20 NYC-based Organizations Accepting Volunteers to Improve Food Access During COVID-19

by Leah Butz

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous New York City organizations–from large nonprofits running pantries to neighborhood collectives doing grocery runs for one another–have shown strength in numbers through supportive food-access programs. The following twenty organizations are accepting volunteers in many different capacities so you can get involved in food relief in New York City.

Food Bank for New York City

About: New York City’s largest hunger-relief organization, Food Bank for New York City, provides resources for food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and more. They do this by acquiring food from charities, businesses, and individual donors across the city and distributing meals to those in need. Furthermore, they provide nutrition education for children and families, facilitate collaboration between various anti-hunger organizations and charities, and provide basic financial management training to low-to-moderate income families. 

History: Food Bank for New York City was formed in 1983, and has provided more than a billion meals since. It has also received many awards for service, including the 2015 Innovative Anti-Hunger Work award from The Food Research & Action Center, the 2016 John Dewey award, and induction into Feeding America’s 2014 Advocacy Hall of Fame. 

Who’s in charge: President and CEO Leslie Gordon

Location(s): There are sites in all five boroughs, as well as mobile food pantries. 

Get involved: In-person volunteering was suspended during the pandemic and has yet to return, but there are other ways to help out. The organization  always accepts monetary donations, and, if interested, you can run your own fundraiser or food drive. They also welcome social media advocacy and other at-home volunteering. 

Contact info: Contact page

Citymeals on Wheels

About: Citymeals on Wheels is NYC’s original delivery meal service for homebound elderly residents. Meals are delivered seven days a week and can be tailored for the needs of the client. These include nonperishable meals that are delivered before blizzards and festive meals for at-home holiday celebration. 

History: The service began in 1981 when writer and journalist Gael Greene learned that regular meal delivery services for the elderly were not provided on weekends or holidays. She teamed up with Marcia Stein, the then Bureau Chief for the NYC Department for the Aging, and some well known chefs (including James Beard) to deliver holiday meals. Citymeals celebrated their fifty-millionth meal served in 2014, and in 2020, the organization served 2,698,955 meals.

Who’s in charge: Executive Director Beth Shapiro

Location(s): They deliver to all five boroughs of NYC. The headquarters is located on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. 

Get involved: Volunteers can work on a wide range of tasks, including meal delivery, helping in the kitchen, socialization with the seniors, and administrative work in the office. 

Contact info: Contact page

City Harvest

About: Rescuing and redistributing wasted food is the primary goal of City Harvest, a nonprofit that teams up with restaurants and retailers to bring excess food into pantries and soup kitchens. 

History: In 1982, entrepreneur Helen verDuin Palit connected the soup kitchen at which she was working with a nearby restaurant, taking the restaurant’s discards and repurposing them for the meals served at the kitchen. Over time,  the operation grew into a network of friends volunteering their time to reach out to food service establishments and cart their usable waste to soup kitchens and pantries. In 2005, City Harvest began distributing fresh food at sites in low-income communities, which was the genesis of their Mobile Market operation. In 2011, they opened their Food Rescue Facility for storing and processing rescued food. 

Who’s in charge: CEO Jilly Stephens

Location(s): City Harvest’s Mobile Markets can be found in all five boroughs. Their primary Food Rescue Facility is located in Long Island City, and the organization is headquartered in Manhattan. 

Get involved: Volunteers can help out in many ways, including working at Mobile Markets, sorting and repacking rescued food, office administration, and nutrition education. 

Contact info: Contact page

Rethink Food

About: Much like City Harvest, Rethink Food partners with local restaurants and retailers to curb waste and equitably provide sustainable and healthy food to those in need. Restaurants and other establishments that serve food can become Rethink Certified, partnering with community-based organizations to provide nutritionally-dense meals. In addition, Rethink has opened the very first Rethink Cafe in Brooklyn, a donation-based cafe open to anyone. 

History: Rethink began in 2017, and had a small operation for the first two years. Then, in March 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they  launched numerous programs to help with growing food inequality. These included a commissary kitchen at Eleven Madison Park, a Restaurant Response Program to provide funding to local restaurants, and a Chinatown/Lower East Side Food Initiative to provide culturally sensitive meals to residents affected by COVID-19. 

Who’s in charge: Founder and CEO Matt Jozwiak

Location(s): The Rethink Cafe is located at 154 Clinton Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, and the headquarters is in Manhattan. 

Get involved: Volunteers can get involved in a few different projects, including meal delivery and prep. Contact [email protected] to learn what opportunities are available. 

Contact info: Contact page

GrowNYC

About: GrowNYC is one of the best-established and largest environmental organizations in New York. It is  known for its many Greenmarkets that sell products from nearby small farms and other food producers directly to consumers. Additionally, GrowNYC has a robust gardening and education program, connecting city dwellers of all ages with nature. 

History: Established in 1970, the Council on the Environment of New York City began with the goal of changing New York City food policy. After years of writing articles and advocating for a healthier, more sustainable New York City, the Council eventually changed its name and switched gears. GrowNYC has helped prioritize nutrition education, sustainability, open green space, and access to fresh healthy food in New York City. 

Who’s in charge: President and CEO Marcel Van Ooyen

Location(s): Food access points, including Greenmarkets and fresh food box pickup points, exist across all five boroughs

Get involved: Volunteers can participate in three different activities. At Greenmarkets, volunteers help set up tents and barriers, hand out PPE, and answer patron questions. They can also help put together and distribute Fresh Food Boxes at pickup points. Or they can help out with the compost program, guiding participants and keeping the site clean.

Contact info: Contact page

The Connected Chef

About: The Connected Chef sources nutritious groceries and redistributes them to families and communities throughout Queens that need them most. Each week, they serve more than 2,500 households with the support of more than one hundred volunteers. Furthermore, they have built a year-round fresh food box subscription (similar to Community-supported agriculture) with a sliding payscale that is accessible to all Queens residents.

History: Local chef Kim Calichio founded this group in 2015 as a way to support parents cooking meals at home to ensure that families can connect over the dinner table. The Connected Chef ran in-person workshops to teach NYC residents new recipes and provide tips on how to run their home kitchens smoothly. At the onset of the pandemic, however, thousands of restaurant employees lost their jobs, and the organization shifted gears to support residents who could no longer support themselves. 

Who’s in charge: Founder Kim Calichio

Location(s): Queens

Get involved: In-person volunteering includes packing and delivery of fresh grocery bags. There are also some virtual volunteer opportunities, especially for people who can speak multiple languages. 

Contact info: email: [email protected], Contact page

Neighborhood Opportunity Network (NeON) Nutrition Kitchen

About: The New York City Department of Probation launched the Nutrition Kitchen to help feed New York City residents on probation. Each of the five locations provides food, recipes, and demonstrations to patrons, and is open to members of the community who are not on probation once per week. 

History: The Nutrition Kitchen program began in 2015 but has expanded greatly during the pandemic, partnering with a few other food access organizations including Food Bank for New York City. Prior to the pandemic, the various Nutrition Kitchen locations served around two thousand families per week; in 2020 those numbers rose to as high as six thousand in a week. 

Who’s in charge: The New York City Department of Probation, through the Neighborhood Opportunity Network. 

Location(s): 
Bronx – 198 E 161 St, The Bronx, NY 10451
Brooklyn – 345 Adams St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Manhattan – 302 W 124th St, New York, NY 10027
Queens – 24 Jamaica Ave, Jamaica, NY 11432
Staten Island – 40 Bay St, Staten Island, NY 10301

Get involved: Volunteers have been invited to help stock the pantries and take part in monthly cooking demonstrations. 

Contact info: Stephen Cacace, Director of Community Resources:  [email protected] 

God’s Love We Deliver

About: God’s Love We Deliver is a non-sectarian service that provides free medically-tailored meals and nutrition education to clients with serious illnesses that leave them unable to cook for themselves. With the help of 17,000 volunteers annually, they serve 9,300 clients each year, and the majority of these clients reside in underserved communities. 

History: Founded in 1986, God’s Love We Deliver initially received donated meals from restaurants and delivered most of them by bicycle. By 1987 they had a kitchen site, and they moved sites frequently until settling in a state-of-the-art facility in 2015. Numerous NYC mayors have expressed their admiration for the organization, and since 2017 the annual benefit concert Love Rocks NYC  has raised a total of $9 million for them. They delivered their 25 millionth meal in 2020.

Who’s in charge: President and CEO Karen Pearl

Location(s): The kitchen is located in Manhattan on the Avenue of the Americas. 

Get involved: Work for volunteers includes kitchen projects, meal-kit assembly, and meal delivery.

Contact info: phone: (212) 294-8100

Rescuing Leftover Cuisine

About: Rescuing Leftover Cuisine is a nonprofit that aims to utilize the resources already within a city—the food and the people—to feed the hungry. Their online platform pairs a community volunteer with a food source (restaurants, hotels, caterers, etc.), and the volunteer carts their excess food to a target (shelter, pantry, soup kitchen). The organization also collects and analyzes all data they collect from their food distribution operation in order to find ways to cut down on waste. 

History: Founded in 2013, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine was launched with food waste reduction as its primary goal. Since beginning in New York, the organization has expanded to six other states: Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas. 

Who’s in charge: Co-Founder and CEO Robert Lee

Location(s): Partnered restaurants and food pantries are located throughout the city. 

Get involved: Rescuing Leftover Cuisine uses Volunteer Food Rescuers to transport food from the donor to the pantry, shelter, or soup kitchen where it is destined. These volunteer “rescue events” are incredibly flexible, so potential volunteers can choose almost any time of any day, and the rescue shouldn’t take longer than an hour. 

Contact info: Contact page, email: [email protected] 

Invisible Hands

About: Invisible Hands is a grocery- and medication-delivery service. People who are unable to shop for themselves can have their specific groceries and medications delivered without a delivery fee. In addition,  Invisible Hands is currently aiming to partner with food pantries to provide their service to households unable to afford groceries. 

History: The organization was founded by three people in their early twenties who began by  offering  to pick up groceries for people in the early days of the pandemic. It has since grown to utilize the services of more than 10,000 volunteers, and is working to expand into other states as well. 

Who’s in charge: Co-founder and CEO Liam Elkind

Location(s): New York City, Long Island, and parts of New Jersey

Get involved: Most volunteer opportunities are for making deliveries, but those who cannot make deliveries might be able to volunteer from home doing accounting or artwork. 

Contact info: email: [email protected], phone: (732) 639-1579

New York Cares

About: This volunteer network does more than just food-related work, but many of the opportunities for volunteers relate to food access, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. New York Cares runs numerous programs related to hunger, the environment, homelessness, and more. Meal delivery to ensure the most at-risk New Yorkers do not need to put themselves at risk to get their meals has been a priority since the pandemic began. 

History: The network began in 1987 by a group of New Yorkers who wanted to find a better way to connect volunteer opportunities with volunteers. Perhaps the most famous program run by New York Cares is the Coat Drive, which has been held annually for more than thirty years. 

Who’s in charge: New York Cares is a nonprofit with a large  executive and administrative staff, but each volunteer opportunity is overseen by a particular group or individual involved in that specific task. 

Location(s): Headquartered in Manhattan, New York Cares has opportunities for volunteers across the city. 

Get involved: Opportunities include meal preparation, packaging, and delivery at pantries, churches, and more. Volunteers are connected with weekly programs or one-off projects after completing an online orientation. 

Contact info: Contact page

Mutual Aid Networks

About: Mutual aid networks are made up of community members who band together to support one another through difficult times. People offer their time and resources to aid their neighbors, with the expectation that the aid will be reciprocated if needed. The COVID-19 pandemic saw the growth of many existing New York City mutual aid networks, as well as the emergence of new ones. The following is a non-exhaustive list of mutual aid groups across the city. 

Who’s in charge: Generally, there is no one leader of a mutual aid network, as they are entirely volunteer-run. Certain community members might spearhead specific programs within the network, but these roles can shift easily as people move into and out of a neighborhood. 

Queens – Astoria Mutual Aid Network
History: Like many hyper-local mutual aid networks, this group emerged during the early days of the pandemic. They run pantries and community fridges and have partnered with The Connected Chef to help get food into the hands of Queens residents who need it. 
Location(s): Astoria and Long Island City
Get involved: This network utilizes a volunteer dispatch system, so people who sign up to help will be matched with projects and opportunities that are close to them. These might include delivering groceries to someone who lives nearby, or helping out at a local food pantry. 
Contact info: email: [email protected], phone: (646) 397-8383

Queens – Sunnyside/Woodside Mutual Aid
History: This group was born directly from the pandemic. Nowadays, they run three food pantries across the neighborhood and cook more than a hundred vegan and gluten free meals every week. They also worked with other groups in Queens to raise money for Texas after the 2021 power outages. 
Location(s): Sunnyside and Woodside
Get involved: Volunteers can sort and deliver food to pantries or prepare hot meals in the kitchen once a week. 
Contact info: email: [email protected], phone: (973) 709-5975

Queens – LIC Relief
History: Though LIC Relief existed before the pandemic, the network took on even more challenges during the height of COVID-19. Notably, they partnered with some Long Island City restaurants to provide 40,000 meals to residents in need. In addition, they are currently running a coat drive for the winter season and providing job coaching.
Location(s): Long Island City
Get involved: Volunteers are needed on a project-by-project basis and can do anything ranging from organizing from home to delivery driving. 
Contact info: mailing address: 4628 Vernon Blvd. #407, Long Island City, NY 11101

Brooklyn – Bushwick Ayuda Mutua
History: Founded amidst the pandemic, Bushwick Ayuda Mutua is an organization entirely funded and run by the community. Their food-support programs are primarily held at Latinos Americanos Unidos, a community center.
Location(s): Bushwick
Get involved: They distribute food staples, including both nonperishables and fresh meats and produce, and are always looking for volunteer food handlers. 
Contact info: email: [email protected]

Brooklyn – #BrooklynShowsLove
History: Equality for Flatbush and the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network teamed up to launch #BrooklynShowsLove, a mutual aid campaign to provide support to Brooklynites in need during the pandemic. The project provides groceries, meal kits, and other services to the community. 
Location(s): Flatbush, East Flatbush, and Crown Heights
Get involved: Volunteers are needed to set up meal kits, place calls to Brooklyn residents, and drive for grocery and supply runs. 
Contact info: Volunteer form

Manhattan – Upper Manhattan Mutual Aid
History: Since its inception during the pandemic, this network has made more than a thousand grocery deliveries to residents in need and raised more than $20,000. Most of the work they do is no-contact and adheres to social distancing guidelines in order to keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible. 
Location(s): Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Harlem, Hamilton Heights, Morningside, Washington Heights, and Inwood
Get involved: Volunteers might make deliveries, sew masks, distribute flyers, make social support calls, and more.
Contact info: email: [email protected], phone: (646) 849-2962 (voicemails only)

The Bronx – Bronx Mutual Aid Network
History: This network emerged during the pandemic to help Bronx residents such as undocumented families, the elderly, and disabled people who cannot receive government help. Their Facebook page is used to share information about where to find food and medical help. 
Location(s): The Bronx, Washington Heights/Inwood, and East Harlem
Get involved: Volunteers deliver medical and food supplies or help residents fill out forms for government assistance over the phone. 
Contact info: Volunteer form

The Bronx – South Bronx Mutual Aid
History: Founded in April 2020 by educator and community organizer Ariadna Phillips, the South Bronx Mutual Aid began as a result of the pandemic. Now, the network works with other mutual aid groups across the city and founded four community fridge projects: Anchor Fridge, on City Island Ave; Isla Fridge, on Prospect Ave; Nuestra Nevera, on E 156th Street; and People’s Pantry, on Hunt’s Point Ave.
Location(s): South Bronx
Get involved: This network runs multiple community fridges in the Bronx
Contact info: Volunteer form

Staten Island – Staten Island COVID19 Resource Network
History: This Facebook group, which was created in response to the pandemic, pools news, resources, and help requests in one moderated forum. The resources made available on the page come from government, nonprofit, and grassroots organizations, and are vetted to ensure accuracy. 
Location(s): Staten Island
Get involved: Check the page regularly, as requests for help or information change frequently. There is currently no formal volunteer sign-up system. 
Contact info: email: [email protected]

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