Local soup kitchens, food pantries, and food banks are oases in today’s hunger deserts. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 815 billion people suffered from chronic undernourishment in 2016. In the US, 1 in 6 people suffer from hunger and about 1 in 5 children are at risk of hunger. Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 Report, 43.1 million Americans lived in poverty and struggled to put food on the table. With poverty as the main driver of the country’s prevailing hunger and food insecurity, local these food relief organizations provide much-needed help in impoverished regions and cities.
With the price of food increasing in the last ten years, so is the need for facilities like soup kitchens, food pantries, and food banks. Often used interchangeably, these three places have distinct differences. Soup kitchens are places where cooked and prepared meals are served to the hungry, for free or below market price. Food pantries, on the other hand, put together packages of unprepared food and groceries and distribute to people in need. Food banks collect monetary contributions and act as a warehouse for large food donations; these food banks do not give food directly to the hungry but distribute resources to food pantries and soup kitchens.
How to Start Your Volunteer Journey
Food relief efforts are often managed by non-profit and religious organizations. Day-to-day operations are manned by volunteers. To help fight hunger, your local soup kitchens, food pantries, and food banks need help from residents and organizations within the community. Here are ways you can assist your local food relief organizations:
- Start by finding the nearest food bank or soup kitchen in your area. Consult the facility for their specific volunteer needs. What are the age limits, required a number of volunteer hours and specific training before you can start with volunteer work?
- There is something for everyone. There are a plethora of tasks for volunteers such as preparing meals, repacking goods, serving meals and waiting and cleaning tables.
- Consider out-of-the-box volunteer opportunities. In addition to serving hot meals, these facilities sometimes offer arts, literacy and technical training programs that may need tutors or workshop assistants. Or if you have an operational expertise, some facilities need help with data management, public relations or transportation.
- Volunteer any time of the year (not just the holidays). The holiday season can be an excellent time to volunteer. However, remember that local soup kitchens need consistent help year round. Volunteer during the “off-season” to help create a steady stream of resources for your local soup kitchen.
- Make financial and/or food contributions. One-time monetary contributions are always welcome. But if you are able, consider contributing with monthly monetary or food donations. A small, consistent contribution can go a long way in feeding the hungry.
- Encourage your family members to stay involved. Food relief volunteer opportunities can be a good venue for bonding while instilling good values in children. The whole family can help by donating non-perishable food. Review the contents of your pantry and see if there are items that can be put to good use in your local soup kitchen.
- Organize fundraising and in-kind food drives in your neighborhood. Reach out to homeowners in your area and assist in collecting food donations. Coordinate with nearby supermarkets and restaurants and inquire if they can make donations.
- Help your local soup kitchen connect with institutions such as schools, clubs or offices. Your local soup kitchen can serve as a beneficiary for upcoming community outreach programs of these institutions. The soup kitchen coordinator can also conduct talks and discussions to get more help.
Small Acts of Kindness; Bold Life Impacts
Just like other volunteer work, helping your local soup kitchen helps you see things from a different perspective. For one, it teaches you to be grateful for what you have in life. Hunger hurts our overall well-being that’s why we avoid this feeling as much as we can. However, there are people who may have no option but to endure hunger.
Individuals relying on meal centers are going through distressing times in their life. soup kitchens offer much-needed assistance. A thriving local soup kitchen helps create a compassionate community and helps bring out the best in people. They also help pool the resources of the community to aid the needy.
The call to widen our circle of kindness is louder now than it was years ago. Start with your local soup kitchen. All good deeds, no matter how small, can have a big impact.