The season of giving is about more than presents; it’s also when we celebrate generosity through charitable donations, volunteering and reaching out to people in need. While Toluca Lake’s spirit of service and goodwill isn’t just limited to the holidays, this is still a perfect time to spotlight some of our neighbors who dedicate their hard work and creativity to helping worthy causes in our community year-round.
A Project Everyone Can Get Behind
As the first hospital in the San Fernando Valley, Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center has served a critical need in the Toluca Lake community for decades, helping residents with professional, top-notch care when they’ve needed it most. For Judy Angel and Paula Davis, the hospital is also a cherished local landmark, which is why the pair jumped at the opportunity to spearhead neighborhood support for Providence Saint Joseph’s Minutes Matter Emergency Services Campaign. As co-chairs of the Toluca Lake committee of the campaign, which launched in 2018, Davis and Angel were tasked with raising valuable funds throughout the community to help build a new 33,000-square-foot emergency room (triple the size of the current facility), as well as an on-site urgent care center that would reduce wait times, increase the number of treatment rooms and much more.
“The hospital is a gem in our community,” Angel says. “But the current emergency room is 40 years old and out of date for the population it’s serving right now. We both feel very proud to be part of this because we know how much this will help the next generation.”
With a commitment to raise $5 million for the project, Angel and Davis hit the ground running to ensure the urgent care center and emergency room opened by 2021 and 2022, respectively. “We started at the grassroots level and put together a committee mostly made up of close friends, who didn’t know what they were getting into,” Davis says. “We met once a month, and the goal was to explain how wonderful the campaign is and how much the community needed the emergency department to be increased in size.”
With an energetic and passionate team in place, it didn’t take long for the initiative to garner support around the community. Active committee members and project spokespeople Janet and Eric McCormack eagerly backed the project, and small gatherings quickly turned into big community-wide affairs. Thanks to the leadership of Davis and Angel, who regularly hosted and led fundraising events, the committee has nearly reached its $5 million goal, with the shining moment coming last year when the team brought in $850,000 in donations and pledges in a single night. However, the group isn’t done yet. “It’s great that we’ve almost raised $5 million like we were asked to do, but we are definitely not stopping,” Davis says. “The goal of the entire project was to raise $78 million, and we still have about $13 million until that total is met.”
In a year that’s seen so much uncertainty and chaos, Angel says that community outreach is as important as ever. “Giving back and volunteering your time is how stuff in this country gets done,” she says. “As a nation, we’re so big on volunteers because there’s only so much institutions can do, especially during these times. Communities rely on us to do our part, and that’s what we’re here to do.”
Despite COVID-19 putting a brief hold on fundraising efforts earlier this year, the committee pushed forward by holding virtual events and planning future in-person get-togethers. Angel adds that with the pandemic, there’s been a bigger response from community members as more people pay closer attention to their health. “With everything that’s happened this year, it’s caused a lot of us to slow down and take our health into consideration,” she says. “It seems the community has really come together on this and gotten closer as a result.”
For Davis, seeing the resounding success of the project is just another reminder of how special the Village is. “Toluca Lake is just an amazing community to be a part of,” she says. “Everyone cares for each other and has each other’s backs. If someone’s sick, we are getting food for them and seeing how they’re doing.”
Supporting the Community, One Song at a Time
Serafia Kohn and Dan Kattan understand how acutely the coronavirus pandemic has impacted many working people, both financially and emotionally. The North Hollywood couple, both musicians, found themselves without an outlet to perform for audiences when public venues shut down and tours were canceled. But at the same time, they felt the role of music in people’s lives was more essential than ever. “Music is extremely healing during times of uncertainty,” Serafia (who uses only her first name professionally) says. “And right now, we are all in need of healing for our souls!”
Looking for a socially distanced way to keep sharing their creativity while boosting others’ morale, they hit on the idea of singing telegrams and launched themselves as the Sidewalk Singers. Masked and bearing balloons, they perform songs from all genres by request in front of people’s homes to help celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other special days, offering a fun, safe and memorable experience during a time when live music can be hard to come by.
But the joy they spread reaches far beyond the people who hear their songs, extending throughout the community to support those who need it most. The Sidewalk Singers waive their regular booking fees to offer donation-only performances for medical staff, educators, law enforcement, grocery clerks and other front-line workers. Even more generously, they donate half of all their proceeds to local charitable causes. As of November, they’d already given $5,000.
Half of those funds helped to feed vulnerable neighbors in immediate need. “When we heard about how the job losses were causing hours-long lines at food banks, we immediately reached out to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank,” Serafia says. “What’s amazing is that just one dollar creates four meals.”
The remaining donations went to a cause that helps feed people’s souls — the Save NoHo Theaters Fund. “Dan and I have lived in the NoHo area for four years now,” Serafia explains. “The vibrant arts and music scene brought us here. We just love the fact that there are so many historic theaters and recording studios a few hundred feet from where we live. How amazing is it to be able to go out on a Wednesday and watch standup comedy, or a play by a local playwright, within walking distance of your home?” Now shuttered indefinitely due to the pandemic, with no way to earn revenue from shows, classes, rentals and ticket sales, many of these venues have been struggling to pay their rent and are in danger of closing permanently. The fundraising effort helped them stay afloat by generating nearly $28,000 to help pay for 60 days of rent for 18 theaters in the Arts District.
Since that campaign has been fully funded, the Sidewalk Singers are looking for new causes to donate to as they continue to bring their personalized performances to local residents. (“We’re stoked to add holiday caroling to our repertoire this season!” Serafia notes.) They’ve deepened their community focus by joining the Toluca Lake Chamber of Commerce, which Serafia says has “been helpful in connecting with other businesses and staying up to date on new neat things going on in our area.” And they’re looking forward to the time when they can once again make music together with their friends and enjoy performances at local spots like Republic of Pie and the Red Door. In the meantime, they urge everyone to show support for all our local artists and performers through these difficult times. “A lot has changed,” Serafia says, “but I remain hopeful there will be a renaissance and the arts will come back stronger than ever!”
Bestowing Blessings on Those in Need
On September 27, Harmony Toluca Lake celebrated its third birthday — though not in the way the congregation had expected. “Who knew back in early March that this celebration would be strictly held online due to a global pandemic?” Pastor Mark Stephenson remarks. But Harmony made the most of it on social media, as it has with all of its services and fellowships since city and statewide shutdown orders in March.
“With all of the coronavirus curves and numerous protocols thrown at this faith community, as well as what other organizations and businesses have had to deal with, Harmony continues the compassionate, affirming work it has been called to do,” Stephenson says, noting that the Hollywood United Methodist Church (HUMC) faith community, of which Harmony is a part, has expanded its online offerings in recent months to better serve the public.
After months of posting prerecorded services to Facebook, on Sunday, November 1, Harmony unveiled a weekly live worship via Zoom where people can experience services in real time. In addition to Sunday worship, Reverend Jefferson Beeker leads an online “Be Still and Know” meditative service on Wednesdays and shares a short, prerecorded meditation on Saturday mornings. Stephenson adds that Harmony also hosts a number of meetings online throughout the week, including small group check-ins, a new parents group, Bible and book studies, and in-depth conversations on challenging topics such as racism and mental health, as well as game nights, coffee fellowships and much more.
Not only has Harmony increased its online footprint, but it has also been continually working to safely expand its in-person services that give back to community members in need.
True to its ethos of serving others, in the early months of the pandemic, Harmony established a care team that conducted welfare checks, ran errands and made deliveries for individuals. Members have also helped prepare healthy meals for Project Angel Food, which distributes meals to people impacted by serious illness; donated food to the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry; and volunteered at several food bank distributions held at Exposition Park for laid-off workers and other neighbors. And, since mid-May, HUMC has provided space for the Hollywood Food Coalition (HFC) to operate on its campus. Volunteers from Harmony and HUMC have helped HFC sort and organize food so that more than 400 individuals receive a nutritious meal each evening.
“And what would a church be without a variety of blessings?” Stephenson quips. In addition to providing meals, Harmony has helped the most vulnerable with “blessing bags,” care packages assembled by members that include bottled water, socks, hygiene items and handmade masks by member Beth Mueller. The masks were so well-received by the community that it “inspired Beth to create @harmonymasks on Instagram so that individuals and groups can have triple-layered custom masks — and each purchase of these creative masks also raises funds for Harmony’s homeless ministry. A win–win!” Stephenson says.
Harmony has also been able to bestow other blessings. The church held a “Blessing for Students” at Alta Loma Elementary School in Los Angeles at the beginning of the school year, where it donated headphones to pupils, many of whom are homeless and foster children. Also, in October, Harmony held its annual “Blessing of the Animals,” in which more than 30 creatures were blessed, drive-by-style, at the campus.
While Harmony has been dedicated to its numerous efforts of giving back to and staying in touch with the community, Stephenson says the congregation is always searching for more ways to reach out. “Harmony continues to mull over ways to enhance what it is currently doing and the possibilities ahead to make a difference in this world,” he says.