Volunteer at a soup kitchen, it’s more than just ‘giving back’


St. John’s Bread & Life, the largest soup kitchen in Brooklyn, provides 3,000 meals a day to New Yorkers in need. Photo: St. John’s Bread & Life

One in five residents in Brooklyn is food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to affordable, nutritious meals. That is 20% of the population of your neighbors. Isn’t that insane? Isn’t that just insane? These are our neighbors, until their living situations become untenable and they are pushed out by rising rents and developers and one missed financial step.

If you look around Brooklyn there is always a new restaurant, a new bar, a new shop selling cool succulent plants and what is that, a beautiful woven throw from a visit to Tulum? But there are also people who live in Brooklyn, call it home and will continue to, before and after all of these enterprises and every seemingly crucial all-day brightly painted café and wellness outlet. I like food, I like drinks, I like breathing and stretching. But I like it more when other people have food.

Emergency food providers are all over this borough, some offer weekly meals or pantries, some are open daily. What they all have in common is the desire to address the need in their communities. They are compelled to help their neighbors.

Volunteering offers something you cannot purchase or obtain without just showing up and doing it. I can only tell you from my own experiences that volunteering and working in soup kitchens have quieted something inside of me. There is a perspective I gain, something that hushes the visceral call of social media to “Want more!” “Be more!” “Do more! But make it fashion!” “Lead a fairytale life living in a van in Big Sur with no bills and a perfect dog!” “Celery juice cures your bank account!” “Sober July is my new half birthday!” All this bullshit falls away and loses its power.

Feeding people is a powerful act. Being a part of a community is beneficial not just to the people in need, but to the people offering time. Hunger isn’t solved in a day, it’s held at bay by people continuing to show up to fight it. I don’t think of volunteering as “giving back” or a chance to feel “good about yourself.” It’s more complex. People’s truths don’t always make us feel good. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be seen.

Millicent Souris is the Rescue Food Coordinator at St. John’s Bread & Life in Bed-Stuy. It’s one of many soup kitchens and food pantries in Brooklyn that can use help year round. Find one below where you can volunteer at or use this map to locate others near you.

Volunteers with North Brooklyn Angels prepping food for its mobile soup kitchens. Photo: Philip Mauro

St. John’s Bread & Life

Bread & Life in Bed-Stuy is the largest soup kitchen in Brooklyn, serving 3,000 free meals a day, Monday through Friday, and distributes groceries and produce through its food pantry five days a week, too. You can volunteer to help serve breakfast and/or lunch, distribute food pantry items, or provide clerical help in its office. Once you complete the online form, you’ll receive an email to schedule your day or days. You can volunteer with a group, too.
Volunteer Days: Monday through Friday
How to sign up: Complete this form

North Brooklyn Angels

NBA operates out of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in Williamsburg and serves roughly 1100 North Brooklyn residents a week through its mobile soup kitchens. Volunteers can help at one of 6 sites serving lunch, help with food prep in the kitchen, or drive one of the food trucks. Its goal is to provide a means for newer residents to help their longtime neighbors in need, and its hunger program is the first service it plans to offer.
Volunteer Days: 7 days a week.
How to sign up: NBA makes it easy to register to volunteer through Deed, a volunteering app. There are food prep shifts offered all days of the week, though they are often booked at least a week in advance. You can also sign up directly through the NBA site.

Greenpoint Hunger Program

The Greenpoint Hunger Program is based at Greenpoint Reformed Church and serves roughly 800-1,000 people a month through its weekly soup kitchen and food pantry. Volunteers are needed to help prep and serve dinner on Wednesdays (and are welcome to eat as well), and on food pantry days on Thursdays, volunteers are needed to help distribute the groceries.
Volunteer Days: Wednesdays and the first four Thursdays of each month
How to sign up: Register through this form, which provides all the details.

ACTS Community Development/Coney Island Lighthouse Mission

The Coney Island Lighthouse Mission serves roughly 200 individuals a week through its soup kitchen and its food pantry serves roughly 400 families each week. Volunteers are needed on food pantry days, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and soup kitchen evenings each Wednesday and Friday. The mission provides other services like tutoring that you can volunteer for as well.
Volunteer Days: Tuesdays – Fridays
How to sign up: Many volunteers come through New York Cares, though you can also call to schedule your shift with the Food Program Coordinator, Denise Robbins at (718) 415-1170.

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