Feeding the Hungry and Other Cool Stuff: Volunteerism for Chefs

It’s that time of year again, when charities organize food drives and special meals for the less fortunate all over the country. From national organizations like Share Our Strength to local churches and schools, people are mobilizing around food, which means that there are great volunteer opportunities for chefs and food professionals.

If you’re inclined to help, there are many ways to get involved. I was amazed by what I could find with a quick Google search. (I used the phrase “chef volunteers,” but you might try using more specific phrases for what you do, or include your geographical area.) Here are some opportunities that turned up.

COOKING MATTERS: This is a program of Share Our Strength, a national organization with the mission of ending childhood hunger in America. You may have seen advertising for their “No Kid Hungry” campaigns. Cooking Matters is a program where volunteer chefs teach families how to make the most of their food budget (often subsidized by food stamps or other government aid) by teaching them how to shop for healthy food and prepare healthy meals. How cool would that be? Share Our Strength has other culinary volunteer opportunities, too. Visit their volunteer action page for more information.

: This is a whole organization just to mobilize culinary volunteers. It began after Hurricane Katrina when the founder, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, saw the need for qualified people to help with food preparation for those displaced by the hurricane. These days, they organize short-term service trips for chefs! When I read about their recent trip to Camp Sunshine in New York, where they served terminally ill kids, I got goosebumps. You must be a working culinary professional to participate in one of their trips.

CHEFS FOR SCHOOLS: This is an organization that supports healthy lifestyles through nutrition education, instruction in meal preparation, and resources to encourage a more readily available supply of healthy food. Chefs can volunteer to teach in classrooms or in monthly community cooking classes. While Chefs For Schools is local to New York, the concept is applicable everywhere.

And of course, you don’t need a big organization to help. If you have a food business, consider donating prepared food to a soup kitchen near you. (Especially protein—I know from experience that soup kitchens are challenged to provide enough protein; most people donate dry starches and canned vegetables.) If you’re a chef, you can prepare meals for low-income families, or deliver hot meals to individuals with mobility issues.

We all know that food not only sustains and nourishes people, but good food—preparing it, eating it, enjoying it with others–can comfort and enrich lives as well. That means culinary professionals are uniquely positioned to serve in a meaningful way—and you don’t have to wait for a holiday to get involved.