‘Tis the season to be jolly and thankful, and well-fed and warm. ‘Tis also the season to give to those who may be less fortunate—and more hungry—by taking advantage of the city's many volunteer opportunities. Start your volunteer work with our list of some of the best places in Los Angeles to feed the needy—and hopefully your altruism will linger well past the holidays.
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Downtown LA’s Midnight Mission is one of the best-run organizations of its kind, offering counseling, education, training and job placement to the city’s homeless population, as well as food, shelter, personal hygiene and medical care. Along with regular meal services and food donation drives, the Mission holds special Thanksgiving and Christmas events. If you’d like to help during a special event, start with a regular dining hall service shift first. Note: Because it’s an all-male facility, Midnight Mission asks that female volunteers come with a companion (male or female).
Union Station Homeless Services
USHS, San Gabriel Valley’s largest social services agency, has hosted “Dinner in the Park” for over four decades. Deemed the biggest potluck in the nation by the LA Times, the volunteer-run dinner helps provide warm holiday meals to more than 7,000 low income, homeless and senior citizens. For details and volunteer information, apply online; and if you’re interested in donating goods, take a look at USHS’ most-wanted list (green beans are in high demand). The agency also offers year-round community meal programs and other services for the area’s homeless population, including emergency shelter, community shower programs, children’s education and recreational activity and adult classes in parenting, money management and nutrition.
Santa Monica–based One Voice puts on an annual Holiday Food Program to distribute Christmas food baskets, toys and books to more than 2,500 families living in poverty in the LA area. On the Thursday and Friday before Christmas, more than 2,000 volunteers come together to prep, sort and package food—it’s a festive atmosphere with holiday music and lots of socializing. Saturday, volunteers deliver the food and toys to seven distribution centers, and on Sunday, families arrive to receive the goods and celebrate with volunteers. To be part of the celebration, check One Voice’s volunteer info page and fill out a registration form.
At each of SOVA’s three service centers (West LA, West Hollywood and Van Nuys), Food Pantries are stocked with nutritious canned and packaged foods, breads and fresh produce. Pantries provide a free five-day supply of groceries and hygiene products for each family member in need. Volunteers are needed for everything from packaging and inventory to registering clients and entering data. SOVA offers opportunities for both “occasional” and “core” volunteers—check their site to learn more about both.Read more
Fred Jordan Mission
The Fred Jordan Mission has provided food, clothing, blankets and other services to the homeless population of inner city Los Angeles for more than 50 years. Its Street Banquet on Skid Row offers a traditional turkey dinner to hundreds of the area’s homeless. FJM also hosts a Christmas Celebration during which volunteers hand out food bags, toys and blankets—as well as sing carols—to more than 12,000 of downtown’s neediest. Volunteer opportunities are also available during Easter, Mother’s Day and Back-to-Shool. Check the Mission’s website and fill out a volunteer form to get involved. Note: The FJM is a religious organization and tends to hand out “food for the soul” (a.k.a. bibles) along with its “food for the body”—in case that sort of thing makes you uncomfy.
Food on Foot
This organization distributes food (chicken, fresh fruits and veggies, granola bars, milk etc.) and gently used clothing, shoes and blankets every week in Hollywood. You can sign up to volunteer anytime, and though it usually costs $25 (providing the funds to feed about five people for a day), for FOF’s big Thanksgiving Day celebration, volunteer cost is $100. Note: Neil Patrick Harris is a benefactor—he won $100,000 for FOF on Jeopardy in 2010—so don’t be surprised if while volunteering you see him don a hairnet and take to the streets.
Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission
Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission offers a host of services, including hot meals, health services and housing to the needy population in San Fernando Valley. Though its annual Thanksgiving Banquet volunteer sign-ups often fill up, you can still help to hand out hot meals, clothing, medicine and hygiene kits on weekdays, as well as volunteering for its breakfast on Saturdays and BBQs every other Sunday. Check the website for a calendar of events.
This organization comes together to prepare meals, which volunteers bring to different shelters in West LA to be handed out by shelter volunteers. If you’re interested in the prep and cooking, but maybe not ready for the interaction side of things, this could be the group for you. Each November, OIF hosts its annual Homeless Feeding, an all-day event including meal prep, assembly and packing, delivery and serving at different shelters, and post-event cleanup. You can either donate your time or drop off key necessities like pre-cooked turkeys, pies, juice boxes, water or delivery vans (you know, if you have one handy).Read more
LA Regional Food Bank
Help distribute food to LA’s hungry at the LA Regional Food Bank. Volunteers are needed for food sorting, special events and food drives, including the organization’s upcoming Operation Gobble, where volunteers will help to sort, inspect and repackage food for delivery during the holidays. Check the Food Bank website for a list of upcoming Gobble dates and to register.