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Heal the Bay
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Heal the Bay

Where to volunteer in Los Angeles

Give back to the Los Angeles community and volunteer your time or donate to one of these local charities in need

Michael Juliano
Edited by
Michael Juliano
Written by
Kate Wertheimer
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Staying true to its nickname as the City of Angels, Los Angeles has a vast number of charities working to service those in need and better support our community. From homeless shelters to food banks and even horse therapy facilities, nonprofit organizations are always looking for volunteers to help produce events throughout the year.

We Angelenos have lots of reasons to be thankful for living here, but we also have a responsibility to take care of our city—its people, animals, trees, beaches and more. If you’re looking for ways to give back, start your charity work by choosing from our list of some of the best places to volunteer, from Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles. And while most of these charities specialize in big holiday events, they all offer volunteer opportunities the rest of the year, too.

Volunteer opportunities in Los Angeles

Downtown’s The 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 some regular volunteer hours—the Mission’s website has a form you can fill out to help match you with the right service. 

This environmental group is dedicated to keeping SoCal’s coastal waters and watersheds as safe, healthy and clean as possible. Part of that comes through education and awareness campaigns, but part also comes from you—Heal the Bay hosts all sorts of volunteer opportunities. The monthly beach cleanups are the easiest way in, but you can also pledge a bit more time and organize cleanups for your own favorite stretech of coastline.

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Help distribute food to L.A.’s hungry at the L.A. Regional Food Bank. Volunteers are needed for food sorting, special events and food drives, including the organization’s yearly 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 volunteer opportunities.

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USHS, the San Gabriel Valley’s largest social services agency, practices a “Housing First” model in an effort to end homelessness. The nonprofit organization 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. USHS has also hosted Dinner in the Park for over five decades; once deemed the biggest potluck in the nation by the L.A. Times, the volunteer-run dinner helps provide warm holiday meals to thousands of those in need.

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Santa Monica–based One Voice has services that run the gamut, from emergency relief to families in crisis to a scholars program for low-income students. Normally, the organization 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 L.A. area. In the past, more than 2,000 volunteers have come together to prep, sort and package food.

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No matter your age, APLA Health has a volunteer opportunity for you. Sure, you could just donate funds, but the AIDS organization relies on its volunteers, who contribute more than 65,000 hours of service each year. If you’re interested, you can choose between four types of volunteers: client access volunteer, food pantry volunteer, nutrition/administrative volunteer and a special events volunteer, like AIDS Walk Los Angeles. If you’re interested in learning more, email volunteer@apla.org, or apply online.

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Dream Catcher of Los Angeles Therapeutic Riding Center is one of many local organizations that focus on horse therapy. The riding center works with children, adults and veterans with cognitive, physical and emotional disabilities, using equine therapy to improve the mind, body and spirit. Volunteers are needed in a variety of capacities, from providing horse lessons, caring for the horses, fundraising and organizational tasks. If you’re interested, there is a volunteer form available online.

At each of SOVA’s two service centers (West L.A. and Van Nuys), food pantries are stocked with nutritious canned and packaged foods, breads and fresh produce—the 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.

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This organization distributes food, gently used clothing and essential supplies every week in Hollywood. You can sign up to volunteer anytime, and it usually costs $25 (providing the funds to feed about five people for a day). Look out for a particularly large meal distribution around Thanksgiving. Food on Foot counts dozens of recognizable names among its ambassadors, so don’t be surprised if while volunteering you see a celebrity don a hairnet and take to the streets.

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Fred Jordan Missions 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 for Thanksgiving. FJM also hosts a Christmas Celebration, during which volunteers hand out food bags, toys and blankets—as well as sing carols—to thousands of downtown’s neediest. Volunteer opportunities are also available during Easter, Mother’s Day, Father's Day and back-to-school time. Check the Mission’s website 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.

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One Incredible Family

This organization comes together to provide services for the homeless, at-risk youth, the elderly, those affected by AIDS/HIV and others in need. Throughout the year, One Incredible Family puts together events where volunteers can create everything from Easter basket kits to old-fashioned Valentines, which are then delivered to community partners in Los Angeles County including Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and various family housing facilities. Each November, OIF organizes the annual Homeless Feeding, an all-day event where volunteers can help prepare meals for those in need. You can either donate your time or drop off key necessities like pre-cooked turkeys, pies, juice boxes or water.

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