By Kayla Caldwell
Universal Studios Hollywood may be known for its thrilling rides, terrifying Halloween Horror Nights, or festive holidays celebrations, but on November 14, it was all about giving back. That’s when the park celebrated its 15th Annual Day of Giving.
We were lucky enough to not only check out the heartwarming event, but also speak to Danielle Prado, the Senior Manager of Community Relationships for Universal Studios Hollywood. She explained that though Universal does community outreach all year long, this is still her favorite event every year.
“I love that we are able to really be impactful on this day, and partner with multiple organizations to appeal to different types of volunteer interests and meet different youths,” she told us.
Operation School Bell is one of those organizations, and Universal Studios Hollywood has been working with them for 10 years! Throughout the Annual Day of Giving, thanks to Universal and Project School Bell, 270 children will be provided with new backpacks, shoes, socks, T-shirts, jackets, and books. They’re really dedicated to making this a special day for the kids, who also received their own Minion stuffed animal as soon as they arrived.
“In many cases, this might be the first pair of shoes that they had that are brand new and just for them, that they haven’t received second-hand or shared with a sibling. So those stories are really nice,” Prado said, of why this day is so important to her.
Gratitude is a big part of the day, and after the children receive their new school supplies and gifts, they are able to sit down at a table, enjoy snacks, and write thank you letters to the volunteers. Then, to really to make this a day to remember, all of the children get to spend the rest of their time in the park!
But that’s not all. Universal also works with Habitat for Humanity LA, building playhouses that will be donated to transitional housing shelters for women with young children. We got to take a peek at their progress, and the playhouses even had fun themes, like “Minions,” “Simpsons,” And Honey Dukes (the candy shop from “Harry Potter”).
Jo-An Turman, Vice President of Entertainment Industry Partnerships with Habitat LA talked to us about how much they love days like the Annual Day of Giving.
“We started partnering a few years back, and doing playhouse builds, and now our playhouse build program has blown up so much and evolved into one of our major fundraisers with Habitat for Humanity LA,” she said.
The event is so great because usually Habitat LA is limited in the number of volunteers they can have. However, when they can just bring everything to Universal’s parking lot, they can have as many as 50 employees working on the playhouses.
Just in case you’re wondering - Turman assured us that there is no experience necessary to volunteer with Habitat LA. “About 80 to 85 percent of our homes are built by volunteers. So, without the volunteer labor, we wouldn’t be able to sell affordable homes to hard-working, low-income families and individuals,” she explained.
To get involved yourself, all you have to do is log onto HabitatLA.org, sign up under volunteers, and choose the date you can come out. Then you’ll be assigned to a build site or project, and once you get there, you’ll receive on-site training the day of.
As if that weren’t enough, Prado told us that Universal also works with Tree People, so any employees that want to serve the environment can also volunteer to their heart’s content.
With Project Angel Food, Universal volunteers planned to make about 1,000 meals for individuals who are critically ill and not in the place to cook for themselves. It’s certainly a celebrated day at Universal, with anywhere from 225 to 250 volunteers coming out to make a difference in the community.
There will also be a play date with Shane’s Inspiration, an organization that provides inclusive and accessible playgrounds for children of all abilities. But don’t think that just because they have an Annual Day of Giving that Universal Studios Hollywood isn’t volunteering the rest of the year.
“We’re out in the community volunteering at least twice a month, with these organizations,” Prado said. They also have the Discover a Star Foundation, which raises almost a million dollars every year to put on events like Annual Day of Giving, as well as to provide grants to their partner organizations.
When asked why community service is so important to Universal Studios Hollywood, Prado said, “Giving back is truly a part of our culture... Our foundation has been in existence for over 25 years.”
She explained that it’s simply part of the DNA of Universal as a company. “We are a big name in Los Angeles, and feel that it’s really our responsibility to serve those who live in our community, and do what we can to support each other,” Prado said.
Check out organizations like Habitat for Humanity to see how you can follow Universal’s lead and get involved in your community!