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Cook a Meal at a Shelter

Volunteer to help cook and serve a meal at a homeless shelter.

Few service projects do as much immediate good or offer such a meaningful, personal experience as volunteering to prepare and serve a meal to people in need.

Possible Recipients

Guests at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.

Find one near you by putting the words “homeless shelter” and your city name in a Google search. Or find your nearest agency by using this directory. If 2-1-1 (the human services hotline) is available in your area, it can also help you find homeless shelters or soup kitchens.

What You'll Need

  • Basic cooking skills
  • Ingredients for the meal you choose to prepare
  • Optional: additional families to help prepare and serve the meal.


  • Call the shelter and ask for the volunteer coordinator. See if they are looking for volunteers and check on any age requirements. (You may also want to get a tour of the shelter before you cook.) Arrange the day and time your family will volunteer, and get any other instructions, like number of people to be served.
  • Choose a meal that is healthful but easy to prepare, such as spaghetti or tacos. Perhaps the shelter staff can suggest what the guests would like most.
  • Shop for ingredients with your children.
  • Arrive early on the appointed day to make sure everything is in order.
  • Cook your meal. Younger children can set the table, decorate placemats, pour water or carry smaller items to the tables.
  • Serve the meal. If possible, eat with the shelter guests.
  • Clean up.


  • How did it feel to cook a meal at a shelter? Was it different or the same as you expected? In what ways?
  • Did you talk with the guests? What did you talk about?
  • How do you think you would feel if you had to eat your meals at a shelter? What would you want to be served?
  • What other ways can you get involved with the issues of hunger and homelessness?


Take It Further

  • Gather a group of families and commit to cooking together at a shelter once a month for a year.

  • Read these fact sheets from the National Coalition for the Homeless, specifically written for young children of various age groups. Simple scroll down to the "Other Fact Sheets" section to find the right information for your child's age group. They offer ideas about how to talk to your kids about homelessness and other ways your family can help.

  • Ask staff at the shelter how else your family might help out.

Still looking?

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