The holiday season is in full swing. There are many ways to take time and give back to the southern Ventura County community without expense or long-term commitments.
The Turkey Day Dash is an event that takes place on California Lutheran University’s campus on Thanksgiving Day. It is organized by the Conejo Valley YMCA. Membership and Healthy Living Director Allison Wilson is the race director of the 5K run/walk and 1k family run/walk for the 13th annual event.
“This event would not be possible without all of the volunteers who come and help put it on, and we are always looking for more,” Wilson said. “This year, the main area that we are looking for volunteers for is the position of race marshals.”
Wilson said race marshals are volunteers who will be spread out among the course of the race, which will stretch around the perimeter of the Cal Lutheran campus. Dressed in bright-colored vests with walkie talkies in hand, these race marshals will cheer on runners and be available for potential emergencies.
Volunteers are also needed to help distribute water bottles or guide runners on the course.
“The race starts at 7 a.m.,and we will definitely be done and out around 10 a.m., so it would not take up much time at all,” Wilson said.
Starting Dec. 4, there will be a winter shelter housed at the Holy Trinity Lutheran church on the corner of West Avenida de los Arboles and Mountclef Boulevard, adjacent to Cal Lutheran’s campus. The shelter will be in place from the beginning of December to the end of March.
Sheri Groenveld is the main organizer of the shelter. She said the concept of the shelter originated when pastors in Conejo Valley got together with Lutheran Social Services in the 1980s to meet the needs of the homeless and hungry in the community. The program was set up to be a meal program for eight months of the year, and an overnight shelter for the months of December to March.
“Many people that live in Thousand Oaks do not think we have a homeless population, but we do,” Groenveld said. “We also have many people barely making it due to the high cost of living and coming to get a free dinner helps them in many ways.”
To serve at the shelter, contact Art Castruita of Lutheran Social Services at (877) 577-7267.
“Help is always needed. At Holy Trinity, we need volunteers on Mondays and Tuesdays to host the meals, wash sheets and bring breakfasts,” Groenveld said. “I currently have 50 spots filled out of the possible 127 so far.”
Area Christians Taking Initiative on Needs (ACTION) is a network of churches across Ventura County that assists volunteers by quickly connecting them to serve those in need in the community. One of the programs of ACTION that takes place during the holiday season is the “Community Christmas Shoppe.”
According to the organization’s website, through Christmas Shoppe, families are given the ability to provide gifts for their children. Collection boxes are placed in churches and businesses throughout the community where individuals can donate a new, unwrapped toy.
ACTION partners with local social service agencies to identify under-resourced families and carefully select those to invite to the Christmas Shoppe.
Jill Upson is the chairperson of the Simi Valley Christmas Shoppe, which will take place on Dec. 5, 6, 8 and 9.
“One of the main goals of the program is to give guests the dignity of choosing what they want,” Upson said. “We try to meet a lot of different needs … we partner with the Samaritan Center, local schools and social workers to determine what families to invite.”
If someone wishes to volunteer, they must sign up on the ACTION website. There are a selection of different opportunities, such as photography, child supervision, translating, serving food and wrapping gifts.
“The event is very large-scale, so we are always looking for volunteers. It’s truly a really fun and rewarding event to volunteer at,” Upson said. “We are giving these people an experience they otherwise would not have the chance to get, which is something that people may not realize.”
To look at further service opportunities near Cal Lutheran, use a website such as VolunteerMatch.