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13 places you can still volunteer in L.A. for Thanksgiving and Christmas

A hand holds a wrapped present.
(Ross May / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

Something about the holidays engenders generosity, even from the Grinchiest among us — which is great, because the need for donations and volunteers couldn’t be stronger this year, with so many people out of work due to the pandemic.

There are numerous ways you can help during the holiday season, such as fulfilling a child’s wish list or donating food, clothing, money and toys. Volunteering is another. If you’re interested in chipping in, you’ll note that the number of volunteer opportunities on Thanksgiving and Christmas is reduced in an effort to maintain social distancing and keep people safe during the pandemic.

Nonetheless, there are still plenty of ways you can help. The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, for instance, reports on its website that as of November, its food distributions have more than doubled from pre-COVID times last year, and it badly needs volunteers to help collect, sort and box food.

The four missions — Midnight Mission, Union Rescue Mission, Fred Jordan Missions and Los Angeles Mission — that work with the unhoused of skid row need help filling food boxes and assembling hygiene kits, collecting toys, clothing and blankets, as well as financial donations to pay for their services.

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Demand for services has increased at the missions as well, said Ivan Klassen, executive director of the Los Angeles Mission, who reports that the number of people requesting food boxes has more than doubled from last year, from around 100 to 250 a week.

If you prefer the virtual route, there are many opportunities to help from home, such as making masks for shelters or answering letters to Santa with a written response and gift via BeAnElf.org and the U.S. Postal Service’s Operation Santa program, which begins Dec. 4.

Welcome to our comprehensive gift guide for the 2020 holiday season.

And AllTogether L.A. is looking for volunteers to help elderly and medically compromised people get groceries and medications delivered to their home without being exposed to COVID-19. The idea is to pair neighbors and help develop bonds throughout Los Angeles County.

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Big Sunday, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that organizes and promotes charitable and volunteer opportunities around Southern California, is sponsoring its ninth BIG Thanksgiving Stuffing Event virtually this year on Nov. 22, with the goal of volunteers at home creating at least 2,000 Thanksgiving bags of food to deliver to needy people. The bags will be turned in at Big Sunday’s office on Nov. 23, where turkeys and fresh vegetables and fruits will be added before they’re distributed.

Some organizations are requesting cash donations instead of food to provide holiday meals this year, to buy gift cards and help support local businesses. Westwood Presbyterian Church, for instance, hopes to raise $24,500 to pay for 700 meals, at $35 per meal, for Christmas turkey dinners prepared by local restaurants and caterers.

For a list of volunteer opportunities throughout the holidays in Southern California, see below. You can also check out Big Sunday’s The Holiday List, MOMSLA and SoCal Field Trips, or call organizations in your community to ask how you can help.

Please note that volunteer slots fill up quickly around the holidays, and since the pandemic, almost all these organizations now require advance registration and pandemic safety trainings for volunteers before they can participate, so be sure you register early.

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Thanksgiving day(ish)

Union Station Homeless Services

is celebrating its 50th Dinner in the Park event in Pasadena, providing meals on Nov. 18, 25 and 26, with helpers needed each day.

Hollywood Food Coalition is partnering with Gobble Gobble Give for its annual Thanksgiving Day distribution of food boxes, hygiene kits and other essentials at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood, where volunteers are needed to assemble and pass out kits. You also can donate items such as stuffing mix, instant potatoes, cans of gravy, green beans and mushroom soup, butter, pies, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls and milk for the meals.

Project Angel Food in Hollywood needs volunteers with vehicles on Thanksgiving Day (and many other days) to deliver 1,000 meals to its critically ill, homebound clients between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Masks and social distancing required.

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St. James Episcopal Church’s Friday Soup Kitchen needs help distributing 140 bags of food to homeless and low-income people in the church’s Koreatown neighborhood. Volunteers come in between 7:45 and 9:45 a.m. the day before to prepare the bags and then volunteers starting distributing the food on Thanksgiving day at 8 a.m.

Nana’s Kidz needs drivers 26 and older, with valid driver’s license and insurance, to deliver food bags to low-income children in Santa Ana on Thanksgiving.

Los Angeles Mission has special events, including packing food boxes for homeless people on Nov. 20 and distributing those boxes on Nov. 25, but it still serves three meals a day every day at its downtown location, and needs five volunteers per shift — 4:30 to 8:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, according to volunteer director Cynthia Castro. All volunteers must be preregistered and approved to work before they can participate. These slots are expected to fill quickly, so if you’re interested, register and sign up ASAP.

Union Rescue Mission’s volunteer opportunities have already been filled on Thanksgiving day to help provide its regular daily meal service in downtown L.A. and at Hope Gardens in Sylmar, but the mission needs volunteers to help with its other daily meal service, as well as volunteers on Nov. 20, to help fry turkeys for its Nov. 21 Thanksgiving celebration and helpers to clean up after the Nov. 21 event. Register to volunteer online and then reserve slots for days and locations where you want to help.

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P.A.T.H. Breakfast Ministry of the Westwood United Methodist Church needs six volunteers on Nov. 28, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, between 6 and 8 a.m. to help with its monthly breakfast for veterans at PATH West L.A. (corner of Cotner Avenue and West Pico Boulevard) in Sawtelle. Volunteers must be at least 18.

Christmas day(ish)


Los Angeles Mission needs volunteers to pack and distribute to-go meals, hygiene kits and toys during its Christmas event on Dec. 23, but it still serves three meals a day every day at its downtown location and needs five volunteers per shift — 4:30 to 8:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Christmas Day, according to volunteer director Cynthia Castro. All volunteers must be preregistered and approved to work before they can participate. These slots are expected to fill quickly, so if you’re interested, register and sign up ASAP.

Union Rescue Mission has limited (four per shift) volunteer opportunities on Christmas to help provide its daily meal service in downtown L.A. and at Hope Gardens in Sylmar. Those slots fill quickly, so get your reservation in ASAP. The mission also needs volunteers on Dec. 15 and 16 to help sort, set up and wrap gifts for its annual Christmas store and help prepare and serve meals on other days this holiday season. Register to volunteer online and then reserve slots for days and locations where you want to help.

P.A.T.H. Breakfast Ministry of the Westwood United Methodist Church needs six volunteers on Dec. 26 between 6 and 8 a.m. to help with its monthly breakfast for veterans at PATH West L.A. (corner of Cotner Avenue and West Pico Boulevard) in Sawtelle. Volunteers must be at least 18.

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Lucky Duck Food & Water Volunteer Event needs people to help sort and load boxes of water and meals for outreach workers to distribute to unsheltered people all over San Diego every Friday morning, including Dec. 25. Lucky Duck Foundation volunteers work from 8:15 to 9:30 a.m. in Chula Vista, lifting 20-pound boxes, and must be at least 10 years old. Register online.

St. James Episcopal Church’s Friday Soup Kitchen needs help preparing 70 to 100 meals every Friday afternoon, including Christmas Day, and distributing them to homeless people in the church’s Koreatown neighborhood. Note that the number of volunteers has been reduced this year to ensure social distancing.

Do you know of a volunteer opportunity on Thanksgiving or Christmas days not listed here? Email information about the event, with a website link, to jeanette.marantos@latimes.com.


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