We will be spending a lot of time this weekend stuffing ourselves with turkey and paying lipservice to the concept of “giving thanks.”

This year we decided to find ways to really show how thankful we are to live in a place like Santa Monica. Just handing over a check to a charity doesn’t hold much meaning for a 4 year old. So, we decided to take the kids to Will Rogers State Beach for a cleanup sponsored by Heal the Bay. 

There was a terrific turnout, and all the parking spots were long gone by the time we arrived. We parked in a $9 lot down the beach and trekked through the sand. Unfortunately, due to an accident on PCH, Heal the Bay was unable to get enough trash bags and gloves through to the beach. One Heal The Bay rep told us that they ran out of supplies twice, which we suppose is a good sign for our beaches and our city’s sense of civic duty. Maybe it was not so bad for us moms either. We didn’t have to worry about explaining that it was OK to pick up trash at the beach, but not anywhere else. 

Luckily, most of the volunteers weren’t deterred. We saw a family with young children picking up stuff along the bike path using their own bags as receptacles. Then there were the seasoned pros who had devices called “grabbers” that made clean up easier — you don’t even need to bend over.

In the volunteer head count, we locals were clearly outnumbered. There were many teenagers logging their required school service hours from as far away as Saint Francis in La Cañada. Over 70 students from the Santee Education Complex in Downtown L.A. were at the beach for their first clean up, along with Principal Richard Chavez. Chavez was sorry his kids “didn’t get a full taste,” and would consider coming back in the future.

We also met Jose Estrada, president of the honors society at L.A. Valley College who organized another busload of fellow students to join the clean up. According to his sponsor, Dr. Alfred Zucker, “Jose has done more social service projects for local communities than any other president in the last 60 years. Which is saying a lot because they all have.”

Although the whole “cleaning up the beach for the fish and octopi” thing didn’t work out for us, the kids loved the beach, and spent an hour making sand angels and throwing sandballs. We played keep away from the waves until a monster one soaked us and we had to head home.

The clean up takes place every third Saturday of the month. We recommend bringing your own plastic grocery bag and gloves, and walking, or getting there early. A waiver is required, which can be downloaded from the Web site to save time: www.healthebay.org/volunteer.

Here are some other volunteer opportunities for children:

• Westside Food Bank: Children of all ages and their parents can help sort food at the warehouse to be distributed to needy families. Kids can also assist in gathering food to donate.

“The demand is up, up, up,” said Allison Griffith. “Pantries are seeing almost a 40 percent increase.”

This seems to be an especially poignant statistic when we are gorging on cranberry sauce. The food bank needs high protein foods, including frozen turkeys, but “all in date food is very helpful,” Griffith said. You can drop off food at 1710 22nd St. in Santa Monica.

• Santa Monica Animal Shelter: Kids 14 and up can help clean kennels, cages, dishes and laundry as well as socialize and groom the animals. Stop by the shelter to fill out an application, and Volunteer Co-ordinator Martin Hernandez will give you “a walk-through to experience the noise and smells.” It’s not all cuddling, fluffy kitties. “There’s a whole lot of dirty work behind the scenes,” Hernandez warns. The shelter is located at 1640 Ninth St.

• Make a Tzedakah Box: On Shabbat every week, Jewish children put money into a special box for charity. At the Skirball Center (www.skirball.org) make a Tzedakah box with the kids, and then check out the Noah’s Ark Exhibit. Ages 4 and up with adult, $15 adult, $10 children, admission to Noah’s Ark included. Dec. 13, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. 

• Police Activities League Toy Drive: Have your child choose a gift for a boy or girl ages 6 through 17. Drop unwrapped gifts off between Dec. 5 and 14 at the PAL office at 1401 Olympic Blvd. or at the police substation at 1433 Second St. between Santa Monica and Broadway.

• Sydney Cooper Senior Smiles: A “Mommy and Me” program pairs you and your tot with a lonely senior in an assisted care facility after an hour-long training session. Older kids and pets can participate, too: www.seniorsmiles.org.

• Make a Christmas food basket: One Voice makes over 12,500 food baskets at the Barker Hanger to deliver during the holidays — Dec. 17 through Dec. 20. Thursday from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. is family volunteer night — www.onevoice-la.org/holidays.

Julie Schatz of the city of Santa Monica’s volunteer program said a directory is available that describes many volunteer opportunities in the community, including whether children can participate. Schatz also recommends the site www.volunteermatch.org for those with a specific interest, such as working with animals. It lists opportunities based on the distance from your zip code.


Melissa and Alisandra live in Santa Monica with their young children. Find a local calendar and helpful links at smatoz.blogspot.com. 

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