Volunteering at Second Helpings, a beginner's guide

Toward the end of 2021, I started itching for a way to get out of the house and do some good.

Over the course of the current pandemic, I got more and more into home cooking and found that time spent in the kitchen - even doing prep work - really gave me a considerable peace of mind, so I figured I’d concentrate on ways I could do more of that and help others while I was at it.

After poking around at various charity organization listing sites - aside: most of these are truly dreadful for finding volunteer opportunities - I remembered an organization I’d already give money to - Second Helpings.

Second Helpings is a food rescue, hunger relief, and culinary training organization here in Indianapolis. They currently transform more than 300,000 pounds of rescued food into around 150,000 meals each month. These meals are then delivered to partner charitable organizations that get the meals to those that need them.

I had donated money in the past and was vaguely aware of them through donation drives run by IndyHackers as part of their yearly Holiday Social.

So, I signed up to volunteer, went through some training and have made it in twice now to help out. One time doing meat chopping and another making sandwiches.

Below are some thoughts and tips from the experience so far:

  • They run a really good onboarding program that involves a zoom call, filling out a few forms, and a quick tour on your first shift.
  • You sign up for four-hour shifts across a number of different functions. Everything from offloading donated goods, to handling reception, to chopping meat or stirring pots.
  • Of the two jobs I’ve done so far, sandwich making is a far tougher job than meat chopping. Even if meat chopping involved a slight cut on my thumb and a nice callous on my knuckle where the knife rested. There’s way more steps to making sandwiches than you might think.
  • There are two entrances: One in the front of the building and one in the back near where you park. As a volunteer, you want to buzz in through the back door.
  • Right now, everybody’s wearing masks, and everyone supplies proof of vaccination, so it feels pretty safe all things considered from a pandemic standpoint.
  • You register for a time slot and job to do using online software, and then sign in to that software once there so they can track hours worked and such - likely useful if you, say, have a certain number of service hours you need to reach, but handy to keep a running tally for yourself regardless.
  • Knives, aprons, gloves, etc are all provided … just bring yourself at your volunteered for time and job and you’ll have what you need.
  • You have to wear closed-toe shoes, and a hat or hair net … and a chin net of some sort if you’re rocking a beard. This is actually one reason I started shaving again recently.
  • Everybody has been extremely helpful, which I suppose is expected from a volunteer organization. But folks have gone out of their way to help me figure out, for instance, what all those steps are for making a sandwich and prepping it for delivery.
  • No headphones, either. But they do play music and folks talk while they work. It’s a fun, focused sort of atmosphere.
  • The food you’ll be making or preparing is almost like an episode of Chopped. The menu gets determined by what’s been donated that week.
  • I’m decidedly on the young side of the volunteer base. Most volunteers I’ve met do so during their retirement years.
  • This is among the first active volunteer work I’ve done as an adult. In college, I spent time helping with disaster recovery a time or two, but since then life’s been busy or at least distracted. I underestimated and/or forgot how good it would feel to do this sort of work. It’s physical labor for a few hours, but the drive home from just east of downtown Indy (near where Angie’s List used to be) I’m smiling the whole time. And then I start scheming for when I get away from work again to go spent another shift - I might trying unloading and sorting food donations next time.

If you’re anything like me, you can find walking into an unknown social situation a little unnerving - even with a good onboarding program like Second Helpings has.

I hope this little peek into things helps make it a little less unknown for you, and I’d encourage you to join me chopping veggies, or unloading boxes, or dropping off sandwiches.

If not at Second Helpings, then somewhere else - or somewhere similar in your neck of the woods.

If it is at Second Helpings, go sign up! Maybe we can coordinate a shift or something.

Chris Vannoy @v