility up and running. You can also make your workout count by participating in the USO Trot for the Troops 5K. Register now and log your walk or run time between November 21 and November 28 to support our service people.

Chat with a senior

For homebound seniors and chronically ill adults, having someone bring a meal to their home is a literal lifesaver. During the pandemic, St. Vincent Meals on Wheels has doubled the number of meals it provides for hundreds more seniors stuck at home. The group is currently seeking volunteers to work as runners, kitchen aides, drivers, and grocery assemblers. Due to COVID safety measures, those delivering meals are no longer able to linger for a chat, which often made a big difference in the daily lives of those who live alone. To fill the void, the organization has set up a Social Call program so that seniors can get a call from a friendly voice a few days a week. This one literally just involves talking on the phone from wherever you are, so we should probably all sign up to do it. Email lmedina@stvincentmow.org to learn more or volunteer.

Support the LGBTQ community 

The long-running Los Angeles LGBT Center provides health care, social services, housing, and more to members of the LGBT community in need, in addition to doing advocacy work. Check out their site to learn how to get involved and note that the org needs help with a range of programs and also needs volunteers with special skills, like lawyers and photographers. They’ve suspended clothing donations for now due to COVID, but you can always make a helpful monetary donation.

Rescue a pet...

Taking home a pet is a serious commitment, but it’s also the absolute best thing in the world (hence why millions of us pick up poop on a daily basis). If you’re ready for a furry new roommate now that you’re home more than ever, there are lots of rescue groups to consider, many of which are still running outdoor adoption events, including LA Animal Rescue and Much Love Animal Rescue. And since senior dogs often get overlooked, consider giving a loving home to an older pup via One Dog Rescue and Golden Years Dog Sanctuary.

… or give a dog a bed

Since pets are often traumatized and stressed when they’re dumped at a shelter or rescue facility, something as simple as a blanket or bed can make all the difference in helping them feel calm and comfortable. Founded a decade ago, Operation Blankets of Love has since set up dozens of drop-off locations around Southern California where you can donate blankets, towels, pet beds, treats, food, and more, all of which ends up going to thousands of animals in need, including pets who live with disabled vets and low-income seniors. OBOL also puts the call out for supplies during emergencies and natural disasters like wildfires. You can get the full list of what to donate here.

Clean up the beach

The environmental nonprofit Heal the Bay is focused on making LA’s coastal waters safe, healthy, and clean–usually through education, advocacy, and giving hands-on examples of what it’s doing via the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. While the aquarium is closed and organized cleanups are currently on hold, one simple way to make a difference right now is to commit to doing three clean ups a year on your own in a neighborhood, park, or beach near you. You can even use an app to track your trash pickup.

Support underprivileged children and help close the education gap

You can volunteer with a number of virtual tutoring programs focused on helping Black students gain more access to quality education. Sign on with Project 614, a virtual tutoring center looking to close the academic gap for under-resourced kids. You’ll need to complete an orientation and then meet virtually with your student twice a week for about an hour. Or check out the Joseph Learning Lab, where you’ll support underprivileged 3rd through 6th graders with reading and math help during 90-minute sessions to make sure they’re not left behind.

Support Indigenous communities impacted by substance abuse

The Long Beach-based American Indian Changing Spirits provides a culturally relevant, community-based outreach and education recovery program focused on American Indians struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and dependency. If you have counseling experience, fill out this form to find out more about volunteer opportunities. Everyone else can make a tax deductible donation online.

Help Fight COVID 

All those convenient, drive-thru COVID-19 Testing Centers can’t operate without both staff and volunteers. Don’t worry, you won’t be administering the test, but you’ll be doing things like pre-checking people in, handing out test kits, and guiding fellow Angelenos through the self-administered tests while working under the supervision of the LAFD. Obviously, those in high-risk categories shouldn’t go for this one, but otherwise, you can choose a date to volunteer here.

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Lizbeth Scordo is a contributor at Thrillist.