The Guide to Volunteer Opportunities in Los Angeles

From social services to food banks and animal shelters
Photo courtesy of Homeboy Industries, Facebook

For locals and visitors alike, Los Angeles offers a wide range of volunteer opportunities for anyone interested in donating their time and skills to local organizations. From social services and food banks to cultural institutions and animal shelters, there's a volunteer opportunity that's just right for you.

VOLUNTEER LA

In August 2018, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the launch of VolunteerLA, a new volunteer portal that connects Angelenos to meaningful service opportunities that help create positive change in their communities and build a stronger city. 

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Homeboy Bakery | Instagram by @carolmcgovn

SOCIAL SERVICES

HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES
Founded by Father Gregory Boyle, Homeboy Industries is recognized as the largest and most successful gang intervention and re-entry program in the world, and has become a national model. Each year over 10,000 former gang members from across Los Angeles come through Homeboy Industries’ doors in an effort to make a positive change. They are welcomed into a community of mutual kinship, love, and a wide variety of services ranging from tattoo removal to anger management and parenting classes.

Volunteer professionals are needed for services provided by Homeboy Industries, including legal services, GED prep, Homeboy Heals (mental health program) and tattoo removal. For more info, visit the Homeboy Industries How You Can Help page

THE MIDNIGHT MISSION
Founded in 1914, The Midnight Mission is the oldest continuously operating human service organization in the Los Angeles region. The Midnight Mission provides emergency services and 12-step recovery, family living, job training, education and workforce development programs that offer a compassionate bridge to achieve and maintain healthy, productive lives.

Volunteer opportunities include meal service, special event prep, sorting clothing and assisting in distribution; making food boxes and hygiene kits; general clean-up and painting; tutoring, professional services (taxes, legal, motivational workshops), internships and student projects. To schedule a day of service, contact The Midnight Mission at (213) 624-9258 x1242, or fill out the online form.

LOS ANGELES MISSION
Founded in 1936, the Los Angeles Mission is a non-profit, privately supported, faith-based organization that serves the immediate and long-term needs of homeless and disadvantaged men, women and children. The Mission is among the nation’s largest service providers to the homeless. Orientation is required for any volunteer opportunity at The Mission, including street events. Sign up for a volunteer orientation at the Los Angeles Mission website.

DOWNTOWN WOMEN'S CENTER
Founded in 1978, the Downtown Women’s Center (DWC) is the only organization in Los Angeles focused exclusively on serving and empowering women experiencing homelessness and formerly homeless women. In the 40 years since its founding, DWC has reached thousands of women and transformed countless lives. The current corps of over 5,000 DWC volunteers provide 25,000 hours of service annually, contributing to all facets of the critical work the center does to support women in need throughout Los Angeles: admin support, day center assistant, donation sorting, kitchen assistant, learning center assistant, residence host and more.

Respiro Vol. 1, A Benefit Compilation
Founded by L.A. based DJ Dino Soccio, Pleasure of Love presents Respiro Vol. 1, a dance music compilation to benefit the Downtown Women's Center. DJs, producers and musicians from Los Angeles and around the world contributed tracks to Respiro Vol. 1, which is currently available at Bandcamp.

APLA HEALTH
APLA Health serves more than 15,000 patients and clients annually, focusing on serving the low-income LGBT community and people living with HIV. APLA Health continues to be the leading provider of HIV prevention and health education services in L.A. County targeting populations at highest risk of HIV, including gay men of color, young gay men and members of the transgender community.

Volunteers at APLA Health range in age from 12 to 86 and come from all walks of life. Whether as teams or as individuals, people of many skills and backgrounds volunteer for assignments from phone banking to bagging groceries to helping with fundraisers. Each year, more than 1,500 volunteers contribute over 65,000 hours of service at APLA Health.

UNION STATION HOMELESS SERVICES
Union Station Homeless Services is the San Gabriel Valley’s largest social service agency assisting homeless and very low income adults and families. Since 1973, Union Station has helped rebuild the lives of thousands of people who were once homeless and without hope. 

Volunteer opportunities are varied - Union Station Homeless Services does its best to match volunteers with a position that suits their interests and skills. Opportunities include volunteering in their kitchens to prepare meals for clients; at their facilities to provide a workshop, story time, or craft event; or in their offices to help with administrative work.

MEAL DELIVERY & FOOD BANKS

LOS ANGELES REGIONAL FOOD BANK
Since 1973, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank has distributed more than 1 billion pounds of food. The Food Bank collects food from hundreds of resources. With the help of 30,000 volunteers annually and an agency network of more than 650 partner agencies, the Food Bank serves more than 300,000 people on a monthly basis.

Food Bank volunteers are needed to help sort, inspect, and repackage donated food items from local food drives. The facility is available Monday through Saturday to individuals, groups or organizations of 100 volunteers or less to support this need. Volunteers also perform a wide range of duties at food drives and special events.

PROJECT ANGEL FOOD
Founded in 1989, Project Angel Food cooks and delivers over 500,000 nutritious meals each year, free of charge, to the homes of men, women, and children affected by life-threatening illnesses. Project Angel Food's vital services, including medically tailored meals and nutritional counseling, help underserved people throughout L.A. County who are too sick to shop or cook for themselves. Created in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Project Angel Food expanded its mission in 2004 to include those who are struggling with any life-threatening illness burdened by hunger and malnutrition.

Project Angel Food welcomes volunteers of all ages - opportunities include preparing meals, fundraising events and office assistance.

ONE VOICE
The mission of One Voice is to provide goods, services and opportunities to the underprivileged, including everything from crisis intervention to long-term programming that lifts families out of poverty, while providing avenues for the rest of the community to become involved in helping families in need.

Holiday Program (Dec. 20-23, 2018)
Each year the Holiday Program provides Christmas food baskets, toys and books to 2,500 families (12,500 people) living in poverty in the Los Angeles area. All of the families are referred through the Head Start Program and meet federal and state mandated poverty levels. Over 2,000 volunteers come together at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica to sort and package the food during the week before the actual giveaway, and most importantly give out the food at various Head Start distribution centers. The Holiday Program takes place over four days and nights in December. For more info and to register as a volunteer, visit the One Voice website.

MEALS ON WHEELS WEST L.A.
Since 1976, Meals on Wheels of West Los Angeles - a non-profit, volunteer community service organization - has been providing nutritious meals and friendship to individuals who are unable to plan, shop, or prepare meals for themselves due to illness, disability, or advanced age. Monday through Friday, volunteers deliver a hot midday meal and a cold supper to elderly and disabled individuals living in the neighborhoods of Westwood, Bel-Air, Brentwood and West L.A.

Meals on Wheels West L.A. delivers over 45,000 meals a year. Volunteers help deliver meals between 10:30am and 12:30pm Monday through Friday. Volunteer drivers use their own cars - Meals on Wheels requires proof of insurance and valid driver's license. Student volunteers are always welcome at Meals on Wheels of West L.A. Younger students can help with various tasks in the office or be paired with a driver or parent to help deliver food to clients. High school and college students who are already licensed drivers are especially appreciated as reinforcements to the regular corps of volunteers.

FOOD ON FOOT
Food on Foot is a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting the poor and homeless of Los Angeles through programs that provide nutritious meals, clothing, work opportunities and ultimately the transition to full-time employment and life off the streets. 

Volunteers help distribute food and clothing to approximately 150 homeless and low income people in Hollywood. Volunteers also learn about the larger "Work for Food" program - homeless people earn their way off the streets with full-time jobs, housing, life-skills and the confidence needed to make their accomplishments long-lasting. After distributing food, volunteers participate in a heartwarming awards ceremony - volunteers will award gift cards to the top homeless workers in the Work for Food program, listen to their stories, and learn how they help the community through Random Acts of Kindness.

TRANSPORTATION

VOLUNTEER DRIVER PROGRAMS
Access Services has compiled a list of Volunteer Driver programs - community-based transportation services in which a friend or neighbor in the community volunteers their time and automobile to help riders get to places they need to go. In most cases, one must be a resident of the community where the program operates, and have few other transportation options to get to important destinations. Some programs do ask for a fee or donation for each one-way trip, but others are free services for the riders.

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Volunteers at the La Brea Tar Pits | Photo courtesy of Natural History Museum of L.A. County

Culture

CULTURAL ATTRACTIONS
Museums and cultural attractions across Los Angeles offer unique volunteer opportunities, such as assisting visitors at the Getty Center or Getty Villa; preparing fossils at the Natural History Museum; or working aboard the Battleship IOWA.

METRO ART MOVES
Metro Art Moves is a free series of regularly scheduled and special tours of artwork in the Metro Rail system. Regular tours are led by trained Metro Art Docent Council volunteers and provide insights into the artworks, artists and art-making processes. Tours are free, reservations are not required.

The Metro Art Docent Council is a group of volunteers committed to increasing awareness of the broad range of public art in the Metro Rail system through tours that provide insights into the communities they enhance, the art, the artists and their processes. While docent programs are commonly found at museums around the world, Metro is the first transit agency to benefit from such a program. For more info and to submit an application, visit the Metro website.

LOS ANGELES PUBLIC LIBRARY
The Los Angeles Public Library offers numerous opportunities to the 5,000 active volunteers throughout the system's Central Library and 72 branches. Each location has different volunteer needs, so not all opportunities will be available at all locations. At this time the Central Library is only recruiting for Adult Literacy Tutors and Teachers, Docents, Teen Volunteers, STAR Volunteers, and Veterans' Benefits Coaches. For more info about volunteer opportunities, contact your local library or call 213-228-7490.

Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP) at LAX

Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP) at LAX | Instagram by @kimethaphotography

ANIMAL LOVERS

LAX PUP PROGRAM
The LAX Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP) program provides stress relief and comfort to airport passengers through interaction with pets. Therapy dogs in red "Pet Me" vests and handlers in red shirts roam the departures levels in the gate areas of each terminal, visiting passengers awaiting flights and providing comfort.

PUP volunteer applicants must have at least one year experience working with a recognized dog therapy organization. The dogs must be privately owned and be at least two years old. All PUP volunteers and dogs must be registered with Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a national organization that registers, insures and supports members who are involved in volunteer animal-assisted activities. Each volunteer goes through an initial meet and greet and walkthrough with their dog to make sure there is a good fit for both volunteer and dog. Next is in-terminal training to learn about LAX and how to assist passengers. In addition, handlers are fingerprinted and badged. Each dog and handler works one weekly shift for one to two hours at one assigned terminal. Submit your online application at the PUP program page.

L.A. ANIMAL SERVICES
The City of Los Angeles Animal Services Department (LAAS) operates six animal shelters and has field staff serving the community. The shelters are award winning facilities that have been built within the past 10-15 years. LAAS is one of the largest municipal shelter systems in the U.S., serving approximately 60,000 animals annually and responding to 20,000 emergency calls each year involving animals or people in danger.

LAAS dogs, cats, rabbits, and other animals are in need of care, attention, walking, playing, socialization and engaging with people in order to help them find forever homes. Volunteers may choose to work with any or all of LAAS animal populations. Volunteers are also needed to assist with other important roles: adoptions, kennels, greeting customers, photography, videography, playgroups, grooming, humane education, public relations and office tasks. Apply online at the LAAS website.

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Keeper/Animal Care Volunteer Program | Photo courtesy of L.A. Zoo

L.A. ZOO
Opened on Nov. 28, 1966, the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens is home to more than 1,400 mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles representing more than 270 different species, of which more than 58 are endangered. In addition, the Zoo’s botanical collection comprises several planted gardens and over 800 different plant species with approximately 7,000 individual plants. The Zoo receives nearly 1.8 million visitors per year and is owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles.

There are several volunteer opportunities, including becoming a docent, serving as a general volunteer, or starting out as a student volunteer. Candidates interested in the Keeper/Animal Care volunteer program must submit a completed City Volunteer Application, resume, cover letter, and proof of at least 100 hours working with large/exotic/wild animals at a facility other than the L.A. Zoo.

THE DOG CAFE
The first of its kind in America, The Dog Café is nestled in a Silver Lake strip mall, where guests can pay $15 for an hour of fun with dogs rescued from L.A. shelters. Pups live on site for as long as it takes to find them forever homes and are free to roam the play area, showing their personalities outside of stressful shelter environments. 

Volunteers at The Dog Cafe coordinate and recruit fundraising teams, leverage community support, plan activities, walk dogs, take dogs on day-ventures, take photos, and more. Submit your application through the online Volunteer Application Form.

KITTY BUNGALOW
The Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats is California's only 100% feral cat rescue and socialization facility. As shelter interventionists, the Kitty Bungalow focuses on the most vulnerable of felines - the ferals. Nearly 80 weekly volunteers use guided socialization techniques and objectives to take these street cats from "hiss to home." Their goal is that these cats never have to see the inside of a shelter and the socialized kittens graduate as "Ivy League lap cats" into lifelong loving homes. More than just finding homes for the homeless kitties, the Kitty Bungalow is working at the root of the problem by providing broad based Trap Neuter Return (TNR) and free spays and neuters to L.A. neighborhoods in need.

There are numerous volunteer opportunities at the Kitty Bungalow, including Student Teachers (assisting in the socialization of kittens, providing lots of cuddles and basic care) and "Truancy Officers" - volunteers help in the humane trapping and transport of the cats on an as-available schedule.

STAR ECO STATION
Founded in 1997, the STAR Eco Station is an environmental science museum, exotic wildlife rescue center, and a haven for endangered and illegally-trafficked exotic animals confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Visitors to the STAR Eco Station experience amazing hands on lessons in ecology and environmentalism through breathtaking encounters with exotic birds, reptiles, mammals and ocean life in a tropical jungle setting.

Volunteers must be 14 years or older and able to commit to a weekly schedule for a minimum of three months. Volunteers are assigned to the same two-hour hour shift each week. Duties will vary depending on your assigned shift time, but may include helping prepare animal diets, cleaning enclosures and washing dishes. Volunteers do not directly handle the animals. Download the Volunteer Application Form at the Star Eco Station website.

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Photo courtesy of TreePeople, Facebook

Eco-Friendly

TREE PEOPLE
TreePeople began in 1970, when 15 year-old Andy Lipkis started planting trees in the San Bernardino Forest. Today, TreePeople inspires and supports the people of L.A. to come together to plant and care for trees, harvest the rain, and renew depleted landscapes. Using its unique "Citizen Forester" model, TreePeople works with communities to grow a greener, shadier and more water-secure city at homes, neighborhoods, schools and in the local mountains. Since its founding, TreePeople has involved more than 3 million people in planting and caring for more than 3 million trees.

TreePeople offers a variety of volunteer opportunities to plant and care for trees, restore our local mountains and to work in their Coldwater Canyon nursery and park. To get started, check out the volunteer calendar and register for an event that suits you. Once registered, you will be emailed with details and directions. Other opportunities include being an office or photography volunteer.

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CicLAvia riders on Broadway in Downtown L.A. | Photo by Rebecca Cabage, courtesy of CicLAvia, Facebook

CICLAVIA
Inspired by the ciclovía events that started 40 years ago in Bogotá, Colombia, the first CicLAvia was held on Oct. 10, 2010. Since then, CicLAvia has grown to become the largest open streets event in the country - more than one million people have explored over 140 miles of open streets in Los Angeles County.

There are numerous volunteer opportunities for CicLAvia fans to donate a few hours before and during each event. Pre-event opportunities include engaging the community along the route and informing residents and business how to participate. On the day of CicLAvia, volunteers support participants with route and activity info; help with way-finding, slow zones and dismount areas; and manage participant traffic at crossing points (volunteer groups). Sign-up to volunteer at the CicLAvia website.

DEPT. OF RECREATION & PARKS
Volunteering with the Department of Recreation and Parks is a great way to strengthen your local community. Spanning every L.A. neighborhood, 444 park sites offer numerous volunteer opportunities, such as after-school club programs, clean-ups, coaching, neighborhood oversight committee, park advisory board, senior programs and special events. Start by finding a recreation center, facility and/or park you're interested in volunteering at and arranging an appointment with the Director. Complete the online volunteer application, get clearance from DOJ, and you'll be contacted by Human Resources with your assignment.

HEAL THE BAY
Heal the Bay is an environmental nonprofit dedicated to making the coastal waters and watersheds of Greater Los Angeles safe, healthy and clean. To fulfill their mission, Heal the Bay uses science, education, community action, and advocacy.

Volunteer opportunities include rolling up your sleeves at a monthly L.A. County beach cleanup, educating visitors at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, and monitoring Marine Protected Areas with binoculars. Get started by registering for the next Volunteer Orientation to find out more about Aquarium, Beach, Outreach, Community Science and Youth programs and opportunities.