Like most parents, I’m always looking for ways to teach my daughter, Sophie, how she can make a difference in the community. We can tell our kids not to waste food or clean up their trash until they’re blue in the face (and we often do!). But until kids actually see why those tasks are important, it often falls on deaf ears. So when the opportunity came up to learn about hunger in the United States while volunteering through the Feeding America network, I knew instantly this would be a great exercise for our family.

feeding america sophie

What is Feeing America?
Feeding America is a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries leading the fight against hunger by providing millions of families in need with fresh food and meals in communities nationwide. The Feeding America network serves 12 million kids each year through programs such as BackPack Program, Kids Cafe, the School Pantry Program and the Child Hunger Corps.

They also operate programs that promote self-sufficiency; educate the public about hunger; and advocate for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Through all of its efforts, the Feeding America network helps more than 46 million people each year.

feeding america food bag

How to Volunteer
Sophie and I headed to Feeding America San Diego where we spent two hours as volunteers. The process to become volunteers was super easy. You simply go to the website, fill out an information form and select the program and date for which you want to volunteer. While so many non-profit organizations can only allow teenage volunteers, many Feeding America network members encourage family participation and allows kids as young as 6-years-old to volunteer at certain locations.

When we arrived at the warehouse, we were greeted by friendly staff and signed in on the iPad check-in. We started our introduction in a lounge with water and snacks where a Feeding America San Diego volunteer coordinator explained the organization and gave us a walk-through of the facility before our shift began.

feeding america2

Volunteer Opportunities for Families
There are several ways to volunteer with the Feeding America network, but Sophie and I chose the BackPack program as our project. The BackPack program aims to provide kids with nutritional food they wouldn’t otherwise have over weekends and school holidays. Typically, each kiddo receives an easy-to-carry bag filled with nutritious staple items and two to three pounds of fresh produce when leaving school on Thursday or Friday afternoons. During Sophie and my shift, we stuffed bags with two oranges, granola bars, soup, nuts and a can of fruit.

feeing american bags

Even within one shift, we had so many opportunities to learn about food and hunger. For example, aside from stuffing food in bags, Sophie learned how to glean oranges. She sifted through hundreds of pounds of oranges that will then go into the BackPacks for kids. Because these oranges vary in size, shape and color, they are not preferred for sale in local grocery stores. So instead of the produce going to waste, they are given to families in need.

Between Sophie, me and the other volunteers, we stuffed 550 BackPacks for local kids!

feeding america oranges

At Feeding America San Diego you can also elect to volunteer in the Farm2Kids program where you pack bags with three to five pounds of produce, which are later delivered to kids in need. There’s also Reclamation, where volunteers sort food that has been pulled from grocery store shelves to prevent it from reaching the landfill. Yet approximately 60 percent of it is still edible and nutritious. Volunteers check expiration dates against their extended best by date, and then sort and box each food by type.

feeding america sophie food bag

Teaching Kids: Volunteer Lessons-Learned
One of the best parts about volunteering for Feeding America San Diego was learning about food and nutrition, and the feeling of doing something good for others. It’s also a great strategy for those of us parents with picky eater kids!

I personally learned how much produce doesn’t even make it to the grocery store and how that food can help others. Sophie told me she left Feeding America San Diego feeling really good because she was “helping the world” and making sure kids don’t have to worry about getting food. Sophie also learned a few things about produce she didn’t know before; specifically that onions can rot.

Sophie and I plan to continue volunteering with Feeding America, and hope to arrange a shift for her Girl Scout troop, too. We’re also saving canned good and pantry items to donate.

Learn about volunteering opportunities at feedingamerica.org

Have you volunteered with Feeding America? We’d love to hear about your experience!

— Leah R. Singer, Red Tricycle San Diego Editor