Soup Kitchen Volunteer

Volunteering at a Soup Kitchen: How to Make a Difference in Your Community

Volunteer opportunities abound in regard to combating hunger. Specific volunteer projects will be unique to your community. The pandemic left more people than ever in situations of food insecurity. Children and youth who are fed through school programs, sometimes both breakfast and lunch, were left without that resource when schools shut down. That, along with the economic struggles brought on by the pandemic, has left many still uncertain when it comes to getting food on the table.

It is a fallacy to believe that only the extremely poor or impoverished struggle with food insecurity. That’s why it is more important than ever that neighbors step up and fill in to volunteer, make a donation, drop off supplies, and work at soup kitchens and other non-profits like food pantries and food banks.

If you’re ready to volunteer, a program can be found through a local mission, food pantry, a local church, a food bank, or a volunteer service can be utilized to find locations throughout your local boroughs, neighborhoods, and city. 

Understanding Soup Kitchen Volunteering

Volunteering at a soup kitchen is one of the most effective ways to directly give back to your community, as it helps ensure that people receive healthy and nutritious meals. It provides a sense of fulfillment, allowing volunteers to experience firsthand how their efforts can improve the lives of others. To have an impactful experience and understand the importance of volunteering at a soup kitchen, there are some key things you need to be aware of.

Soup kitchens provide food assistance to individuals experiencing homelessness, poverty, and unemployment who may not otherwise have access to healthy meals. These facilities serve as a safety net for those in need and work towards directly addressing hunger issues in the community. They rely heavily on volunteer support, making it possible for them to reach more individuals in need of assistance.

Soup kitchen volunteering can significantly impact both volunteers and those being served. It gives volunteers an opportunity to develop their compassion, empathy, and understanding of the everyday struggles faced by individuals and families living below the poverty line. Engaging in such activities helps break down stereotypes, biases, and misconceptions that exist within society about hunger and poverty. Furthermore, volunteering at soup kitchens promotes social cohesion by creating opportunities for individuals from different backgrounds to come together to help each other.
Some people argue that soup kitchens are a short-term solution that does little to address the larger problems that cause homelessness and hunger. They argue that they only serve as a stop-gap measure that does not solve the root causes of hunger and poverty.

However, even if soup kitchens are viewed as temporary relief measures rather than long-term solutions, they still play an important role in meeting the immediate nutritional needs of those who are hungry or homeless. While the bigger issues will have more complex solutions, providing nourishment for those in need cannot be ignored in the meantime. 


  • In 2022, there were over half a million people in the United States experiencing homelessness. This places a large demand on soup kitchens to provide nourishment.
  • One-third of the homeless are families with children.  
  • According to a survey done by the Corporation for National and Community Service, approximately 63 million Americans volunteered at various organizations in 2018, including soup kitchens.
  • Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S., estimates that every year, volunteers contribute more than $2 billion worth of time and service.

Types of Soup Kitchen Volunteer Roles and Responsibilities

Now knowing just how vital and critical soup kitchens are, we can dive deeper into the roles and various expectations of those involved in volunteering at soup kitchens.

Volunteering at a soup kitchen can be a very fulfilling experience, but it is also one that requires dedication and commitment. If you are considering becoming a volunteer, it’s important that you understand the roles and responsibilities involved before deciding to commit your time.

The primary role of volunteers in a soup kitchen is, of course, to prepare and serve meals to those in need. However, volunteers also help set up tables and chairs, clean dishes, manage inventory, and keep the facility clean. It’s essential that volunteers understand the importance of following proper hygiene practices, including handwashing and wearing appropriate clothing while working in the kitchen. 

Another essential responsibility for volunteers is to treat guests with respect and dignity, regardless of their background or circumstances. Volunteers need to be compassionate and non-judgmental when interacting with guests. Providing comfort, engaging in pleasant conversation, listening to stories, and showing care are some of the most critical aspects of volunteering.

A volunteer at a soup kitchen should approach the experience just like the staff at a restaurant. There is work to be done in ordering, food preparation, cooking, serving, cleaning, and food presentation. The volunteers at soup kitchens strive to create an encouraging environment for those they serve.

Some soup kitchens assign specific roles, such as serving food or dishwashing, which gives volunteers specific duties. Other kitchens might group tasks differently on a day-to-day basis, so volunteers get varied experiences.

Soup Kitchen Volunteer Qualifications and Requirements

Soup kitchens serve as a vital link between those in need and food security. They provide a much needed hot meal for those experiencing hunger. However, volunteering at a soup kitchen is not just about dishing out food; it requires specific qualifications and skills to make a meaningful and valuable impact for those in need. 

One of the essential qualifications required when volunteering at soup kitchens is compassion. First and foremost, volunteers must show compassion to those they serve.

Volunteers must have empathy and be non-judgmental because clients are from all different walks of life. Approaching each person as an individual and with openness and understanding is crucial to serving them in a soup kitchen. There is no place for judgment in a soup kitchen, only compassion and understanding.

Volunteering at a soup kitchen also requires teamwork. Just like any team, every player plays an integral part and each must contribute to ensure success in a common goal. Similarly, volunteers working together with diverse skills combine forces to help feed the hungry.

Another requirement is that volunteers must possess excellent listening skills that allow them to connect with clients. A trait that can play a significant role while serving meals is the ability to recognize facial expressions or body language cues in clients that indicate they may require additional assistance or support. When volunteers listen effectively, they can pick up important details about clients’ backgrounds and show compassion by offering helpful guidance or resources.

Some people argue that volunteers should possess excellent cooking skills to work in a soup kitchen. While knowing how to prepare appealing meals certainly helps, it is not always necessary. Soup kitchens will appreciate any volunteer’s willingness to contribute their time, regardless of their culinary talents.

Benefits of Soup Kitchen Volunteering

Volunteering at soup kitchens isn’t just about helping the needy, it has a positive impact on the volunteers also. Here are some of the positive impacts people experience when volunteering at soup kitchens.

Volunteering in soup kitchens can help to build a sense of community and purpose. It unites people from different backgrounds to work towards a common goal. Anyone, regardless of their social class or profession, can volunteer. This not only strengthens connections between members of society but also promotes harmony amongst people of various backgrounds.

People who volunteer regularly report experiencing increased self-esteem and confidence. These feelings stem from contributing positively to their community and from being an integral part of a team that provides necessary relief to vulnerable groups in society.

When volunteering at soup kitchens, each volunteer’s contribution is equally essential, and without them, the entire establishment’s functionality risks losing its effectiveness.

Although volunteering does not address the root cause of poverty or economic inequality, it is still a valuable way to make a positive impact and bring people together in service to their communities. Feeding the hungry may not solve economic disparity, but it does provide relief for thousands every day.

Volunteering at a soup kitchen not only positively impacts the community, but it also offers significant learning and growth opportunities for the volunteer. Soup kitchens welcome individuals with diverse backgrounds and skill sets, making it an ideal place to learn new skills, challenge oneself and gain valuable experiences.

Volunteering at a soup kitchen can help develop strong organizational and time-management skills as volunteers work together to manage tasks and accomplish goals. Additionally, communication skills become finely tuned as volunteers communicate effectively with their teammates and interact with the public. These are essential life skills that can be transferred to other aspects of daily life such as study or work.

Numerous studies suggest that volunteering has mental health benefits, particularly when it comes to reducing stress. Engaging in acts of altruism can foster a sense of purpose that promotes positive feelings about oneself and better general well-being. Furthermore, during times of uncertainty, volunteering provides a sense of stability while offering respite from every day worries.

Some critics argue that soup kitchen volunteering may be seen as an act of charity or even pity. However, by doing so, it fosters a culture of generosity that supports vulnerable members in society rather than leaving them feeling isolated and abandoned. Soup kitchens often provide other basic needs besides food, including showers, clothing assistance, and resources to provide temporary housing, thus helping maintain human dignity, which instills self-respect for 

How to Start Volunteering at a Soup Kitchen Near Me

If you feel qualified and ready to volunteer at a soup kitchen, you will need to locate an organization near you and contact them. Once you are in contact with the soup kitchen, you may attend a short orientation to go over what will be expected of you and what you should expect from your first shift. Remember to show up ready to work, wear comfortable clothing and sensible shoes, be on time and ready to learn, and, most importantly, serve compassionately.

There are not many barriers to becoming a soup kitchen volunteer. Soup kitchens are open to individuals and groups that are ready and willing to help in any way possible. Helping in a soup kitchen is an opportunity for you to become part of something larger than yourself while gaining valuable experience at the same time.

Finding a Soup Kitchen to Volunteer

The first step towards volunteering at any soup kitchen is finding one nearest to your location. This information can be easily accessible using online resources and social media platforms such as Facebook groups, Twitter feeds, or Instagram pages. Once you have found the ideal soup kitchen, reach out via email or their contact page on their website to express your interest in volunteering.

Another way of starting with volunteering is by joining reputable organizations such as America’s Second Harvest or Dare to Care, which offer various placements throughout your local community providing food and shelter assistance programs; it also offers additional training opportunities that can boost your skills further and make a positive impact on those who need them most.

You can get help finding an organization to volunteer for by checking out the website resources through Feeding America. 

There you can enter your local zip code and get a list of food banks or fill out their inquiry prompt and be sent several options for volunteering. 

Managing Commitment as a Soup Kitchen Volunteer

Volunteering at a soup kitchen can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life, but it is crucial that you manage your commitment to ensure that you do not burn out. Once you decide to volunteer, it is essential to keep in mind that you have made a promise to help the community and not just show up when it is convenient for you. Here are some tips on how to manage your commitment effectively.

First, create a schedule that works for you. You don’t want to commit too much time and then have it begin to affect other parts of your life. Find out the hours of operation of the soup kitchen and select a day and time when you can be fully present without any interruptions or obligations. Many soup kitchens have online calendars that show their volunteer shifts, making it easy for you to choose a slot that fits your schedule.

Second, stay committed by consistently showing up on time. If something comes up and you cannot make it, let the staff know in advance instead of leaving them short-handed. Once they get comfortable with having you there consistently, try to establish a routine so that they can count on you being there on specific days regularly.

Some people might argue that volunteering regularly at the same place could lead to boredom or burnout. However, I would argue that once you build relationships with the staff and regular patrons and gain more knowledge about how things work in the kitchen, your role becomes more than just serving meals. You can take on more significant responsibilities, like training new volunteers or seeking donations from local businesses or neighbors.

How to Prepare for Volunteering in a Soup Kitchen

Once you have located a soup kitchen and are set to begin volunteering, you can read through some helpful tips and safety considerations listed below. You can also try looking up the soup kitchen and review any rules or protocols they may have specific to them. There may even be some yelp reviews to peruse to get a better idea of what to expect. Make sure you know what time you need to arrive and be on time. 

Wear appropriate clothing and shoes, and bring a positive, compassionate attitude to your shift. You may be a bit nervous, which is normal, but other volunteers and staff will be helpful and answer any questions you may have. Arrive well-rested and ready to help in any way needed. 

Tips for Successful Soup Kitchen Volunteering

  • The number one tip is to practice patience and compassion while volunteering. The energy you bring to your shift can make all the difference.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothing for your shift. 
  • Remember food safety protocol and practice good hygiene to keep things safe. 
  • If you are not experienced with certain equipment, such as meat slicers or fryers, let the staff know you are not comfortable.  
  • Arrive on time for your shifts, be a good listener, and speak up to ask questions if you need clarification.
  • Reflect on your experience regularly. Being grateful can inspire you to stay committed and help fight off feelings of burnout. 
  • Volunteer when needed, not just during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • Create a schedule that works for you, and be sure not to overcommit your time.
  • Consider making it a family endeavor or bringing along friends to volunteer alongside you.

Volunteer Safety Considerations

Some safety considerations to keep in mind when volunteering include wearing appropriate clothing and non-slip closed-toed shoes to your shift. Wear any long or loose hair tied back and practice basic food safety standards, such as washing hands regularly with soap and warm water. Cover your mouth and nose for any cough or sneeze. Let staff know and stay home if you’re not feeling well to prevent spreading illness.

Only operate equipment you are familiar with and trained to operate. Don’t rush or skip corners. Knives, slicers, and other kitchen equipment can cause serious injuries. 

Keep yourself and your belongings safe by always locking up valuables in your car. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry or bringing valuables along with you for your shift.

Soup Kitchen Volunteer Resources

Almost every state has at least one website with a list of specific resources for volunteers interested in working in soup kitchens.

For example, California has, which lists several locations and organizations that provide meals for the hungry.

You can look up your area on a website like or do a quick Google search for your location. You can also look up specific food banks and soup kitchens and find Yelp reviews from volunteers sharing their experiences while working there. This is helpful to get a feel for what to expect before showing up.

Soup Kitchen Volunteering FAQ’s 

Are there any age restrictions for volunteers?

Generally, the minimum age required to volunteer in a soup kitchen is 15 with permission from a parent/guardian. There are some exceptions and some organizations allow for volunteers as young as 12 to volunteer with a parent or guardian with them. 

How many people does the soup kitchen serve each day?

Soup kitchens can serve up to one hundred or more meals per day to clients. This varies greatly depending on location and so many other factors as well. 

What should someone wear to volunteer at a soup kitchen?

Wear comfortable clothing and closed-toed, rubber-soled shoes to volunteer at a soup kitchen. You should wear your hair pulled back if its long, and also expect to wear a hair net and gloves for proper food sanitation. 

What are the usual hours of operation for a soup kitchen?

Operating hours at a soup kitchen can range widely, depending if they serve breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or at all three mealtimes. Some are open just a few hours a day, like 11 am to 3 pm, while others are open for a full day to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner until 6 pm or so.

How long is a shift for a soup kitchen volunteer?

You can volunteer for as little as an hour, but most volunteers contribute at least 2 hours at a time. A shift can range between 1 to 8 hours depending on the volunteer. 

What are the physical demands of the volunteer position?

A soup kitchen volunteer should be able to stand for at least 2 hours at a time, lift, carry, and load up to 50 pounds, bend, stoop down, climb small step ladders, and crouch periodically throughout their shift.

Where do soup kitchens typically get their food from? 

Soup kitchens rely primarily on generous donations from their community. This includes monetary donations from average community members to food and supply donations from grocery chains and other local businesses. Soup kitchens also receive produce and other food staples from local food banks and churches.