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Column: Looking to make last-minute charitable donations? Tips from Flea, Rick Caruso and others

A Christmas tree and a sunset are reflected in a glass facade
Flea, Rick Caruso, Ruth Galanter and Antonio Villaraigosa have some charitable-giving ideas you might like. Above, the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
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This is the time of year when I hear from readers looking for recommendations on tax-deductible donations to worthy causes, and that always makes me nervous.

I usually tell them they can’t go wrong supporting established nonprofits such as L.A. Family Housing, the People Concern, St. Joseph Center, Homeboy Industries, the Midnight Mission and multiple other organizations that deliver all manner of human services to the needy.

But for every good cause I recommend, there are hundreds I’m leaving out. So this year I thought I’d switch things up and ask readers whom they like to donate to.

Keep your checkbook handy because you’re about to hear from Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Doors drummer John Densmore, mega-bestselling crime fiction writer Michael Connelly and some not-so-famous people as well.

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But first, some perspective.

Thanks to inflation and economic uncertainty, a lot of foundations and individuals are being conservative in their giving this year, said Lorena Sanchez of the Downtown Women’s Center (which is certainly a worthy cause). So every little bit helps, especially as those same economic forces magnify the struggles of so many people.

“The level of need is at its greatest in terms of families coming to us,” said the Rev. Andy Bales of the Union Rescue Mission. “There are families in our gym, families in our chapel, and we’ve had to resort to putting families in hotels to fulfill our promise to never turn a family away.”

So, URM is a good cause, for sure, and it just lost a major donor this week when Guggenheim Partners exec Scott Minerd died of a heart attack at 63.

But let’s move on to some other worthy beneficiaries.

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When I asked Doors drummer Densmore if he has any favorites at this time of year, he came up with three very different ones.

Liberty Hill Foundation, because it’s been “working for criminal and environmental justice for many years,” Densmore said. Tree People, because they’ve “been planting trees for many years.” And Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in Sylmar, a local treasure Densmore has supported for years.

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Tia Chucha’s, by the way, is the favorite charity of two of the people who gave it life two decades ago, when access to books and cultural heritage programs were scarce in the northern reaches of the San Fernando Valley.

“We donate as much time, finances and energy as we can,” said Trini Rodriguez, speaking for herself and husband Luis, the acclaimed author and former poet laureate of Los Angeles. Tia Chucha’s offers a battery of educational programs and live performances, it’s a hangout for kids and adults, and donations keep the place alive.

From Sylmar to Malibu we go, where surf shop owner and former Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner donates to Earth Justice, whose environmental causes have included the protection of bees from pesticides.

“Bees don’t care about Democrats or Republicans,” said Zuma Jay. “They only have a mission to feed us all.”

Former L.A. City Councilmember Ruth Galanter said she supports a popular local charity — the L.A. Regional Food Bank, which keeps thousands of people from going hungry each year. But two of her favorite causes are Tostan, a Senegal-based human rights organization “with village-driven education programs,” and Direct Relief, which provides medical resources around the world and just last week announced a nearly $8-million medical aid package for Ukraine.

Susan Jordan, who runs an eminently worthy nonprofit called the California Coastal Protection Network out of her home in Santa Barbara, had three recommendations:

Azul, an environmental justice organization that has weighed in on various coastal access and protection issues; the Organic Soup Kitchen, which provides meals to low-income people and those suffering from cancer and chronic illness; and the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, which rescues and rehabilitates injured animals in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called Peace Over Violence “a great nonprofit working with victims of domestic violence.” The organization, founded more than 50 years ago, provides free medical and psychiatric services and legal assistance to victims and their children, along with referrals for emergency shelters.

Flea didn’t hesitate when I asked if he had a favorite cause.

“Yeah, my favorite charity is my music school, the Silverlake Conservatory Of Music, because it is community based, directly teaching the kids with no red tape, creating a social hub, giving teachers a place to work, and making the neighborhood a better place,” said Flea.

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After a rough stretch at the height of the pandemic, Flea said, the school is back up to teaching 800 kids weekly. And there’s a scholarship program for students unable to pay for classes and instruments.

Author Connelly and his wife, Linda, have introduced my wife, Alison, and me to Wags and Walks, a nonprofit that rescues dogs and finds homes for them (we’re looking to adopt). If you’re an animal lover, that’s one of many organizations you might consider supporting.

The Connellys had two other recommendations:

My Friend’s Place in Hollywood. If homelessness is this city’s biggest problem, then programs that help homeless youth toward self-sufficiency and stability is a noble mission,” said Michael. “We also support BINC [Book Industry Charitable Foundation] and its efforts to support independent bookstores hit hard by the pandemic.”

Steve Whitmore, public information officer for the L.A. County assessor’s office, supports the Midnight Mission because “they have a solid record with helping alcoholics and addicts get clean and sober and off the streets. … Back in the early ’60s and ’70s I was on the streets, so I can relate.”

Former police officer and Councilman Joe Buscaino highly recommends San Pedro’s Beacon House, “one of the most credible and reliable drug and alcohol recovery programs in the city.” Buscaino also made pitches for the L.A. Harbor Boys & Girls Club and its college-prep program, Harbor Interfaith, and its homeless services programs, the East Side Riders Bike Club (volunteers doing community service and keeping kids out of gangs), and Operation Progress in Watts.

Rick Caruso, the mall developer and businessman who lost his mayoral bid to Karen Bass, seconded Buscaino on Operation Progress and its focus on underserved youth in South Los Angeles. Caruso said he and his wife, Tina, give to various causes year-round, but during the holidays, “we lean in especially” for Operation Progress and Para Los Niños, another youth enrichment program for underserved families.

Bernard Parks Jr., son of the former LAPD chief of police and councilman, has a cause close to his heart.

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“The folks at Children’s Hospital are extremely worthy of consideration,” said Parks, who lost his 4-year-old daughter, Ayah, to cancer in 2016. “The care that CHLA provided her was second to none.”

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Meg Shimatsu lived in her car in the parking lot of a Glendale hospital where she was undergoing dialysis treatment when I wrote about her in 2017. She’s been housed since 2018 and is still awaiting a kidney transplant. If she had money to donate, Shimatsu said, she’d give it to Friends in Deed.

The Pasadena nonprofit runs a food pantry, does street outreach and runs a safe haven called the Women’s Room, which helped line up housing for Shimatsu.

“If it wasn’t for them, I’d probably still be homeless,” said Shimatsu.

Jane Demian of Eagle Rock, a volunteer with SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition, supports the ACLU because “our civil liberties are under attack,” and the National Lawyers Guild because of its housing advocacy “as more and more tenants are losing their homes and becoming homeless.”

Jose Razo grew up in the projects in the San Fernando Valley, became a U.S. Marine and later was principal of Telfair Elementary, where I profiled him and some of the nearly 25% of the school’s students who were homeless.

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Razo, now an L.A. Unified administrator, said one of his favorite charities is DIY Girls, which was established by Assemblymember Luz Rivas (a former Telfair student) to train and mentor girls interested in science, technology and engineering. Another is the Cervantes Fund for Social Justice, which supports elementary school students and struggling families in Pacoima, San Fernando and Sylmar.

Lawrence Tolliver, owner of the iconic South L.A. barber shop I’ve written about so many times, said that in the season of giving, he has two thoughts. First, give to the Brotherhood Crusade, a South L.A.-based youth development program. And second, donate blood. One way to do that is to go to the Red Cross website and find a donation center near you.

Jasmyne Cannick, a journalist and gay rights activist, said “the charity near and dear to my heart” is a safe house in Jamaica “that is sheltering and hiding queer Jamaicans” until they can escape a country where homophobia and violence against LGBTQ people are common. Cannick has been reporting on this in print and in a podcast called Ring the Alarm.

Palos Verdes developer and businessman Jerry Marcil said he grew up poor and couldn’t afford a week of camp with the YMCA.

“They told me if I sold two cases of peanuts door to door, I earned my way to camp,” said Marcil, who later learned that the majority of his tab for the week was covered by donations to the Y.

“Ever since then, I have been loyal to the YMCA,” said Marcil, who is now on the board of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles and chair of fundraising for the South Bay Y.

Can you guess his favorite year-end charity?

My apologies to all the good causes I couldn’t squeeze in this time, but maybe we’ll do this again next year.

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In the meantime, whether you’re on the giving end or the receiving end, happy holidays to you.

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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