Want to Help Improve NYC’s Food System? Start By Volunteering With These Organizations

by Deirdre Appel

Volunteers are often the life force behind the many organizations working towards a more sustainable and equitable food system here in New York City. And for the individual, volunteering offers an opportunity to become more integrated with the community and connect with other like-minded people. In short, volunteering can benefit you as much as the cause you choose to help.

Whether you are interested in getting your hands dirty in a community garden, preparing meals for food drives, or offering your graphic design talents, there is an opportunity out there for you. So as the days grow longer and summer draws near, consider volunteering at one of these 10 organizations as a productive and rewarding way to spend your time.

City Harvest
Best for volunteers who want to: Eliminate food waste and help New Yorkers in the process
Type of organization: NYC’s largest food rescue organization
Their mission: To end hunger in New York City through food rescue, distribution, education and other practical, innovative solutions
What they do: City Harvest helps feed the nearly 1.4 million New Yorkers facing hunger by rescuing approximately 150,000 pounds of food daily (55 million pounds this year) and delivering it free of charge to 500 community food programs across the five boroughs of New York City. The organization also advocates at the city, state, and federal level for policies and actions to alleviate hunger and food insecurity, and to ensure access to healthy and affordable food for all New Yorkers.
Type of volunteer work: Mobile Markets, Green Market Rescues, Repack Assistant, Food Sow Rescues, Office Work, Nutrition Education
Level of volunteer commitment: You need to attend a two hour orientation and then will be eligible to sign up for volunteer shifts around the city. The level of commitment will vary from one to four hours depending on what type of shift you sign up for. Nutrition education volunteers require an additional training session on top of the general orientation.
Where to find out more: https://www.cityharvest.org/volunteer/individual-volunteers/

Citymeals on Wheels
Best for volunteers who want to: Brighten someone’s day and offer companionship to the elderly along with nutritious meals Type of organization: Food delivery service
Their mission: To provide a continuous lifeline of nutritious food and human company to homebound elderly New Yorkers in need, helping them to live with dignity in their own familiar homes and communities.
What they do: Working in partnership with community-based organizations and senior centers, Citymeals prepares and delivers more than 2 million weekend, holiday and emergency meals for more than 18,000 of our frail aged neighbors each year. Last year, more than 15,000 individuals volunteered almost 69,000 hours of their time.
Type of volunteer work: Meal delivery, kitchen or office help, friendly visiting, handmade cards, contacting recipients for a weekly catch up call or responding to mail
Level of volunteer commitment: One-time volunteer opportunities are available through Citymeals’ meal delivery, handmade card, kitchen helper and office helper programs. Our Friendly Visiting, Senior Chat and Mail Response programs require a six-month commitment.
Where to find out more: https://www.citymeals.org/get-involved/volunteer-with-us

Edible School Yard
Best for volunteers who want to: Work with children and teach them about the benefits of gardening and healthy eating
Type of organization: A nonprofit providing nutrition education through garden and kitchen experiences
Their mission: To transform the hearts, minds, and eating habits of young New Yorkers through garden and kitchen classes integrated into the school day.
What they do: Edible Schoolyard NYC provides a seed-to-table education to students in public schools, teaching them how to grow and prepare plant-based food. The garden and kitchen classrooms encourage making connections among food, health, and the environment while teaching life skills and supporting academic learning through hands-on activities.
Type of volunteer work: Support the organization in the kitchen by creating fun, familiar cooking lessons while also helping with food prep, setup, and cleanup, or in the garden with maintenance
Level of volunteer commitment: Positions are limited and time commitments will vary depending on organization’s need and individual’s availability
Where to find out more: https://www.edibleschoolyardnyc.org/get-involved/volunteer/

Food Bank for New York City
Best for volunteers who: Are flexible about their volunteer time and want to support eliminating hunger and work with a large network of volunteers
Type of organization: Food bank
Their mission: To provide meals for and build capacity of individuals in the neediest communities while raising awareness of hunger and encouraging engagement among all New Yorkers.
What they do: The Food Bank for New York City is the largest hunger-relief organization in New York Almost 20 percent of New Yorkers rely on the Food Bank for food and other resources. Its vast network of over 1,000 charities and schools throughout the five boroughs provides food for approximately 64 million free meals a year.
Type of volunteer work: A great range of options include preparing hot meals, restocking shelves, packing meals, supporting tax preparations, distributing produce at the farmers markets and more
Level of volunteer commitment: Varies depending on placement and the individual
Where to find out more: https://www.foodbanknyc.org/volunteer/

God’s Love We Deliver
Best for volunteers who want to: join the more than 14,000 volunteers each year who make the day of those battling illnesses easier by delivering meals or groceries
Type of organization: Food delivery service for the sick
Their mission: To improve the health and well-being of men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other serious illnesses by alleviating hunger and malnutrition.
What they do: God’s Love We Deliver fills the need for delicious and nutritious food  by providing meals, grocery bags, nutrition counseling and more to people living with a life-altering illness.
Type of volunteer work: Meal preparation, meal delivery, meal packaging, office work, event preparation, or even graphic design and video production
Level of volunteer commitment: Varies depending on placement and the individual
Where to find out more: https://www.glwd.org/volunteer/individuals/

Grand Central Food Program
Best for volunteers who want to: Help make food more accessible to New York City’s homeless population
Type of organization: Food bank for the homeless
Their mission: Brings food directly to where hungry and homeless people are
What they do:The Grand Central Food Program, an initiative of the Coalition for the Homeless, brings food directly to where hungry and homeless people are: Each night, a fleet of vans delivers life-saving meals of hearty stew, bread, fresh fruit, and juice or milk to approximately 1,000 people at 25 street sites around New York City. Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Grand Central Food Program and distribute food, clothing, blankets and other necessities while raising awareness about the other services provided by the Coalition for the Homeless.
Type of volunteer work: Distribute food, clothing, blankets and other necessities
Level of volunteer commitment: The program is currently accepting volunteers to distribute to their stop at St. Bartholomew’s Church, on 51st Street (between Park and Lexington). Shifts run from 2 hours; 4:30-6:30 PM.
Where to find out more: https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/take-action/volunteer/ or email [email protected]

GrowNYC
Best for volunteers who want to: Be outside and support farmers markets or encourage better recycling efforts within the city
Type of organization: Nonprofit
Their mission: To improve New York City’s quality of life through environmental programs that transform communities block-by-block and empower all New Yorkers to secure a clean and healthy environment for future generations.
What they do: GrowNYC was originally created in 1970 as the Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC). Born out of the spirit of the first Earth Day, CENYC was initially a policy-based organization, writing comprehensive reports about quality-of-life issues such as air quality, traffic, and noise. Today three million New Yorkers participate in their programs each year.
Type of volunteer work: Greenmarket volunteers to help with at-market promotions such as cooking demonstrations, farmer support, and community outreach; Fresh Food Box distribution; Youthmarket cooking demos. Recycling volunteers to help keep food waste out of landfills, facilitate community reuse events, conduct interactive recycling demonstrations, and more.
Level of volunteer commitment: Will vary based on placement and the individual
Where to find out more: https://www.grownyc.org/individual-volunteering

Harlem Grown
Best for volunteers who want to: Work with kids and get involved with urban farming
Type of organization: Urban farming and youth education
Their mission: To inspire youth to live healthy and ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition.
What they do: Harlem Grown transforms vacant spaces into productive urban farms and greenhouses, using responsible agricultural methods to grow a variety of crops. They use the farms as classrooms and as venues for cultivating a connection to the environment and food among local youth. In addition, their farms help to transform the surrounding community by providing neighbors with green havens and an opportunity to witness and engage in local food production.
Type of volunteer work: Gardening work or special projects, depending on the individual’s skillset and organization’s needs
Level of volunteer commitment: Saturdays 11AM-3PM for farm volunteers; hours vary for special skillset volunteers
Where to find out more: http://www.harlemgrown.org/volunteer

NY Common Pantry
Best for volunteers who want to: Work directly with the community and increase access to nutritious meals and groceries for all New Yorkers
Type of organization: Food Pantry
Their mission: To reduce hunger and promote dignity and self-sufficiency
What they do: The New York Common Pantry is one of New York City’s largest single-site ,community-based food pantries. Since opening in 1980 as a small neighborhood pantry serving 30 families, what was originally called Yorkville Common Pantry has grown into New York City’s most innovative emergency food provider offering meals and support services to nearly 400,000 individuals. It is designed to meet the needs of families by providing culturally-appropriate and nutritionally-balanced food. Every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the Common Pantry distributes grocery packages to thousands of families.
Type of volunteer work: Choice Pantry volunteers help provide free grocery packages for food-insecure families; Hot Meals volunteers help prepare or serve a nutritious meal to guests in need; and Nourish Program volunteers provide supplemental food resources to low-income seniors.
Level of volunteer commitment: Varies depending on placement, but shifts typically require three hours
Where to find out more: http://nycommonpantry.org/how-to-help/volunteer/

Slow Foods
Best for volunteers who want to: Get their hands dirty
Type of organization: Grassroots, volunteer run organization
Their mission: To create a good, clean, fair food system
What they do: Slow Food NYC is the New York City chapter of Slow Food, a global grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the increasingly fast pace of life e, and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how their food choices affect the world around them.
Type of volunteer work: Gardening at PS 126, a Slow Food NYC Urban Harvest support school on the Lower East Side
Level of volunteer commitment: Sundays 12:30-4:00 PM
Where to find out more: Contact Dee Dee Tiller

The Youth Farm
Best for volunteers who want to: Volunteer on an urban farm and build their gardening skills
Type of organization: Education-focused production farm
Their mission: To increase New Yorkers’ knowledge of the food system and build high-level organic growing skills to share with their communities.
What they do: The Youth Farm is an education-focused one-acre production farm in Brooklyn that grows organic food and flowers for the community and beyond, and offers hands-on farm training and leadership opportunities for youth and adults.
Type of volunteer work: Gardening help or other non-gardening activities such as fundraising, administrative help, graphic design, and outreach
Level of volunteer commitment: Volunteer days for gardening are Saturdays or Sundays from 10AM-1PM
Where to find out more: http://www.theyouthfarm.org/get-involved/volunteer/  

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