Yes, you can (and should) make a financial donation to a cause near and dear to you, but there are so many other ways you can lend a hand, too. Even something as simple as sending socks and sunscreen to a homeless shelter, reading to kids on a Saturday morning, or spending your lunch hour bringing a meal to someone in need can make a world of difference. We’ve highlighted a solid variety of local organizations you can consider helping — and be sure to check out sites like VolunteerMatch and LAWorks, where you can find nonprofits that fit your interests and skill sets. It sounds cliché, but you really can change with just a little time and effort. So just do it.
Support citizens transitioning out of homelessness
The 40-year-old Downtown Women’s Center provides job training to homeless women, including in the field of product design where residents create stylish stuff like cards, candles, and T-shirts that you can purchase at one of its stores, other retailers around the city, or on the Made by DWC website. You can also check out what the center is in need of — everything from sleeping bags to shoes — and spend three minutes helping them stock up via their Amazon wish list.
Nonprofit The People Concern (which was born out of the merger of two major LA social services agencies a couple of years back) provides health care, substance abuse services, and permanent housing to those navigating a path out of homelessness. To help, volunteer at either the Santa Monica or Downtown facilities, where the group is looking for folks to assist with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, donation-sorting as well as volunteers to teach creative writing, yoga, arts, and more. Also consider donating food, hygiene kits, and welcome-home packages to give residents a solid start.
One of our favorite charities that we work closely with is Harvest Home. Harvest Home transforms the lives of homeless pregnant women and their children by providing housing, support, and programs that equip women to become great mothers. They have volunteer opportunities for both individuals and groups.
Unfortunately, LA’s homeless situation is seriously dire, and there are a slew of other organizations working to alleviate the problem. You can find more groups to help via the Homeless Shelter Directory.
Support our service members
To offer a little bit of comfort (and thanks!) to traveling members of the military and their families, LAX’s Bob Hope USO outpost provides, food, drink, sleeping areas, showers, entertainment options, and children’s play areas to troops passing through. The location — which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — is actively recruiting volunteers to commit to a minimum of two four-hour shifts a month, to help with everything from checking in visitors to cooking in the canteen.
Become an advocate for foster children
Kids in the foster system have been dealt a tough hand, and the more help they get from an adult who cares, the better. CASA (which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Los Angeles needs volunteers to work one-on-one with kids in the foster system, and advocate for what’s in the child’s best interest. Not surprisingly, the process to become a CASA volunteer is multi-step and includes interviews, training, and shadowing (and the group estimates that a volunteer then dedicate about 15 hours a month to case activities), so it takes commitment — but actually playing a part in getting children into permanent, loving homes is worth it. If you can’t swing it, you can still support the organization through donations, of course, and attending one of several fundraising events it holds annually.
Teach computer science skills to the next generation of coders
The goal of Black Girls Code is a lofty one: to encourage girls of color to become innovators in STEM fields through exposure to computer science and technology at a young age… and train 1 million girls by the year 2040. To help the national organization accomplish it, sign on to volunteer with the LA chapter, which is often seeking experts in science and tech fields (we’re looking at you, Silicon Beach crew) to lead and teach workshops to aspiring “tech divas.” If you’re more the behind-the-scenes type, the group is also looking for people to help in the office, do social media, and offer IT and tech support.
Deliver meals to seniors on your lunch break
For homebound seniors and seriously ill adults, having someone bring a meal to their home is a literal lifesaver. The mission of St. Vincent Meals on Wheels is two-fold: Yes, the food part is obviously important, but the organization stresses that simply getting to chat for a few minutes with the friendly face dropping off a meal can make a big difference in the lives of those who live alone.
Support the LGBTQ community
The long-running Los Angeles LGBT Center provides healthcare, social services, housing, and more to members of the LGBT community in need, in addition to doing advocacy work. To learn how to get involved (the org needs help with both regular programs and special events), attend a monthly volunteer information session. You can also drop off gently used coats, casual clothes, and professional wear that can be used for job interviews along with new socks and underwear that the center distributes to homeless LGBT youth.
Read to kids
In order to encourage underserved kids to cultivate a love of reading and set them up for academic success down the road, you can sign up to read aloud to small groups of youngsters during Saturday reading clubs at area elementary schools organized by the nonprofit Reading to Kids. While that’s happening, their parents are getting trained on tips and tricks to keep them reading at home, and the children get to take donated books home.
Rescue a pet…
Taking home a pet is a serious commitment, but it’s also the absolute best thing in the world (hence why millions of us pick up poop on a daily basis). If you’re ready for a furry new roommate, there are lots of rescue groups to consider, many of which frequently run adoption events, including LA Animal Rescue, Much Love Animal Rescue, and One Dog Rescue, which focuses on senior and special needs dogs. (These and more than 100 other rescue groups are part of the No-Kill Los Angeles coalition, all of which are helping homeless pets find their people.) Most of the organizations are also looking for foster homes for dogs and cats: Foster parents take care of pets temporarily and bring them to adoption events until they finally get their happy ending… via a home and human.
… or give a dog a bed
Since pets are often traumatized and stressed when they’re dumped at a shelter or rescue facility, something as simple as a blanket or bed can make all the difference in helping them feel calm and comfortable. Founded a decade ago, Operation Blankets of Love has since set up dozens of drop-off locations around Southern California where you can donate blankets, towels, pet beds, treats, food, and more, all of which ends up going to thousands of animals in need, including pets who live with disabled vets and low-income seniors. OBOL also puts the call out for supplies during emergencies and natural disasters like wildfires. You can get the full list of what to donate here.
Clean up the beach
The environmental nonprofit Heal the Bay is focused on making LA’s coastal waters safe, healthy, and clean through education, advocacy, and giving hands-on examples of what it’s doing via the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. One simple way to make a difference, though, is to participate in the group’s monthly beach cleanups taking place at a different beach on the third Saturday of the month. You can also get your whole office involved through the Suits on the Sand private cleanups (just tell everyone they’re going to the beach and get into specifics once you’re out there), as well as Adopt-a-Beach, where you commit to ensuring a specific part of the beach is cleaned up multiple times a year.
Help underserved kids get creative
As art education disappears at schools everywhere, Inner-City Arts is all about giving kids around the city access to the arts through classes, workshops, and programs. The organization is looking for volunteers to work alongside teaching artists in one of its DTLA studios once a week, as the students learn everything from visual arts to drama to dance. Those in creative sectors (since we’re in LA, that’s most likely you) can take part in the professional guidance programs including a Creative Career Fair, where you’ll share a bit about your industry and answer kids’ questions, along with Career Shadow Days where you’ll bring a student to work so they can see first-hand just how cool your job is… and hopefully end up inspired.
One of our other local favorites is Venice Arts. Up to 50 artists, and other community members, volunteer each year at Venice Arts. They seek out Artist-Mentors, College Mentors, Creative Career Panelists, and Classroom Guest Artists.