Culinary Crusaders: lending a hand in the volunteer kitchen

image via saavi

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If you can chop or bake or just wash dishes, then have I got an opportunity for you!

From gleaning fields after a harvest to feeding the hungry in Appalachia to a bake sale in your community, there is a food-focused volunteer opportunity to fit every calendar, budget, and skill set.

Christine Carroll is a great cook but not much of a painter. She realized this when she received her volunteer assignment during a post-Katrina trip to New Orleans. A chef back at home in New York, Christine knew she would be a more impactful volunteer if she put her cooking skills to work.

In 2007, Christine founded CulinaryCorps. A kind of Peace Corps for chefs, CulinaryCorps recruits squads of culinary workers and culinary students for volunteer travel. It started with visits to New Orleans and the twin goals of feeding the hungry and maintaining the city’s food traditions. A week-long stint might involve cooking for a Habitat for Humanity crew, rescuing cookbook collections from flood-damaged libraries and restaurants, serving dinner to still-stoveless residents, and starting a vegetable garden with local schoolchildren.

This spring CulinaryCorps arranged its first trip to Puerto Rico. The group continues regular visits to the Gulf Coast, with plans to expand into Appalachia and other needy regions. Visit their website to learn about upcoming trips.

It took a hyperactive British celebrity chef to bring mainstream attention to the deplorable state of childhood nutrition and the National School Lunch Program. Now that we all know, it’s time to do something about it. Bring your skills to an after-school program by teaching a cooking, gardening, or nutrition class, or make a difference working with families by teaching budgeting and food shopping strategies. Not cut out for teachingl? Operation Frontline can still use your help with tasks like shopping for classroom materials, assisting the instructor, preparing snacks, or even just taking photos during the activities.

For decades, Ronald McDonald House Charities have been providing nearby housing for the families of critically ill children receiving hospital care. After a long day at a child’s bedside, the families appreciate an alternative to the McDonald’s drive-through that the charity provides. The Guest Chef program invites small groups of volunteers, both amateur and professional cooks, to prepare breakfast or dinner for the families in residence.

Locate your nearest Ronald McDonald House to learn more about the program in your area.

Put your time and skills to work. You don’t even need a car— there’s a group in Oakland that recruits bicyclists to collect excess produce from backyard gardens. Organizations like Volunteer Match, Idealist, HandsOn Network, and Share Our Strength will match you with volunteer opportunities in your community.

Get down on a farm with more food-based philanthropy. Read Gigabiting’s Farm Volunteers:How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

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