Shelters in downtown Los Angeles are all booked up, volunteer-wise, for this Thanksgiving season, thanks to celebrities and other eager do-gooders who want to donate their time during the holiday season. It's the one weekend when anyone who’s anyone wants to give back. According to The Los Angeles Times, volunteering on "Skid Row" has become such a coveted practice, especially for celebrities, that the shelters are actually forced to turn people away.
Thanksgiving is skid row's Oscars or Super Bowl — a production that lasts almost a week, drawing a soap opera cast, celebrity chefs and the less famous as well. Three downtown shelters — the Midnight, Los Angeles and Union Rescue missions — stagger meal times so that guests can eat for free on several days during the holiday week. Families and the working poor join skid row's homeless to drive the total of all the guest lists to more than 10,000. Almost every volunteer wants to actually dish out the food. "It's sexier," said Georgia Berkovich, the Midnight Mission's community relations manager.
To secure a volunteer spot you need to sign up months ahead of the holiday, because demand is so intense. If you’re a producer for The Bold and the Beautiful, volunteering at a shelter could lead to a several-episode character arc, in which bold and beautiful cancer-patient "Stephanie Forrester" rediscovers the meaning of life through the tales of of the down-on-their-luck. If you’re Dick Van Dyke, you’ll showcase a rap version of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” during brunch on Thursday. Those are both true stories of Hollywood magic that you can find in an L.A. mission on Thanksgiving weekend.
More than 57,000 people are now homeless in Los Angeles.
New York City also attracts an excess of volunteers during Thanksgiving. This year, the NYC Rescue Mission capped helpers at 200. Executive Director Craig Mayes explained that last year, “there were too many people just standing around.” Brooklyn-based shelter Masbia said that one year, the organization shelled out for extra vegetables — which are traditionally chopped by volunteers during the holiday rush and frozen for future use — in order to keep people busy.
So if you're in a major metro area and thinking about giving back tomorrow, maybe wait for less popular time, when there's actually a greater need. Shelters are especially hopeful for year-round volunteers in the next 12 months, as federal cuts to SNAP could mean more people leaning on soup kitchens for food.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.