HOW TO START
Google local homeless shelters and contact them and ask if you can serve at meal times. Also, ask if you can bring other volunteers with you.
Find out how many children and adults can be there with you to serve at one time. Be aware, sometimes there is a certain number of children allowed at one time to serve and there may be a required number of adult chaperones per number of children participating. You need to know if this is the case where you are serving.
Find out what time is recommended for you to arrive at the shelter in order to set up and how long you should stay after serving to help clean up. Also ask what time serving actually starts.
Keep in mind, you may want to serve by yourself the first time so you will be knowledgeable when you bring other volunteers with you in the future.
You will likely be setting up the kitchen and serving area before serving, so it will help if you know the following:
Generally, how things are done, how volunteers are expected to conduct themselves, and where the volunteers need to be located in the kitchen, serving area, and dining space so as to be the most helpful. Even though I recommend that your first time serving you go alone without bringing volunteers with you-- try to go when other people (i.e.: not “your" group) are also serving so you can learn from them;
Find out where utensils, plates, cups and napkins are located as well as gloves for your hands, hairnets and where the microwave is, as some residents prefer their food extra hot and ask for it to be warmed up. Pay attention to where ramekins, condiments, sweeteners and seasonings are, as some residents may request them. Also note where storage containers, plastic wrap and foil are located, since you will need this to help store left overs after serving if you all stay to help clean up after serving.
Also, find out the following:
Where the bathroom is,
Where parking is (I drive my volunteers with me but sometimes they need to meet us at the shelter so they need to know about parking)
If volunteers need identification to be let into the building
Doing the above will help you to be able to tell the people you will be bringing with you the protocol and routine of serving as well as where things are and what is expected of them.
FYI--I usually order food and beverages for my group to serve and I have it delivered to the shelter (Pizza is easy and relatively inexpensive. I ask the shelter how many pizzas and what kind of pizzas to order as well as what soft drinks the residents usually prefer and how many bottles) Some volunteers prefer to cook and bring the food or do a little of both (i.e.: some food ordered in and some homemade) or you can even just serve whatever the staff at the shelter is cooking. Find out from the shelter what is usually done when people serve, as each shelter is different.
*It is important to discuss your entire plan at length with an authorized representative of the shelter before you do anything at all so as to be assured your plan is acceptable to them.
Once all of this is done, consider what volunteers you want to bring with you…your family, friends, co-workers, children’s friends, neighbors, members of your religious congregation and/or organizations you are active with, etc.. Once you have this list, draft a letter inviting them!
Below is a SAMPLE letter to use as a guide when inviting volunteers to serve with you. You can personalize it by telling them a little bit about what is inspiring you to do this.
And also, after you serve at a shelter, follow up with the shelter representative you were working with to thank them, as this is a group effort!
SAMPLE LETTER TO VOLUNTEERS:
I am reaching out to you to see if you are interested in joining me to serve warm, nutritious meals to residents at a homeless shelter in my neighborhood called, “ __________________.” My goal is to introduce as many people as I can to NAME OF SHELTER HERE and to the joy of serving. The plan is to meet at my house YOUR ADDRESS HERE at 4:30pm on DAY/DATE and I will drive everyone to the shelter and we will set up dinner at 5:00pm and serve at 5:30pm. Serving ends at 6:00pm so we will leave shortly thereafter and should be back to my house by 7:00pm. This leaves a little extra time for after dinner cleanup/traffic.
I am attaching a waiver to be signed before serving. Please print it out, sign it and bring it when we go to serve. You cannot serve without a signed waiver.
Looking forward to serving with you!!
Your cell number
P.S. The address and telephone number of SHELTER NAME is:
Volunteer Agreement and Liability Waiver is attached for your signature.