For several months in 2009, I volunteered at the Food Bank and Feeding America in San Diego. Both are types of food banks that distribute food to the poor and to other organizations that deal with hunger. The Food Bank was established in 1977 in San Diego and has its own pantry for people to pick up packages of food on their own and have a warehouse where organizations can obtain food for distribution. Over 10 million pounds of food are distributed annually through this organization. They also deal with government donations and large corporate donations of brand name items. Another one of their facets is educating the public about hunger in the region.
Feeding America (formerly known as Second Harvest) deals with many organizations that deal with homelessness and hunger around the region. They also receive donations from large companies like Kraft, Del Monte, and Kellogg's. A lot of what they do is help alleviate some of the burden on local food banks and have a long list of outreach to the community to fight hunger. They also act as hunger advocates.
I found out about volunteer opportunities with these organizations through an volunteer organizer here called Volunteer San Diego. Their offices are in the United Way building in the Murphy Canyon area. I like using Volunteer San Diego because they are very organized and I can record my hours and comments in a single area. This is very helpful if someone is looking for a job as they can print out the number of volunteer hours and locations to show a potential employer.
I started by volunteering at Feeding America. When I first arrived, I watched a video about what the organization does and then I went to work. I mostly sorted items that were donated. These items ranged from canned food to toys and clothes for young children. I had to be careful as some items leaked or were open and could spill on my clothes. In another area, the items were sorted down even more and special pallets were set up for certain organizations who placed orders through them. The work involved a lot of lifting, bending down, and standing for about two hours.
At the Food Bank, the job was a bit different. I helped put together kits for seniors that were distributed around the county. This involved uncrating brand new food items such as cereal, condensed milk, tomato juice, peanut butter, and other things. Often, items changed from month to month based on the donations. The workers worked very fast as everyone wanted to get as many kits made so that as many people as possible could be helped. Other people made boxes to place the food in and some broke down boxes that the packages of food arrived in.
During these projects, I've found that many different types of people volunteer for these projects. Some just like doing the work and feel good about helping. Others are students getting credit for their school or school organization. Some are also doing this because it's court ordered. And, some are doing it because they are on assistance programs the require them to put in a certain number of volunteer hours every month. People's demeanors are different and often based on why they're there. Some people didn't seem happy to be there and were not very friendly or talkative. Others were very energetic and talkative, but focused on their work. No one I've met there were mean or spouted a bad attitude.
Tips for volunteering:
Here are some things that I recommend if one wants to start volunteering at an organization such as Feeding America and their local Food Bank:
Wear your grubbies. That is wear clothes that you don't mind getting damaged. Packages and cans might break open and ruin your clothes. Also, closed toed shoes are a must as things can easily drop on your feet and break something.
Be mindful that some people have been doing this a long time. There are people that volunteer for these projects at least once a week and have been doing so for months or years. Some of them can be very territorial as to their "spots" where they like to work. So, if that's the case, see if you can find another place where you can be of assistance, or ask if they need help at their station. There's always room for someone to help.
Arrive Early to get the best choice of spots or jobs.
Beware of flying or dropping objects. At some projects, boxes could be thrown and heavy cans may drop that could potentially get someone hurt, unintentionally. So, heads up!
For more on Feeding America, visit:
For more on the San Diego Food Bank, visit:
Volunteer hours are usually at night or on weekends. You can also contact the Food Bank or Feeding America directly to volunteer. Have fun.