There are few feelings as satisfying as giving back to your community in a meaningful way, and volunteering at Chester County Food Bank (CCFB) is one of the best ways to contribute your energy — especially if you love food! Not only do your efforts help CCFB continue its mission of ending food insecurity in Chester County (after all, many of our neighbors can barely count on a square meal, let alone one made from a complex recipe with artisan ingredients), but there are plenty of opportunities within the organization to actually work with food!
“Volunteers are involved every step of the way when it comes to how we get food out the door: planting, processing and everything in between,” says Larken Wright Kennedy, CCFB’s volunteer manager.
Here are a few of the ways that you can get involved as a volunteer at CCFB and hone your cooking, gardening and farming chops along the way:
CCFB’s Raised Bed Garden Program is one of its most innovative initiatives: Elevated garden beds are hosted at over 100 sites across the county, such as schools, corporations and senior centers. In 2017 alone, these gardens harvested over 40,000 pounds of fresh produce, which was then distributed to CCFB’s network of food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations.
“It always blows me away that, as a food bank, we can send out so much fresh food,” says Wright Kennedy. “Not only are we growing it ourselves, but because of our volunteers, we’re able to get it out the door quickly.”
If you have a green thumb, or just some energy to spare, help keep the gardens growing at one of CCFB’s raised bed garden sites, or volunteer to create a new site at a school, community center, church or other local organization where you’re involved!
Thanks to a generous partnership with Pete’s Produce Farm in West Chester, CCFB also maintains its own five-acre farm that’s annexed from the main farm. In this soil, Agriculture Program Director, Bill Shick, along with a thousand volunteers (yes, 1,000!), grows and harvests all kinds of produce, from kale to cucumbers to cantaloupes.
Working on the farm, either one shift or an ongoing commitment, is a great volunteer opportunity for big groups, families and individuals!
If you’re skilled in the kitchen (or even if you’re not, but you enjoy the social aspects of cooking with others), there a few different ways to get involved via a chef’s knife at CCFB.
The first way is working in the kitchen at CCFB’s facility in Exton. This large, commercial-grade space is staffed mainly by volunteers who prepare, cook, portion and pack food for Meals on Wheels, which the Food Bank has partnered with since 2014. The Food Bank delivers cases of frozen meals to Meals on Wheels’ Chester County (MOWCC) chapter, and prepares hot meals for pick up by MOWCC volunteers to deliver on weekdays to local recipients. Using local produce (some from its own farm!) when possible, CCFB makes and distributes approximately 14,000 meals each year for MOWCC. Volunteers also sometimes prepare and pack emergency meals or Snow Boxes which each containing five shelf stable meals, juice and snacks so that, in the event of bad weather, homebound MOW participants can have an emergency food supply if volunteers can’t deliver meals.
Kitchen volunteers also prepare emergency response meals in collaboration with the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). These meals are prepared in advance and are frozen in CCFB’s facility. The idea is that during a weather-related disaster or other emergency, CCFB can provide a hot meal, snack and water for up to 1,000 people within six hours of being notified. If necessary, the emergency meals and plates, flatware, gloves and serving utensils are picked up at the Food Bank by the American Red Cross and distributed to emergency shelters in Chester County.
The second way to volunteer by cooking is to become part of CCFB’s Eat Fresh cooking classes and TasteIt! cooking demonstrations at the Fresh2You Mobile Market, a community-minded produce-market-on-wheels that sets up shop at various locations throughout the summer and fall.
Eat Fresh is a bilingual cooking class that meets once a week for six weeks to encourage participants, both children and adults, to explore fresh fruits, veggies and whole grains. Instructors facilitate hands-on cooking opportunities and introduce basic nutritional information and principles. The goal is that participants try new things, choose fresh ingredients and feel empowered to make healthful meals in their own homes. At the end of every class, everyone receives a box of produce, including things they were introduced to in the session.
“We’re upping the ante when it comes to our specialized opportunities,” says Wright Kennedy. “Last year, we piloted TasteIt! Cooking demos at the Fresh2You mobile markets, and this year is even bigger and better.”
If you love to cook and chat with people, running TasteIt! demos at the Fresh2You Mobile Markets could be a great fit! Volunteers set up a small booth at the market, and cook a simple dish with ingredients that can be found right there. Shoppers can try samples of the finished dish, ask questions and, if interested, receive all the ingredients needed to recreate the recipe in a $5 bundle.
Wright Kennedy says that CCFB’s greatest need for volunteers is from June through the end of the year, and encourages prospective volunteers to get in touch, whether you want to just drop by once in awhile or commit to a weekly shift.
“The best way to connect is to create an account and stay in touch via the volunteer calendar because we’re always adding more opportunities,” she notes. “We always have more work to do, but it fluctuates, too … even if the calendar looks full, tomorrow there might be a new opportunity!”
Non-specialized tasks only require a brief 10-minute orientation before the shift gets started. Wright Kennedy reminds us that, no matter the type or location of your shift, all volunteers need to wear closed-toe shoes, a hat, scarf or something to cover your head and a shirt with sleeves. Bring water to stay hydrated, especially if you’re working in a garden or out at the farm.
Ready to get started? Head to CCFB’s Volunteer Hub page to see what opportunities await! Larger groups should fill out a Group Volunteer Request form, and if you have any unanswered questions, head to the Volunteer FAQ page. If you don’t have time to volunteer but want to contribute money or food to the Food Bank, head here for more info. When it comes to fighting hunger in our community, no amount (or amount of effort) is too little!
Find Chester County Food Bank at 650 Pennsylvania Dr. in Exton; phone: (610) 873-6000.
- Volunteers peeling squash photo: Ed Williams
- All other photos: Chester County Food Bank