Soup kitchens and meal programs through homeless shelters are often flooded with volunteers during the holiday season, but struggle to staff their kitchens throughout the rest of the year. Families willing to commit to a weekly shift can help these organizations spend fewer resources on staffing their facilities and create a routine for regular residents.
While young children are not typically suited for food service, this can be an ideal volunteer activity for families with teenagers.
Parents may want to scout out several meal programs before signing up their families. Some programs serve specific populations only, such as women, veterans, or seniors, while others are open to all populations combined.
Some programs seek to foster a somewhat intimate setting, like The Women's Lunch Place in Boston, where volunteers serve women and children breakfast and lunch at a table, while others strive to serve as many people as possible, like the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in New York City, which relies on 50-60 daily volunteers to serve 1,200 meals per day.
Also, parents will want to be aware of whether or not meal services are considered "wet" – open to those who are intoxicated at the time of service – or not, in order to gauge age-appropriateness for their own children and to help prepare them for what they may encounter while serving.
The experience will be much more rewarding if families take care in finding the right programs where they can feel comfortable.