2000 Meals a Day – Volunteering at Glide

I’ve been looking for a way to volunteer in San Francisco. Of course I find something that is related to food. 🙂 Last December my coworkers and I served lunch at Glide Memorial Church, and it was one of the most gratifying experiences. We were thankful for the opportunity to give back to the local community and to do it with each other. We also learned more about our city. Did you know that 1 in 4 people in San Francisco suffer from food insecurity?

Happy holiday volunteers – my coworkers and I after we served lunch at Glide.

Thankfully there are wonderful organizations in San Francisco like Glide Memorial Church that provide meals to those in need.

About Glide Memorial Church

Glide Memorial Church

Glide Memorial United Methodist Church is a church in San Francisco that opened in the 1930s. It started off conservative but in the 1960s became one of the most prominently liberal churches in the country when a young African American minister named Cecil Williams joined other progressive ministers determined to bring life into a dying congregation. They welcomed in a diverse community of hippies, prostitutes, chronic drug users, transgender youth, and other poor and the marginalized people of the Tenderloin in SF. GLIDE offered refuge and support and become a home for political and cultural change as well as spiritual growth.

Glide’s mission is to create a radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization. It offers over 80 social service programs for the poor and disenfranchised. One such program is the Glide Daily Free Meal program where I have become a regular volunteer.

Glide Daily Free Meals

Lunch service at Glide

Glide’s Daily Meal Program started in 1969 as a weekly volunteer-run potluck for 50 people and today serves nearly 2,000 meals a day. It is the church’s largest program, serving 3 meals a day, 364 days a year.

Glide serves nutritious meals complete with fruits and vegetables. Food is cooked by the Glide team, and it looks and smells delicious. Popular meals include their famous fried chicken, spaghetti, and chicken pot pie. You can tell when it’s good because guests go through the line a few times the days those meals are served. Anyone can enjoy a meal at Glide – there are no eligibility requirements and no information is required to receive a meal. Guests can also go through the line more than once during service.

Volunteers Needed – It’s Easy to Sign Up!

In order to serve all these meals, they need 85 volunteers each day to prepare food as well as serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For each shift, it takes about 25-30 volunteers to keep things running smoothly.

James Sampaga, a Meals Shift Lead who has been at Glide for 14 years, says sometimes only 6-8 people come to volunteer for a shift and it’s chaotic. Each time I’ve been, it’s been pretty well staffed, and even then, it’s hectic. I can’t imagine doing it with less than 1/2 a team! He also shared that during the holidays, volunteer shifts are healthy and full. Starting in February, fewer volunteers sign up and serve. Midweek and breakfast shifts are usually lightest. So your help is needed!

It’s super easy to sign up. They have a great, easy-to-use volunteer portal. All you need to do is set up an account and pick your shift(s). You get an email reminder before your shift. Then you go for your shift, get a quick orientation, and serve. It’s that easy!

  • Breakfast: 7:00 – 9:00 a.m.
  • Prep: 9:00 -11:30 a.m.
  • Lunch: 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. (usually finished by 1:15 or 1:30)
  • Dinner: 3:00 – 5:30 p.m.

What to expect as a volunteer during meal service

Before a meal service starts, you sign in and suit up. Gloves, aprons, name tags, and hairnets are provided. (Helpful tips: I recommended wearing comfortable clothes and shoes. And wear a hat if you don’t want to sport a hairnet.) You will also be assigned a service duty such as collecting meal tickets, handing out cups and utensils, serving food, or bussing tables.

Just before service starts, you will do some light prep work such as filling water pitchers and getting the food all set in the buffet and ready to serve.

Meal service starts promptly on the hour – breakfast at 8, lunch at noon, and dinner at 4. And then it’s nonstop action for a full hour. Depending on your assigned role, you will become an expert at collecting tickets and greeting guests. Or putting food in the designated tray groove. Or hustling to bus tables and refill water pitchers. In one hour, you will serve anywhere between 400-600 meals!!

After the meal service ends, you clean up and prepare the kitchen and dining area for the next meal. This includes counting meal tickets, wiping down the hot bar and dining tables, stacking chairs, sweeping, mopping, and then putting tables and chairs back once the floor is cleaned. With a healthy number of volunteers, it’s usually pretty quick work.

I have been volunteering regularly at Glide and really enjoy it. It’s great to be able to serve the community and help others in need. If you have time, I highly recommend it. You can do it as an individual, with a friend, or as a group. I’ve done all three! Many thanks to all my friends who have come and joined me at Glide.

Group Volunteering

Interested in volunteering with a group of coworkers or friends at Glide? Reach out to John Carpentier, Corporate Engagement Lead at jcarpentier@glide.org or (415) 674-6001 to set up a group volunteer experience. Or you can sign up several people on the volunteer portal.

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