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HOLIDAYS : Giving the Gift of Time : Many organizations need volunteers during the holiday season and throughout the year.

November 25, 1994|HEATHER W. MORGAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Heather W. Morgan is a regular contributor to The Times.

Ellen Newth may not look like jolly old St. Nick, but for the American Red Cross she brings a priceless gift--her time.

"After things settled down and the initial emer gency of the earthquake was over, I knew that's when I could really help," said Newth, a North Hollywood apartment manager who grew up in Swampcott, Mass.

"When life calms down, people sort of fade back into the woodwork. It's easy to forget," said Newth, 41. "I've always been a high-energy person. I like to get involved."

Newth began volunteering in April for the Red Cross Service Center in Van Nuys. She routinely works 15 to 20 hours a week.

"As a young girl, my mother and I were active in Girl Scouts and our church. Those are the places where I learned to roll up my sleeves and help others," she said.

About 80% of American Red Cross services are performed by volunteers, Newth said. "And like most volunteer organizations, if you've got the time, we've got the job."

Besides staffing and training for emergencies, the Red Cross uses drivers, organizes fund-raisers, participates in health fairs and provides immunizations. Its Youth Services Department recently started an Earthquake Safety Puppet Show, which goes to schools, fairs and churches.

Call the American Red Cross at (818) 376-1700.

The Student Naturalist Program in Newhall was the brainchild of Gini Shadwick in 1990. As the volunteer coordinator for Placerita Canyon State and County Park, Shadwick always needed people to answer phones, pass out park information, provide animal care and patrol the park's 350 acres. So she began the Student Naturalist for children from 8 to 12 to "get kids hooked on helping," Shadwick said.

"After the earthquake, we've lost a few families who had to move out of the area," she said. "But things are slowly picking up again." Her young volunteers come from the San Fernando Valley as well as Santa Clarita.

Besides learning about the indigenous habitat and wildlife, students hike, work on craft projects and park displays and organize their own fund-raisers, bake sales and pet shows.

"And parents are always welcome to stay," Shadwick said. "I believe that children should see lots of parent involvement."

The group meets the second and fourth Saturday of the month.

Call the Student Naturalist Program at (805) 259-7721.

Meet Each Need with Dignity (MEND) once helped Maria Franco. Now, like many volunteers, she works to give back to the group that helped her out five years ago when her family needed food and clothing.

Several nuns started the Pacoima-based agency 25 years ago in an abandoned garage. Today, it is one of the largest service organizations for low-income families in the northeast Valley, serving Arleta, Lakeview Terrace, Mission Hills, Pacoima, San Fernando, Sylmar and North Hills.

For the Christmas holiday, MEND provides about 1,200 food baskets to the needy. The organization also provides toys, furniture, clothes, medical and dental care, educational opportunities and employment support. Families also can be "adopted." Call (818) 897-2443 or (818) 896-0246.

Haven Hills has offered battered women and their children shelter from domestic violence since 1977. Volunteers are trained to meet the special problems that often accompany these situations. A 24-hour hot line provides immediate and long-range assistance. The Valley-based organization offers an outreach counseling program and provides temporary housing. After training, a commitment of four hours a week is asked. A Christmas party also is planned. Call (818) 887-7481.

The Burbank Temporary Aid Center has helped area low-income families and individuals for 20 years. Each Christmas the agency needs people to help put together about 300 food and clothing baskets. Food is needed for the baskets as are new clothing and new, unwrapped toys. Throughout the year, help is needed to maintain the food pantry. Training is provided and hours are flexible. Call (818) 846-2330.

The Pacoima Community Youth Culture Center has been in operation for 17 years, trying to help children from 7 to 16. This Christmas, the center will provide about 200 food baskets to low-income and single-family homes. Donations are needed for the baskets as well as volunteers to arrange and distribute them. A Christmas party also is planned. Extensive services are offered for children--karate and piano classes, flag football, basketball, baseball and tutorial and job assistance programs. Call (818) 896-8878.

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