WHITTIER – In a few months, Diego Hickey went from admitted thief to community angel. Unloading boxes of food to be distributed to needy families by the Interfaith Food Center in Whittier, Hickey says he enjoys volunteering “because it makes people happy.” The 18-year-old said he was booted out by his parents and ended up at the Whittier Area First Day Coalition’s transitional housing shelter. He soon joined First Day’s Community Angel Project, which allows shelter residents to do volunteer work at local nonprofit agencies and charity groups. “It’s a wonderful collaboration,” said Veronica Hernandez, director of the Interfaith Food Center. “They (First Day volunteers) make it easier for us and they get experience in warehouse work and in driving to pick up our food donations.” The 2-year-old Community Angel program was created by First Day Executive Director Ted Knoll, who said the program is aimed at helping the shelter’s 45 residents recover from homelessness by having them give back to the community. At the Interfaith Food Center, Community Angel volunteers like Hickey show up usually a couple of times a week. They unpack boxes of donated food and help distribute the items to about 1,000 area families. Shelter residents have also volunteered at a local overnight shelter program for the homeless, a thrift store that benefits a shelter for abused women, and have even helped decorate the city’s float entry for the Rose Parade, First Day officials said. Pat Bouchard, housing director for the First Day, said volunteers from her shelter are rewarded with the feeling of helping out others – and each one gets a free T-shirt. “It’s to reward them for their willingness to volunteer and show them we are proud of them,” he said. [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3028 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!