While food banks depend on food and financial donations, they also rely heavily on another key resource: time, generously donated by volunteers. Volunteers are vital to ensuring that food banks keep warehouses open and trucks on the road, and they ensure that nutritious food reaches those facing hunger in their communities.
The logistics of managing and operating a food bank can be complex. However, food banks are still nonprofits, working with limited time and resources, and they look to volunteers for support in day-to-day operations.
Last year, volunteers provided more than 8 million hours of service to food banks in the Network. Read on to learn just a few of the ways volunteers used those hours to support GFN partner food banks.
1. Working at a warehouse or on the road
FareShare has 32 food bank warehouses across the UK and delivers more than 2 million meals a week to populations facing hunger. For 25 years, volunteers have been an integral part of daily operations at the food bank. Volunteers drive trucks to distribution centers and sort and package food to prepare to be delivered. Some volunteers are even trained in warehouse management skills such as forklift operation, food safety, and hygiene training. Volunteers are so integral that FareShare hosts the annual Volunteer Awards to recognize outstanding volunteers across the organization.
2. Distributing food in the community
In Nigeria, Lagos Food Bank Initiative (LFBI) believes that volunteers are the heart of the organization. LFBI leans on nearly 16,000 registered volunteers, who collect, sort, pack, and then distribute food. One of the largest programs at LFBI is the community outreach distribution program. This series of distribution events provides immediate food, nutrition, and relief assistance to families in 140 low-income and rural communities. Volunteers help prepare these events by sorting clothes, hygiene products, food, and water. Then they help organize the distribution and meet with people in the community to provide essentials that last between two and four weeks.
3. Recovering food on the farm
Leket Israel is the leading food recovery organization in Israel, and with more than 18,000 volunteers, it has one of the largest volunteer programs in the Network. Leket provides nutritious food to people facing hunger by harvesting surplus agricultural produce and collecting already cooked meals, all while adhering to the highest food safety standards. One dedicated volunteer, Robin Rendel, has been volunteering weekly at Leket for three years. “I had donated to Leket over the years and always thought it was a fantastic idea,” Rendel said. “I love the idea of not wasting. I hate waste. That’s what really appealed to me. In addition to being able to help [people]. The sense of pride I get in helping another person is the greatest.”Many volunteers, like Rendel, opt to lend their hand in the agricultural recovery program, where they participate in gleaning (the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields) fruits and vegetables.
4. Offering administrative or skills-based support
Volunteering doesn’t always involve physical tasks. In fact, many organizations now offer virtual volunteering opportunities. For example, at Foodbank South Australia, office volunteers play a major role in supporting staff. Duties at Foodbank can include data entry, basic word processing, responding to public inquiries, and other office administration tasks. In addition to these responsibilities, food banks sometimes look to volunteers with expertise in areas such as social media, graphic design, fundraising, education, and translation, many of which can be done virtually.
If you’re interested in volunteering at your local food bank, check out our map to find a GFN member close to you and reach out. And if you’re interested in volunteering through your organization, you can learn more about employee engagement opportunities offered through the Network.