About 350 volunteers helped distribute hot meals to homeless people last Thanksgiving at the Los Angeles Midnight Mission on Skid Row. An agency that matches volunteers to nonprofits that need them suggests that people can offer their time and energy all through the year, not just during the holidays.
Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a busy volunteer season for many Americans. But what happens after the holidays? Do the needs of shelters, food pantries, and other social service organizations go away?
Nancy Olson, executive director of Volunteer Los Angeles, says she’s encouraged to see so many Angelenos eager to do help feed their homeless neighbors each year. But she often worries about the need for this type of help after the holidays are over.
“The hungry are not just hungry on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but they’re hungry all year round,” she says.
Olson points out that the need for social service volunteers does not disappear during the rest of the year.
“Because Volunteer LA does the work year-round, we see how important it is to have a really engaged community," she explains. "And I’m reminded that everybody can give back—it doesn’t matter what your social economic level or what your age is, where you come from, what part of the city you’re in.”
LA ranks 46th among the country’s 51 largest cities in volunteer rates. At the same time, Angelenos contribute an average of $6.2 billion worth of volunteer service to the region’s nonprofits each year.
One reason for the lower rates of volunteerism here has to do with long distances and traffic. Volunteer Los Angeles encourages people to find opportunities in their neighborhoods - helping organizations with specific short tasks like language translation or office work that can be done virtually. Nancy Olson calls that "micro-volunteering."