Melissa Salvatierra sings out her part as the volunteers take part in singing… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)
Maybe you want to help others. Maybe you long to lend a hand. But you're not sure where and you're not sure how and you don't know who to call.
You could ask around. Or you could book a seat on the Do Good Bus.
You will pay $25. You will get a box lunch. You will put yourself in the hands of a stranger.
When the bus takes off, you will not know where you are going -- only that when you get there, you will be put to work.
You find yourself on this weekday afternoon one of an eclectic group, gathered a little shyly on an East Hollywood curb.
There's a Yelp marketer, a grad student, an actor, a novelist, a Manhattan Beach mother with her son and daughter, who just got home from prep school and college.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, December 23, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
City Beat: A photo accompanying a City Beat Column in the Dec. 22 LATExtra section about a holiday event at the Challengers Boys and Girls Club in South L.A. misidentified a girl as a boy. The photo caption did not name the child.
You see a school bus pull up. You step on board. It feels nostalgic, like day camp or a field trip.
Rebecca Pontius welcomes you, wearing jeans and sneakers and a black fleece vest. She looks like the kind of person who would plunge her hands deep into dirt, who wouldn't be afraid of the worms, who could lead you boldly.
The bus takes off, and Pontius stands toward the front, sure-footed. She founded the Do Good Bus, she tells you, to 1) build awareness, 2) build community, 3) encourage continued engagement.
Oh, she says, and to 3a) have fun. Hence the element of mystery, the faux holly branches that decorate some of the rows of seats, the white felt reindeer antlers she's wearing on her head.
She smiles a wide, toothy smile that makes you automatically reciprocate.
So you go along when she asks you to play get-to-know-you games. Even though you're embarrassed, you don't object when she assigns you one of the 12 days of Christmas to sing and act out when it's your turn.
Everyone's singing and laughing as the bus fits-and-starts down the freeway.
Maids-a-milking, geese-a-laying, bus-a-exiting somewhere in South Los Angeles.
It stops outside a boxy blue building -- the Challengers Boys and Girls Club -- where, finally, Pontius tells you you'll be helping children in foster care build the bicycles that will be their Christmas gifts.
She did it last year, she says. It was great. And she's brought along some powder that turns into fake snow, which the kids will like.
You step inside a large gym, where nothing proceeds quite as expected.
It's the holiday season, so way too many volunteers have shown up. The singer Ne-Yo is coming to lead a toy giveaway. There's a whole roomful of presents the children can choose from, including pre-assembled bikes -- which means no bikes will need to be built.
You stand and you sit and you wait. Then the kids come. You try to help where you can -- making sure they get in the right lines, handing out raffle tickets.
You see their joy at getting gifts, which is nice. You're in a place you might not ordinarily be, which is interesting. And as the children head out, you offer them snow. You put the powder in their cupped hands. You add water. The white stuff grows and begins to look real. It's even cold.
It makes them go wide-eyed. It makes them laugh. And you feel such moments of simple happiness are something.
It's chilly as you wait to get back on the bus. You get in a group hug with your fellow bus riders, who seem like old friends.
On the trip back in the dark, Pontius plays Christmas music. She serves you eggnog in Mason jars.
And she says she's sorry your help wasn't more needed today.
She promises the January ride will be more hands-on.
Come or don't, she tells you. But whatever you do, find a way to do something.
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