NJ soup kitchens are in desperate need of volunteers year-round
🍲 Volunteers are needed year-round at New Jersey's soup kitchens
🍲 There are plenty to choose from across the state
There are about a thousand soup kitchens in New Jersey and all of them need to be staffed with volunteers to run like well-oiled machines.
During Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the holidays, soup kitchens in New Jersey are usually overflowing with volunteers who want to help. All that charitable work is very much welcomed, but what happens when the holidays are over?
It’s not that people don’t want to help or don’t feel charitable, but the number of volunteers drops in the “off months.” But food insecurity does not know the difference between Christmas and a Tuesday in February. Therefore, even now more than ever, volunteers are needed at our state soup kitchens.
Hands of Hope for the Community in Edison is one soup kitchen in the Garden State.
It started in 1993 and for over 30 years, it has been serving food to its community from inside St. James Church on the first and third Saturday of every month from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
“We provide them with non-perishable food for two weeks along with a hot lunch every day they come and they also get some extras like dog food or cat food if they have pets,” said Stephen Dennis, Director of Development and Technology at Hands of Hope for the Community.
While the number of volunteers has dropped off in the last couple of months following the holidays, the need remains, Dennis said.
“We are always in need of volunteers and demand so far this year is up about 35 percent in terms of clients so we need even more volunteers to meet that need. Without volunteers we don’t work,” Dennis said.
On average, Hands of Hope needs about 40 to 60 volunteers per Saturday, but volunteers are also needed during the week, he said.
Volunteers can sign up here.
Duties depend on a person’s skill set, Dennis explained. Some may be in the kitchen cooking the hot meals, others may be in the pantry sorting donations or you could be packing the bags to be given out to clients. Most volunteers are needed outside because it is a drive-by-food pantry, as well. These volunteers are responsible for loading people’s car trunks with groceries.
Along with a two-week supply of food, a hot lunch will also be served, Dennis said. The soup kitchen’s go-to meal is pasta, meatballs, salad, and bread. But they also do hot and cold sandwiches like meatballs, turkey and cheese, chili, and so much more. In July, they do a fair with hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill.
Dennis said his soup kitchen serves, on average, between 400 and 450 meals every other Saturday, which amounts to 12,000 meals a year. Therefore, the need for volunteers is dire.
The same holds true for Cathedral Kitchen in Camden County. Senior Development Director, Noreen Flewelling said the soup kitchen uses food to change people’s lives.
“Our mission is to help people out of food insecurity and champion their pursuit of stability and prosperity and we do that through a number of programs,” Flewelling said.
In the community kitchen, they provide meals and groceries six days a week to anyone who comes on-site.
The community kitchen provides anywhere between 300 and 700 free meals a day.
“Anyone who comes on-site can get a hot, nutritious meal that’s prepared by our team of chefs, and you have the option of coming inside our dining room and being served restaurant style, or we also offer the meals in takeaway containers so you can take it home with you,” Flewelling said.
Typical meals include fish tacos, chicken parmigiana, shrimp scampi, chicken cutlet sandwiches, and much more.
In conjunction with the meal program, Cathedral Kitchen also provides social services. While folks are here getting their meals, there are case managers who are on-site and partner organizations who come on-site to help guests achieve that stability in their lives, she added.
They also have a free culinary arts job training program for adults. It’s a 15-week program for unemployed and underemployed individuals who wish to start a new career in the culinary industry
In addition to these programs, Cathedral Kitchen also has a contract kitchen where they provide about 1,800 meals a day for Volunteers of America’s halfway houses and homeless shelters in Camden.
Last, Cathedral Kitchen is also a catering service. Anyone who needs a caterer for parties, weddings, or any other special occasion, they can provide that, as well, she said.
With all these programs, you can imagine how many volunteers are needed, every day, holiday or no holiday. Flewelling said about 20 volunteers are needed every day to run the meal program alone.
Duties are similar to those you would find in a restaurant. They include plating the meals in the kitchen, working the to-go line at the front door, greeting guests, bussing tables, waiting on tables, pouring water, and serving meals on china and glassware that is provided by the soup kitchen.
Volunteers can sign up here.
Volunteers are needed to make sandwiches. Everybody who comes for a meal leave with a take-away bag with meat and cheese sandwiches, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
“This is a great project that people can do at home as a family or in their office,” she said.
They also need donations of fruit and granola bars to add to healthy meals, as well as monetary donations. Flewelling said they can stretch a dollar to find great deals and make yummy meals for those in need.
Grocery prices are still at record levels, and for lower-income families like those living in Camden County, this can be a big deal, Flewelling said. So, this soup kitchen really helps a lot of people get by. Some of the folks who come are parents who have two or three jobs.
“By coming here, the meals and groceries that we provide, enable them to pay their rent and utilities and get by what might be a very difficult time in their lives,” Flewelling said.
To help find a soup kitchen near you, visit here.
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Gallery Credit: Dennis Malloy