Founded in 2006, Palisades Cares is a nonprofit that organizes and promotes community service activities in the Los Angeles area, from food drives for the Westside Food Bank to backpack collections for homeless children.

“We also educate the community on environmental, health and other topics through workshops and other events,” says Palisades Cares’ Founder, Marie Steckmest, a 34-year Pacific Palisades resident.

A volunteer most of her life, Steckmest wanted to create a vehicle that would help others give back to their communities. She was inspired to launch her own nonprofit after experiencing Big Sunday, an event founded in Los Angeles by David Levinson that involved a day or weekend volunteering in May. This event has since expanded to a year long list of volunteering opportunities throughout the year.

“The mission of Palisades Cares is to encourage volunteering among residents,” Steckmest says. “We have provided many volunteer opportunities over the years and also informed residents of opportunities through other organizations.”

It Takes a Village

Palisades Cares networks with other community groups, including Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, YMCA, the Palisades Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club of Pacific Palisades, Kehillat Israel, the Optimist Club, the Pacific Palisades Garden Club and Lamp Connection; as well as local businesses, such as Gelson’s, CVS, Regal Cleaners, Vittorio’s Pizzeria and Berkshire Hathaway.

Over the years, activities have included holiday toy drives, distribution of reusable bags, composting and gardening workshops, recycling collections, beach cleanups, film screenings of environmental films, workshops by Food for Life instructors and more.

“Palisades Cares’ annual drives include a School Supplies Drive in the fall to benefit School on Wheels, which tutors homeless children, and also a Toy Drive in December, which benefits School on Wheels and One Voice,” Steckmest says. “It teams with local businesses which are drop-off locations. Happily, the donations have increased every year.”

Additionally, “we have coordinated the installation of recycling bins and bike racks in the Palisades as well as partnering with Girl Scouts to place a Little Free Library at Marquez and Jacon,” Steckmest says.

Environmental Impact

Palisades Cares has also sponsored many environmental projects over the years, including spring gardening workshops, sustainable landscaping, a Good Food Day gardening project at Paul Revere Middle School, a compost bin workshop and sale with the Department of Sanitation and community e-waste recycling collections.

Steckmest is also a UCCE Master Gardner, and as such, she networks with the community to encourage edible gardening and enhance school gardens—and especially encourages young gardeners.

During the school year, she is a volunteer garden teacher at Marquez Charter School in Pacific Palisades, where she has helped many children through garden-based learning. For instance, a first grade class learned about vegetables and fruit, a fourth grade class looked at social studies by way of native plants, and a second grade class studied decomposing and organic matter in soil as part of their introduction to composting. 

In related efforts, Steckmest also presents periodic garden workshops for children at the Palisades Branch Library. Over the summer, she led a workshop for children from preschool age through sixth grade, who engaged in three stations of activities, including planting, arts and crafts and sampling of fruits and veggies.

“Our current focus is to encourage residents to protect and improve the environment,” Steckmest says. “Volunteers help teach gardening at Marquez Charter School and also at garden workshops at the Palisades Branch Library. The workshops at the library are partly funded by an Optimist Club grant.”

The efforts of Palisades Cares are made possible through grants and donations. Past grants have been given through the L.A. Department of Public Works, the Palisades Woman’s Club, the Pacific Palisades Junior Women’s Club and the Optimist Club of Pacific Palisades.

With 2018 fully underway, Palisades Cares is focusing on encouraging residents to grow their own food by offering workshops and distributing seeds. 

“Instruction will be given to children and adults at Marquez Charter School and the Pacific Palisades Branch Library,” Steckmest says. “Gardening with recycled containers, composting, seed saving, planting edibles and gardening for wildlife will be among the topics covered.”

Palisades Cares welcomes volunteers. For information, visit PalisadesCares.org or go to Palisades Cares on Facebook.