Yellow roast turkey on a platter with fruit held aloft by many hands against a cranberry background.
(The Los Angeles Times / Getty)

26 ways to volunteer during the holidays in Los Angeles

This season, Los Angeles brims with volunteer opportunities, from delivering gifts to walking Doberman puppies. Soup kitchens, animal shelters and outdoor cleanup crews stretch from Long Beach to Santa Clarita. As toy drives and holiday dinners kick in, the need for volunteers soars, but so does the number of people willing to help.

Nearing holidays tend to spur Angelenos into the giving spirit — and that’s a good thing. Andrew Linares, volunteer manager and alum of the Midnight Mission, a nonprofit that aids unhoused people, said the uptick is partially due to the amount of people who’ve recently moved to the area from out of state. The Midnight Mission has a handful of volunteers who are far from family and seeking something meaningful to do for the holidays.

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“They come here and they make a family of their own, they pick their own family,” Linares said. “They start volunteering and building relationships with some of our guests and our staff, and it just becomes this beautiful tree.”


Often, the holidays allow extra time for people to show the compassion they already have, said Justin Szlasa, executive director of SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition. “I find that there’s a tremendous amount of empathy and a tremendous amount of concern and goodwill in Angelenos,” Szlasa said. “I see it all the time every day, especially when it comes to homelessness, because I’d say that everyone feels that more can be done, that more should be done.”

Feeling the urge to help? Here are several volunteer opportunities, ranging from one-day events to recurring commitments across Los Angeles County.

Shop for one-of-a-kind, vintage and handmade gifts at these Los Angeles-area craft fairs. Find unique holiday gifts and support local creatives.

Oct. 28, 2022

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Volunteers with the Hollywood Food Coalition prepare boxes.
(Hollywood Food Coalition)

Prep meals with Hollywood Food Coalition

Hollywood Nonprofit
Since 1987, the Hollywood Food Coalition has served nightly hot meals to anyone in need — and it hasn’t missed a day. Those who love the kitchen can try meal prep, which runs from 1:30 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. on weekends. Or chat directly with guests while volunteering at a food service, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. weekdays and 6:15 to 8:30 p.m. on weekends. Community exchange, where donations are sorted and distributed, runs in two shifts weekdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 1:30 to 5 p.m. Sign up on the website; no experience necessary.
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A volunteer wearing a Santa hat hands a box to a woman

Try something new with the YMCA

Boyle Heights Nonprofit
The YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles has 27 branches, a telling indication of its sprawling volunteer opportunities. Whether you’re sorting veggies or handing out toys, this is a great fit for those who need flexible hours.

On Dec. 15, there’s a toy and groceries giveaway at Culver-Palms Family YMCA from 9 to 11 a.m. and a toy giveaway at Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA from 5 to 7 p.m. (marked on this map). Food distributions are held daily across varying cities. Visit the website or email to get involved.
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A group of people hold their arms up at the Hope of the Valley Drumstick Dash
(Drumstick Dash)

Raise money for hot meals with Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission

North Hollywood Nonprofit
True to its tagline, “Move Your Feet So Others Can Eat,” proceeds from the Drumstick Dash supply more than 500,000 hot meals for homeless men and women through the Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission. Over 7,000 people will walk or run either the 5K or 10K on Thanksgiving Day, but there are plenty of ways to help without sweating. Time slots range from 4 a.m. to 11 a.m. depending on the roles, which include helping with hydration stations, logistics, photography and production. If your Thanksgiving is already booked, support the cause with packet pickup in the days prior.

Hosted by Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, view all volunteer slots and sign up on the website.
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A person walks by a community fridge on an L.A. sidewalk
(LA Community Fridges)

Stock shelves with L.A. Community Fridges

Watts Mutual Aid Group
Painted with watermelon, clouds or butterflies, these vibrant fridges are scattered across Los Angeles — and you can help stock them. Sign up for Tuesday produce pickups to organize or distribute — meeting locations change weekly — or try Produce in the Park on Thursdays at St. James Park in West Adams. There are 22 active fridges to stock daily and plenty of roles are available: Spend time as a food-mover, fridge-mover or neighborhood checker, or remotely help with communication or translation. Request to join the Slack to get involved. Listed on this map is the Watts location, but here’s where you can find other community fridges near you.
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A man holds on to a leashed dog
(Best Friends Animal Society)

Help pets find homes with Best Friends Animal Society

Sawtelle Nonprofit
This animal welfare organization works nationally, but its Los Angeles adoption center is a great volunteer spot for pet-loving Angelenos. Staffing levels can be light around the holiday season, so extra volunteers assist pets in finding homes at holiday adoption events. A day at the center might include animal interaction, like feeding kittens and walking dogs, as well as day-to-day tasks like disinfecting kennels or preparing surgery packs for the medical clinic.

Start by creating a profile on the website. Acceptance should take a day or two; then you’ll schedule a first-day training to get started.
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Two people wearing gloves pick up leaves and branches
(Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy)

Save species with Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy

Rancho Palos Verdes Nature Conservancy
On the bluffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, volunteers create a home for local wildlife. Spend a morning clearing invasive weeds and planting native species, including special plants that aid in preserving endangered species. Staff will be on site to show volunteers the ropes for the day.

Most volunteer days are on Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon, and are open to all ages. The address noted here is just one of multiple sites where people volunteer.
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A volunteer with the Salvation Army stands behind a table full of Thanksgiving meals
(The Salvation Army)

Serve a Thanksgiving meal at the Bell Shelter

Bell Nonprofit
The Salvation Army’s Bell Shelter, one of the largest in the West, is seeking volunteers for Thanksgiving Day. Start by setting up festive tables and goody bags, then host one to two tables of residents — four residents per table — by serving drinks, a meal and dessert. The Bell Shelter will cycle through three separate meal services from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cleanup will be after all three services from 2 to 3 p.m. Volunteers are welcome to pick up a single meal shift or stay the whole time.
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Three people cut up vegetables as part of L.A. Family Housing volunteer services
(LA Family Housing)

Make cards with L.A. Family Housing

Sun Valley Homeless Services
When you have a free moment, write festive holiday cards to adults transitioning out of homelessness to fill their rooms with holiday cheer. L.A. Family Housing recommends hosting card-making parties, making Thanksgiving meal kits and collecting snack packs to drop off at the Los Angeles facility. Thanksgiving meal kits consist of donating a reusable shopping bag with meal items and a $20 gift card to buy a turkey.

L.A. Family Housing also offers in-person volunteer opportunities, like donation organization, and seeks those with special skills, like dog grooming and yoga. These activities take place on the main campus in North Hollywood.
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Volunteers with SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition stand behind a table full of food and other items

Get to know unhoused neighbors with SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition

Silver Lake Homeless Services
With volunteer opportunities four days a week, SELAH offers support to unhoused members of the community. On Saturdays in Silver Lake, it’s all hands on deck to distribute hot lunches, clothing and shoes, first aid supplies and hygiene kits, as well as offer showers and charging stations. A services desk helps people who are unhoused receive documents to get into housing.

Similar amenities are offered at Tuesday’s Echo Park shower program, while doctors are on site and lunches are distributed at Wednesday’s Silver Lake Drop-In Program. The Sunday Atwater Potluck in Bond Park runs the third Sunday of every month. New volunteers are welcome to sign up online. You can also get involved in an outreach program as a returning volunteer.
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A photograph from Surfrider South Bay for Holiday Volunteer Spots POI.
(Surfrider South Bay)

Clean beaches with Surfrider

Torrance Nonprofit
Surfrider Foundation’s South Bay chapter will sweep the sands on Dec. 17 at Torrance Beach. Register in advance on its website or reach out on social media, then spend two hours getting to know the community while preserving L.A. beaches.

“People always say it’s like one big small town, so it’s pretty common to run into the same folks who regularly attend our beach cleanups,” said Brett Medeiros, cleanup coordinator.

Surfrider also has chapters in Long Beach and Los Angeles.
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Volunteers with the Long Beach Red Shield stand behind a table filled with toys
(Long Beach Red Shield)

Spread holiday cheer with Long Beach Red Shield

Long Beach Nonprofit
The need for volunteers runs high at Long Beach Red Shield, a chapter of the Salvation Army. On Dec. 17, over 750 kids (and counting) will receive toys on their wishlists. Help with parent check-in, traffic control and handing toy bags to parents from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., though it’s not mandatory to stay the entire time. In the weeks prior, help prepare by sorting through toy donations through Dec. 10, or fill bags with specific toys from a child’s wishlist from Dec. 12 through Dec. 16.

Through Dec. 24, stand with the famous red kettle and ring bells in front of stores to raise money for the food pantry.

Whether it’s 30 minutes or a few hours, any amount of time is welcome. To get involved, reach out to Regina Jaster at
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Two people pet a black-and-white dog as part of Wags & Walks
(Wags & Walks)

Walk dogs with Wags & Walks

Sawtelle Nonprofit
Walk, feed and play with more than 25 dogs, from Chihuahua puppies to senior Saint Bernards, at this nonprofit. Volunteers work as part of its “Wags Club,” where they spend a few hours socializing and exercising the center’s furry residents. To start, join a volunteer orientation at the West L.A. adoption center.

The need is high for temporary foster families, which keep recent rescues out of overcrowded, high-kill shelters. If you’re up for a larger commitment, try fostering this holiday season.
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A woman hands a boy a Christmas present
(Dotan Saguy/Dotan Saguy)

Make Jingle Bags with PATH

East Hollywood Homeless Services
PATH, which primarily helps families and individuals experiencing homelessness, brings Jingle Bags to people in need this holiday season. This festive pack of supplies can be put together at home and dropped off at a PATH facility or assembled onsite, where volunteers can also sort donations, decorate the facility and host holiday activities. Group opportunities are available. (Address for the holiday gift wrapping noted in the map.)

In the PATH Cooks Program, volunteers cook meals in a PATH kitchen at 2346 Cotner Ave. in Los Angeles. Groups plan a menu, shop for supplies and prepare meals in the onsite kitchen to serve to PATH residents.

Sign up online and email to volunteer this season.
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A photograph from the Children’s Hunger Fund or Holiday Volunteer Spots POI.
(Children’s Hunger Fund)

Pack meals for kids with Children’s Hunger Fund

Sylmar Nonprofit
Two-hour shifts run several days a week at the Sylmar warehouse of Children’s Hunger Fund. Shifts can consist of bagging pasta, scooping beans or packaging gifts to send to children and families worldwide. In line with “kids helping kids,” volunteering is open to all ages. Or help from home by collecting coins for Project Coin Pak, where every 25 cents provides a meal for a child.
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Volunteers read to children during a Reading to Kids event
(Reading to Kids)

Share stories with Reading to Kids

Westside Mentoring
This nonprofit sends volunteers to eight elementary schools near downtown Los Angeles to read stories aloud, lead crafting activities and send every child home with a book. Newcomers spend the first hour in a training session and preparing for the day, then disperse in pairs to lead each small group. With Santa visiting in December, attendance swells — and so does the need for volunteers.

Sessions run from 9 a.m. to noon on the second Saturday of the month, and masks must be worn indoors. Sign up on the Reading to Kids website. (The address listed here is just one of many volunteer sites.)
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Volunteers with Ascencia stand by a table filled with brown bag lunches they helped make

Buy gifts for families with Ascencia

Glendale Nonprofit
Volunteer opportunities await at Ascencia, a Glendale-based nonprofit that aids the homeless community. Organize supply closets on weekdays or join the guest chef program to make meals for 45 residents. Virtual opportunities include making brown bag lunches, assembling hygiene kits and hosting clothing drives. Submit an application to help on Ascencia’s website.

This holiday season, participate in Adopt-A-Family. Once you sign up, you’ll find out how many members are in the household you’re assigned to and receive a short story about them along with their wishlist. Items range from $25 to $50. After you shop, find a time to drop off the items at Ascencia.
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Volunteers sort bins full of items at a Toys for Tots event
(Toys for Tots)

Collect toys with Toys for Tots

Santa Clarita Nonprofit
Toys for Tots is seeking volunteers in Newhall. Count and organize toys, collect filled boxes from companies or distribute to nonprofits and families. Reach out via its website, where coordinators will place you in fitting opportunities. Toys for Tots also has opportunities in Pasadena and Bell.
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A photograph from Friends of the LA River for Holiday Volunteer Spots POI.
(Friends of the L.A. River)

Restore habitats with Friends of the L.A. River

Sepulveda Basin Nonprofit
Friends of the L.A. River offers a monthly Habitat Restoration Day, coming up on Dec. 17, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. After a morning of removing invasive plants, enjoy a guided bird tour around the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve. Walk-ins are welcome, but volunteers are encouraged to sign up on Eventbrite.
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Volunteers with the Midnight Mission serve up food
(The Midnight Mission)

Get involved with the Midnight Mission

Downtown L.A. Homeless Services
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served near-daily at the Midnight Mission, which provides emergency services and programming to people experiencing homelessness. Volunteer shifts last two to three hours and can include sorting clothes, tutoring and meal service.

“Our kitchen is working really hard in making sure that they are providing meals to thousands of people just in our regular services, but also in making sure that Thanksgiving is covered for this brunch that we’re having,” said volunteer manager Andrew Linares.

Sign up on the website or email Volunteers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear a KN95 mask while in the facility.

On Thanksgiving morning, fundraise for the Midnight Mission by walking or running a 5K or 10K in the Los Angeles Turkey Trot. The course starts and ends at City Hall. Registration is open.
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Children and adults participate in a Girls on the Run 5K
(Tanmay Shankar)

Exercise with Girls on the Run

Whittier Narrows Nonprofit
For a one-day commitment, help out with a semiannual 5K on Dec. 4. Girls on the Run empowers girls from third to eighth grade to be physically active while learning about emotional health and building confidence. The season’s end is celebrated with a non-competitive 5K, where 125 to 150 volunteers cheer kids on, host water stops or help with logistics. The three- to four-hour time commitment runs between 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Get started by completing an online application and submitting a background check.
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A volunteer with Union Station Homeless Services examines prepared meals
(Union Staton Homeless Services)

Serve dinner in the park with Union Station Homeless Services

Pasadena Homeless Services
Families and adults experiencing homelessness or poverty, senior citizens, those alone on the holiday or anyone who is hungry is welcome to join Dinner in the Park. Over 4,000 meals were served by Union Station last year. This year, the organization needs volunteers to prep food, cook, package and serve — no cooking experience required. On Nov. 21, volunteers will hand out boxes of ingredients for the public to use at home, and on Nov. 23, they’ll serve prepared meals to reheat for the holiday. Private sit-down dinners are held for residents of Union Station’s housing facilities on Thanksgiving. Complete an online application to help out.
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A photograph for Operation Jump Start for Holiday Volunteer Spots POI.
(Operation Jump Start)

Mentor students with Operation Jump Start

Long Beach Mentoring
Those seeking a longer-term commitment can check out Operation Jump Start, which provides academic assistance and mentoring to support low-income, first-generation students in getting accepted to and graduating from four-year colleges. Apply on the website to be a mentor, after which you’ll be paired one-on-one with a student based on interests and personality.

“Mentors and mentees often go on to stay in touch well beyond the duration of their mentorship, and in many cases become mainstays in each other’s lives,” said Rebecca Ridge, community outreach supervisor. “It’s a perfect opportunity for anyone who is looking to give back as their New Years resolution.”
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A young girl smiles and holds up her arms while standing in front of a lifeguard tower
(Clean Up the Beach)

Collect trash with Clean Up the Beach

Venice Beach Cleanup
When Girl Scout Makayla Cox couldn’t find a beach cleanup earlier this year, she started her own. Her organization Clean Up the Beach meets monthly from 10 a.m. to noon at Venice Beach, encouraging people to “Be Nice to VeNice” by keeping its shores clean. Fill out this Google form to sign up, then meet at the green tent by Lifeguard Tower #19. Supplies are limited, so bring a bucket, trash-picker, gloves and a reusable water bottle.

The next cleanup is on Dec. 11 from 10 a.m. to noon.
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A man carries a bucket along a trail in Santa Clarita
(Wildland Weed Warriors)

Work on trails with Wildland Weed Warriors

Santa Clarita Wildland
On Dec. 17, grab a jacket and head out to restore the city of Santa Clarita’s Golden Valley Ranch Open Space. Wildland Weed Warriors, a program overseen by the city, works to replace invasive plants with new ones, and the cold months are the best time for organic matter to blend with the soil.

Volunteers must make an account and sign up on the Santa Clarita volunteers website. They’ll receive an email with the meeting point prior to starting. Volunteers ages 11-16 must register with an accompanying caregiver. Bring water, snacks and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. Tools are provided, and the shift is scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon.
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Two volunteers with the Long Beach Rescue Mission smile for the camera
(Long Beach Rescue Mission)

Prepare meals at Long Beach Rescue Mission

Long Beach Homeless Services
Long Beach Rescue Mission provides meals, lodging and emergency services to those experiencing homelessness. Once you attend a brief volunteer orientation, you can pick up a shift any day of the week. The most popular is meal service, where you’ll prepare ingredients for chefs, organize the pantry, serve residents and clean up. Opportunities expand well beyond the kitchen, and creativity and suggestions of new ways to help are always welcome.

“Tasks are as vast as the skills the volunteers have. If someone has capabilities as an electrician, we may ask them to assist us with wiring,” said volunteer coordinator Jesse Lueb.

Orientation is held the second Saturday of the month on site, but isn’t needed if volunteering with a group.
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A group of volunteers with 826LA stand together smiling, with some holding up signs

Tutor with 826LA

Echo Park Nonprofit
Abundant with after-school programs, tutoring and writing workshops, 826LA works out of five locations — two 826LA centers in Echo Park and Mar Vista and three local high schools. Attend a volunteer orientation and submit an application and LiveScan, then choose an opportunity. From helping with writing projects to assisting in college essays, volunteers can work one-on-one or in small groups of students to help develop their skills. Brainstorm, illustrate stories and support kids who take morning field trips to an 826LA center. Volunteer opportunities run daily.
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