Chef volunteering at a soup kitchen

Volunteer Opportunities for Chefs

Volunteering is an excellent way to build your resume and give you something to talk about during an interview. Even though these positions are unpaid for now, they may lead to job offers within the organization or make you more attractive to recruiters. Community service is a chance to diversify and expand your experience, while developing professional connections that may supply future references or insider knowledge about paid openings in other areas of the industry.


International & Domestic


Ronald McDonald “Cooks For Kids”

The Ronald McDonald charities serve about 6–9 million seriously ill children and their families each year. They help them stay together while children are receiving care, ensure that they have access to education, and create family-friendly communities complete with activities and games. Since the system’s founding in 1974, it has established approximately 300 chapters in 62 different countries, including several in the U.S.

Cooks for Kids provides families with homemade meals that are planned and prepared by volunteers. Some chapters may require that you fill out a form or other application ahead of time to prevent any diseases from being passed to children with suppressed immune systems.


Slow Food

Since its origins as a protest in Italy in 1989, the grassroots organization Slow Food has advocated for practices that are clean (environmentally friendly), fair (safe work conditions for producers, accessible prices), and yield good (flavorful, healthy) food. It hosts tastings, organizes groups to plant gardens, and runs many other events around the globe with a presence in 160 countries. It currently maintains over 150 chapters in the U.S.

Slow Food also manages the Terra Madre Foundation, a network of producers/fishers/breeders, chefs, academics, etc. who are dedicated to providing and promoting foods that comply with the group’s philosophy. Chefs collaborate to create meals out of materials supplied through the network.


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Icing Smiles

This organization bakes and decorates custom cakes for critically ill children and their siblings, usually for birthdays. There are two types of cakes: “dream” cakes, which are tiered and 3-dimensional/carved, and “fun” cakes, which are less labor-intensive to make and are geared for non-professionals and professionals who cannot donate the high number of hours a dream cake requires.

After filling out the application and joining Icing Smiles, you may be “called to action” at any time. These calls may occur up to three months before a cake is needed, though one month’s notice is more common. Accepting a call is never mandatory, but the organization requests that volunteers respond as quickly as possible so that they can find someone else to fill the order. If you choose to participate, Icing Smiles promotes your bakery on social media and advertises your service on its website.




Local Homeless Shelters/Soup Kitchens

This database lists homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries in/near numerous cities. Contacting these establishments may reveal opportunities in your community that conform to your talents and preferred time commitment.


James Beard Foundation

The James Beard Foundation strives to educate, entertain, and inspire others through events such as conferences, tastings, and workshops. It is based in New York City, but people travel from around the country to attend events. Most volunteer positions offered through the website are exclusively for current culinary students, but professionals may wish to contact the foundation directly to ask about alternative openings and upcoming events.


More Resources


Volunteer Match & All for Good

These volunteer databases are searchable by city and area of concern. When looking for opportunities that complement your professional experience/skills, consider using terms such as “food,” “cook,” and “hunger,” in the interest search field.


Your Alma Mater

Some colleges/universities offer programs that connect current students with alumni for support and guidance, like the Culinary Institute of America’s Mentors project. Get in touch with your alma mater to see if they offer any roles that appeal to you.

By Erin Coursey, iHire | November 18, 2015
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