alameda foodbank volunteers sort foodIt’s hard to think about hunger on Thanksgiving. Today most of us will be inundated with turkey, potatoes, and pie. The idea of an empty belly seems incongruous to the day itself. But for many families, it’s a sober reality. In San Francisco alone, over 150,000 people lack the resources to feed themselves and their families. And as this horrible recession we’re living through slogs on, more and more people — many of whom lived middle class existences not too long ago — are thankful today not only for their families, but for the food banks whose tireless employees and volunteers helped provide today’s feast.

According to Lisa Mizokami, the Volunteer Services Manager at the San Francisco Food Bank,

“requests for food are up 20% this year over last — and the numbers have kept climbing as we approach the holidays. Just this past Saturday, one of our community partners was overwhelmed by the turnout for holiday food. They normally serve around 400 families each week and had requested enough food for 700 for this last weekend before Thanksgiving. When 1,000 people turned up, they had to scramble to make sure as many people as possible received something. But 50 people still left empty-handed.”

And Brian Higgins, the Communications Manager of the Alameda County Community Food Bank says his organization has

“referred more emergency (same-day) food in 2009 than [they] did in 2006 & 2007 combined.”

The great news is that the number of people volunteering at food banks has also increased. People like you have donated time and money to allow various local food banks to meet increased demand. Yet more help is needed.

So if you’re looking for a way to give back to your community this holiday season, or all year, here are some local volunteer opportunities at organizations offering food to those in need. If you know of a great program not listed here, please include it in the comments section.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Bay Area Hunger

This is a great place to get started if you’re interested in volunteering at a food bank. Bay Area Hunger is a resource organization that provides information on the the many food banks in the greater Bay Area so you can easily find one close to where you live or work. They even have a map detailing where each food bank is located. Their site also provides information on donating and upcoming benefits.

San Francisco Food Bank
Twitter: @SFFoodBank

The San Francisco Food Bank is the critical link between food and people. They provide food to over 22,000 households each week through 400+ non-profit partners and will distribute 36.5 million pounds of food this year to meet an ever-growing need in our community.

How to Volunteer
Weekend food sorting shifts are full through the new year, so they are now trying to schedule remaining weekday projects through December. Evening and weekend projects are being scheduled for 2010 for those who would like to start their new year off by helping their community.

How to Donate Food
There are over 50 locations throughout San Francisco where people can drop off food.

Alameda County Community Food Bank
Twitter: @accfb

Demand at the Alameda County Community Food Bank is at an all-time high in its 24-year history. In October, their Emergency Food Helpline set an all-time record for food referrals (3,235) households for the fourth consecutive month. The ACCFB relies on donations and volunteers keep their program going, which includes distributing 8 million pounds of fresh produce this to year, nearly half of all the food that we distribute.

How to Volunteer

  • Food Sorting — Because this is a very popular time of year to volunteer, the Alameda County Community Food Bank started a program to facilitate volunteers to directly serve their 275 member agencies. Email for more information.
  • Be an operator on the Emergency Food Helpline — Operators refer food to more than 3,000 households every month. Bilingual reps are extremely in demand. There’s a six-month minimum volunteer requirement – one three-hour shift per week – and there’s 4-6 weeks of training involved. Email and write HELPLINE in the subject line for more information.
  • Join their advocacy group — Become a member of Community Advocates Against Hunger (CAAH), which meets monthly and addresses anti-hunger legislation (like improved access to food stamps). Write

How to Donate Food

  • There are food drop-off bins set up throughout Alameda County. Many of these are at schools, churches, and grocery stores.
  • You can also take part in the ACCFB’s Virtual Food Drive where every $1 donated purchases $7 in food.
  • Consider organizing your own Food Drive at your work, school, church or with your community group. They will supply everything you’ll need. Just call 510-635-3663, ext. 318

Glide Memorial Church
Twitter: @glidesf

Glide’s mission is to create a radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization. They provide 850,000 meals a year, making Glide one of the largest free meal providers in San Francisco. Glide is also the only program in town that provides three nutritious meals to the city’s poor, homeless and hungry 364 days of the year.

How to Volunteer

  • Food volunteer opportunities include serving food, toy sorting, and sorting and stacking food for Glide’s Grocery Bag Give Away.
  • Glide is also looking for people to participate in their professional volunteer program, including doctors and other health care providers and employment professionals.

Project Open Hand
Blog: Project Open Hand

Project Open Hand provides meals to seniors and people living with serious illnesses in San Francisco.

How to Volunteer
Prepare meals on site, sort and fill grocery bag orders, deliver food, and serve meals for seniors at their senior lunch sites.

St. Anthony Foundation
Twitter: @stanthonysf

St. Anthony Foundation has responded to the needs of poor and low-income San Franciscans for the past six decades. They serve daily meals and provide shelter and clothes to those in need.

How to Volunteer
Volunteer projects range from serving trays in the Dining Room and sorting clothes for guests to skills-based services in the Tenderloin Tech Lab, Clinic, and Social Work Center. They offer both regular shifts and special group projects designed for large or small teams

Meals On Wheels of San Francisco

Meals On Wheels of San Francisco exists to alleviate the food insecurity and loneliness experienced by seniors who want to stay in their own home but cannot shop or prepare meals for themselves.

How to Volunteer

Various volunteer opportunities are available, including being an at-home visitor for seniors who spend much of their days alone, shopping for seniors, helping with small in-home repairs, and delivering food.

Second Harvest Food Bank
Twitter: @2ndharvest

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties has been providing services to the community for 35 years. They are the single largest nonprofit provider of food to low-income households in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and are the seventh largest food bank in the country, providing food to an average of 207,000 individuals each month. Of those they serve, 67% are families with children and 12% are senior citizens.

How to Volunteer
Volunteer opportunities include food sorting, education and outreach, food distribution, and office services.

Marin Food Bank

The Marin Food Banks provides food throughout the community, including emergency food orders for families experiencing both short term and long-term crises, bags of food for low-income seniors, and holiday food boxes for needy families during Easter, Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Christmas.

How to Volunteer

The Marin Food Bank offers various volunteer opportunities, which are listed in their web site.

  • Kei

    Thank you for encouraging people to be generous this holiday season! This is a great listing of different ways to help out.

  • Wanda Solis

    I would like to assist with the serving food on thanksgiving day

  • Sharon Coletti

    My husband, daughter, and I would also like to volunteer on Thanksgiving Day, cooking or serving food. Any ideas?

  • Meals On Wheels of San Francis

    Thanks for the shout out! Every year, Meals On Wheels of San Francisco has a volunteer meal delivery drive on Thanksgiving morning. Individuals, families and groups of friends are all welcome. For many homebound seniors, these visits really brighten their day. Interested volunteers can learn more and sign up at


Denise Santoro Lincoln

I am a writer, editor, mother of twins, and enthusiastic home cook. I was raised by an Italian-American mother who, in the 1970s, grew her own basil (because she couldn’t find any in the local grocery stores), zucchini (for those delicious flowers), and tomatoes (because the ones in the store tasted like “a potato”). My mom taught us to love all kinds of food and revere high-quality ingredients. I am now trying to follow in my mother’s footsteps and am on a mission to help my daughters become adventurous eaters who have a healthy respect for seasonal food raised locally. My daughters and I grow vegetables and go to the farmers’ market. We also love to shop at Piedmont Grocery and Trader Joe’s. When I’m not hanging out with my daughters or cooking, I like to contribute to cookbooks (including Williams-Sonoma’s Food Made Fast and Foods of the World series), work as an editor, and write about food for Bay Area Bites and Denise's Kitchen. My food inspirations are M.F.K Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters — three fabulous women who encompass everything I love about food.

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