Volunteer at a soup kitchen

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Many people have made it a holiday tradition to help serve a meal to the homeless or hungry. To aid you in figuring out how to volunteer at a soup kitchen during the holiday season, check our tips below.

A quick history

  • A soup kitchen is a place where homeless and hungry people can go to get a free hot meal.
  • The idea of a soup kitchen originated in the U.S. during the Great Depression in the 1930’s.
  • Originally soup kitchens gave out soup because it is inexpensive to make and fills people up quickly – today, soup kitchens serve other kinds of food in addition to soup.
  • Soup kitchens usually rely on volunteer organizations, like churches or community groups, to complete their staff.

So how do I volunteer at one?

  • Try searching Do Domething's volunteer database. You can do a quick online search of "Soup Kitchen + Your Town Name" or check your local yellow pages to find a soup kitchen in your area.
  • Then, contact the soup kitchen to see what THEY need.
  • Keep in mind that soup kitchens often get a lot of volunteers around the holidays, so if they say they have enough, ask what else you can do to help.
  • If you can't find a shelter, try a retirement home. Often times, families can't make it to their loved ones.

What should I expect when I get there?

  • Most soup kitchens have four or five hour shifts daily volunteer shifts.
  • For some volunteer jobs, like delivering food to homebound people, you may need to undergo a training session – for others, like serving food, you can start right away.
  • Soup kitchens need help in lots of ways, other than just serving food – some may ask you to help prepare food, pick up donations, take inventory of food, set up tables, and clean up, so be ready to help however possible.
  • The best way to prepare yourself beforehand is be educated about the issues that matter most to the homeless and hungry in your area.

What else should I know?

  • Some soup kitchens have a Food Pantry too, so they can give away non-perishable goods to the hungry – see if you can collect donations for your local food pantry at your school this holiday season. Click here for info on our Feed the Need Campaign and tips on how to have to a collection drive.
  • A great way to do this is to ask students and parent to bring one non-perishable item to holiday assemblies, concerts or dances. Place a box at the door where they can drop off their donation.
  • Remember, soup kitchens and food pantries need help year-round, and especially throughout the cold winter months – make it a monthly or weekly habit to volunteer for a day! Take your friends and family to make it a fun event.
  • To stay in-the-know about volunteer opportunities in your area, text Do Something to 30644!


Find more awesome ways to get involved with action guides, volunteer opportunities, and causes at DoSomething.org