Written by Melissa Bean Sterzick | Photographed by Deidre Davidson
The Volunteer Center South Bay–Harbor–Long Beach is an enormous
resource to its surrounding communities—for those in need and for
those who have time and means to give. “Our motto is ‘…
at the heart of helping,’ and we have a continuous planning process,”
says president and CEO Sara Myers. “When we see needs going unmet,
we work to create new programs in response.”
One of the center’s volunteers, Bob Habel, took a two-month break
after his retirement five years ago and then jumped right into working
for the Food for Kids program. Every Friday he picks up and delivers grocery
bags of food to school sites, where they are given to families whose children
rely on school breakfast and lunches during the week.
“I feel it is important for people to help members of our community
who need assistance. It makes me feel good that I am helping people who
would otherwise be unable to provide enough food for the families over
the weekend,” Habel says.
Each bag is filled with items to make two breakfasts, two lunches and two
dinners. Myers says the center gives out 2,500 meals to families every weekend.
The operation of Food for Kids was jeopardized when the pandemic closed
schools in March, but the center found a way to keep the service in action.
They received $50,000 in emergency relief funding and soldiered on despite
changes in their staffing.
“Normally we go dark during the summer and when school is out. When
the schools closed, they called us to ask if we would still come on Fridays,”
Myers says. “There were furloughs and we closed some offices, but
we never really closed. We didn’t miss a week.”
Another of the center’s ongoing programs is Operation Teddy Bear.
The center collects and donates thousands of backpacks filled with school
supplies and a teddy bear to children in the South Bay. The backpacks
come with instructions for self-care and showing compassion for others.
“We have volunteers go into the classroom to teach about kindness,
as well as social and emotional wellness. They teach the children that
when they’re feeling nervous or afraid, they can give the bear a
hug and take a deep breath,” Myers says. “It’s more
than just a backpack. We use the gift to teach kids how to be a good person.”
Mental health issues have become another focus for the Volunteer Center,
which helped establish the Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force in partnership
with Torrance Memorial and the local chapter of the American Foundation
for Suicide Prevention.
“We look at relationships, prevention and protective factors. We
talk about things like relating with peers, self-confidence, exercise,
spending time in nature and good sleep,” Myers says. “And
we’ve been looking at how nonprofits and others can encourage families
to spend quality time together.”
A brand-new program called Connect is being conducted online, assembling
teens ages 13 to 18 to teach self-awareness, promote more authentic connections
with peers, and offer ideas for coping skills and self-care.
The Volunteer Center works with dozens of municipal, medical, social and
educational partners to serve children, teens, adults and families. “Three
years ago we updated our mission to focus on encouraging and supporting
social and emotional wellness for youth and families,” Myers says.
“Empathy and resilience are the two values we want to increase in
The center has an ongoing need for food donations, school supplies and
volunteers. Myers says generous holiday contributions usually last until
March, and then the shelves thin out.
Myers and her team are always working on creative ways to safely conduct
outreach and continue to serve as a hub for keeping community members
fed, healthy and emotionally strong. Its long list of dedicated volunteers,
hardworking staff and generous donors and partners make it one of Torrance’s
One way families can get involved and support The Volunteer Center is by
joining the virtual Heart to Heart Scavenger Hunt set for Saturday, March
20, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For tickets and instructions, visit volcenter.org.
The Volunteer Center South Bay–Harbor–Long Beach
1230 Cravens Avenue, Torrance, CA 90501 • 310-212-5009 •