If you have a passion for food - and compassion for fellow Long Islanders - volunteering at a soup kitchen or a food pantry can be a soul-satisfying experience.
Every day, thousands of grassroots volunteers prepare and serve meals to soup kitchen guests ranging from small children to senior citizens. Food pantries, which collect and redistribute canned goods and other food items, also need your help.
With the Long Island unemployment rate at more than 7 percent, soup kitchens are experiencing a dramatic increase in demand, local experts say. That means the need for volunteers is greater than ever. And Long Islanders are quite willing to help, answering Newsday's recent coverage of the volunteer shortage in "overwhelming" numbers. Here are some soup kitchens and food pantries that are constantly in need of volunteers, and more information about the type of work you should expect.
The Interfaith Nutrition Network / The Mary Brennan Inn: 100 Madison Ave., Hempstead. Also Glen Cove, Long Beach and 16 other locations throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. 516-486-8506, ext. 114; the-inn.org.
Flexibility is a plus at this combination soup kitchen and food pantry. Tasks include serving meals, buttering bread and sorting groceries. To volunteer, you must be 16 or older and commit to one day a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Interview and orientation required. Apply online.
Muslims Against Hunger Project: 631-517-0088; muslimsagainsthunger.org.
A national organization with soup kitchens in a dozen U.S. cities, it will be hosting a New Year's Eve meal from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. at the Mary Brennan Inn in Hempstead. It also will host a meal at the INN's soup kitchen in Central Islip and plans to open its own soup kitchen in Westbury. Volunteers prepare, serve and clean up after meals. To volunteer, you must be 16 or older. You will receive orientation in Halal food preparation. Register as a volunteer on the Web site. Instructions will be e-mailed.
Helping Hand Rescue Mission: 225 Broadway, Huntington Station, 631-351-6996; hhrm.org.
Help set up tables in a 22-seat room, serve or clean up after a full dinner every Wednesday. To volunteer, you must be 18 or older, although they also have a volunteer program for children 13 to 17. To apply, fill out the form online or e-mail email@example.com.
Island Harvest: 199 Second St., Mineola, 516-294-8528; islandharvest.org.
One of Long Island's largest nonprofit organizations, Island Harvest supplies almost 600 pantries and soup kitchens across the Island. Volunteers transport food and supplies, help recruit food donors, and load and unload trucks at the warehouse. Drivers must file a copy of their valid New York State license and auto insurance policy. To apply, register on the Web site and select an event that you want to volunteer for.