Long Beach resident Jonas Corona has been giving back to his community since he was 4, and by the time he turned 6, he had started his own nonprofit, Love in the Mirror. Through Love in the Mirror, Corona, now 14, has helped provide basic necessities and services to more than 50,000 homeless people in Southern California. And politicians and philanthropic giants have honored him for his work.
While Corona’s volunteer work might seem gargantuan to even most adults, he has advice for other young people looking to start or increase their charitable giving. “Everyone can make a difference, no matter how old they are,” he says.
Like any large metropolitan area, Los Angeles County presents a plethora of different causes for young people to take on – whether starting their own nonprofits, like Corona, or joining existing efforts. Here are a few options just to get your idea wheel turning:
One of the most popular holiday charity activities is serving at food kitchens or packaging food for deliveries. While most of these experiences are reserved for teens and adults, there are some exceptions.
At PATH-Making it Home (epath.org), there are opportunities for the whole family to get involved. The nonprofit has locations in L.A. and helps provide the support that homeless people need to transition from living on the street to thriving in homes of their own. Some of their charity opportunities include helping out at their upcoming holiday party, adopting a site, serving food or launching an Imaginary Feast at home, where a family can host a movie night or other entertainment at home, then donate the money they would have spent going out to PATH. “We love the whole-family approach,” says Georgeanne Barrett, director of development and communications. “We have had families with young children come in to help set up holiday decorations, do gift-wrapping, give toys for our families with children, [create] art … There is no age cutoff.”
There is an age-limit at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank (www.lafoodbank.org): kids must be at least 14 to volunteer with food packaging in the organization’s main warehouse in Commerce. “If they’re 14 and up, they can come on down,” says Courtney Morra, manager of marketing and communications. “Fourteen is our cut-off age for volunteering because we have forklift traffic throughout the warehouse.”
One way kids of all ages can get involved in giving back to the food bank, however, is to organize food drives. “The traditional food drive is a really great way to get young people energized on the topic of hunger in our communities,” Morra says. “The items we most need are natural peanut butter, canned proteins, whole-grain pasta, canned fruits and veggies, instant mashed potatoes. Families can also help their kids participate in virtual food drives, which are great because you can even make it into a competition. They get the virtual experience of shopping for food without the inconvenience of where to store it.” The virtual food drive is an online fundraiser that an individual or team organizes through the food bank’s website. The donated funds allow the food bank to purchase the most needed food items through a network of wholesale and retail donors. To sign up, visit http://larfb.convio.net/site/TR?fr_id=1060&pg=entry
The Downtown Women’s Center (www.downtownwomenscenter.org) offers opportunities for volunteers 18 and older at its site, but younger kids need not fret if they would like to join in the organization’s mission of ending homelessness for women in L.A. “Younger children can [work with their parents] to assemble snack packs and collect donation items that are really needed, especially during the holidays,” says Rachel Kassenbrock, advocacy program manager.
One of the biggest needs are hygiene kits, the specifics of which the center details on its website.
Wondering what to do with all the coats and jackets your kids have outgrown? One Warm Coat is a national nonprofit dedicated to providing a free warm coat to any person in need. This year marks the organization’s 25th year of “warming communities.” Visit www.onewarmcoat.org to learn more.
Donations are Always Welcome
Has your child been saving up part of his allowance or half of your pantry, waiting for an opportunity to give? All of the organizations mentioned will accept donations of cash or needed items. Carefully read organizations’ websites about what they need so that your giving is most effective.
The Downtown Women’s Center has a unique opportunity for shopping at its MADE by DWC Café and Gift Boutique, a social enterprise that empowers the women the center serves to develop skills through vocational training. At the chic boutique, patrons can purchase beautifully packaged hand-poured soaps, candles and cards – perfect holiday gifts. All products are made from ethically sourced materials by women who are paid a living wage for their work, Kassenbrock says.
If you’re looking for something different and even more intimate, consider sponsoring a child through the nonprofit Children Incorporated, a global charity started in 1964 to “confront childhood poverty” through donated money, goods and services to the children and families who need them most.
Shelley Callahan, director of development, says many families sponsor a child close to their child’s age and get to know the child they are helping through letters, photos and updates. “The sponsoring family learns why the child they are helping is in that situation,” she says. “Maybe they’re in an orphanage because their parents passed away. The connections are really empowering for children on both sides. Our [sponsoring] families get to see that $28 a month may not seem like much, but provides food, clothing and educational support for a child somewhere else. The letters show our children in need that someone cares for them. We have about 2,000 children waiting for sponsors.” Visit www.childrenincorporated.org to learn more.