Why You Shouldn’t Volunteer on Thanksgiving or Christmas

Don't just volunteer on holidays, advises Joel Berg, executive director of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger. "They need people 365 days of the year."

Planning to help serve dinner at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving? We recently interviewed nationally celebrated anti-hunger advocate Joel Berg, executive director of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger and he says don’t bother. The full interview will appear in the winter Edible Brooklyn, which hits the street December 1st, but meanwhile we had to share his opinion about how you can help stem hunger–and why ladling out soup next Thursday is not the best answer.

Edible: You work to enact change on the policy level. What can EB readers do?

Joel Berg: They can donate to the NYC Coalition Against Hunger. They can contact their elected officials—visit our website to find specific policy asks.

They shouldn’t volunteer on Thanksgiving and Christmas—instead, they should donate their skills. If they know how to do a website, if they can write and edit, know graphic design or spreadsheets, that’s needed far more than large groups showing up on a holiday. They need people 365 days of the year to do this long-term work.

There’s a huge disconnect between the ways people think about hunger and what’s actually useful. Canned food drives are just about the worst way of fighting the problem. If you’re insistent on direct food delivery, donate money. Places like City Harvest and the Food Bank buy food wholesale, so they get a lot more food for every dollar you donate. Just think about this. If you found out that a lot of people in your neighborhood couldn’t afford their prescription drugs, would go to your medicine cabinet and donate the drugs you don’t need anymore? That’s the paternalism of our current charity system. “Here’s what I think some person I’ve never met needs,” as opposed to a just system where someone works and earns enough—or makes enough in food stamps and welfare—to buy the food their family needs.

Betsy Bradley

Elizabeth L. Bradley writes about New York City history and culture. She hopes to find Tiffany blue dragees in her Christmas stocking this year.

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