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Volunteer FAQs

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Volunteer FAQs2019-08-15T19:30:16+00:00

Volunteering FAQs

Frequently asked questions about volunteering at Second Harvest

Thank you for your interest in volunteering at Second Harvest. We want to make sure you get all the information you need to have the best experience possible. Below are some of the questions we hear most often.

Individual volunteering

Group volunteering

Volunteer opportunities

What volunteer opportunities are available at Second Harvest?

We have a number of volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups, whether you want to volunteer once a year or on a regular basis.

If you’re looking to sort food at one of our warehouses or distribute food at one of our community sites, check out our volunteer registration calendar for specific dates and times, and to register for an upcoming shift. All volunteers must register in advance.

Please also check our page on Volunteer Match for opportunities. We recruit from Volunteer Match for a variety of front desk and light administrative coverage. Our partner agencies also need volunteers. Learn more about available opportunities.

I want to volunteer with my family. How should we sign up?

Families can volunteer together, either in our warehouses sorting food or in the community distributing food. Families of five or more should register as a group and families of less than five will need to register as individuals.

Each member of the family must register in advance, even if registering as a group. The group organizer will send a special link so each member can sign up. Youths ages 14 to 17 must register with their information, and include an accurate email address for their parent or guardian. A required electronic parental permission slip will then be emailed to the parent or guardian. Youths younger than 14 are not permitted to volunteer, even with their parents or guardians.

I didn’t get the electronic permission slip in my email. What do I do?

Parents or guardians can submit permission slips through our online form.

I need hours for school. Can I volunteer at Second Harvest?

You can satisfy your school-service requirement while helping to end hunger in our community. We have volunteer opportunities sorting food in our warehouse and distributing food in the community that are very rewarding experiences for students. If you want to sort food or distribute food at one of our community sites, check out our volunteer registration calendar for specific dates and times, and to register for an upcoming shift. All volunteers must register in advance.

If any of our other volunteer opportunities interest you, please ask ahead of time if it counts for school hours. Please note that we do not sign third-party forms, including school-service forms. You can print out a volunteer timecard and bring it every time you volunteer. See our volunteer timekeeping policy for more information.

I have court-ordered hours. Can I volunteer at Second Harvest?

You are welcome to fulfill your court-ordered hours by volunteering at Second Harvest. You will need to be pre-screened and approved before registering and starting your volunteer service. Hours that are performed without approval will not count. All volunteers must register in advance. You can apply for approval online, or call 408-266-8866, ext. 150.

Why aren’t there Sunday or holiday volunteer opportunities?

We know you love to volunteer and we appreciate your support! However, our employees work hard to serve the community and they deserve time with their families. We do offer many evening and weekend opportunities if the work week does not fit your schedule.

Volunteer requirements

What is the minimum age to volunteer?

The minimum age is 14, and all volunteers ages 14 to 17 must have a signed electronic permission slip on file at least 48 hours before volunteering. In addition, there are chaperone requirements for youths ages 14 and 15 (1 adult for every 5 youths). Individual 16 and 17 year olds can volunteer without a chaperone but groups of 16 and 17 year olds do require chaperones (1 adult for every 10 youths). Some volunteer opportunities have other age requirements.

Do youths need permission from their parents?

Yes. Every volunteer under 18 must have a signed permission slip on file with us. Youths must register with their information, and include an accurate email address for their parent or guardian. A permission slip will be emailed to your parent or guardian and only needs to be signed once. Alternatively, parents or guardians can submit permission slips through our online form.

Do I need to register or can I just show up for a volunteer shift?

Every volunteer needs to register individually – even if you are part of a group. If you are an individual or the person organizing a group volunteer activity, you can register by selecting a shift on our volunteer registration calendar. If you are a member of a group activity, the group organizer will send you a special link to sign up.

Is there anything special I should wear or bring to the warehouse or food distribution?

The dress code in the warehouse and at food distribution sites is casual and comfortable. Please note the following requirements:

  • Comfortable, safe footwear must be worn, including sneakers, work shoes or boots. Anyone wearing high heels, open-toed shoes or sandals will not be allowed to volunteer.
  • Wear long pants.
  • Dress warm in the winter and dress light in the summer.
  • No necklaces or long earrings.

Leave purses, jewelry and other valuables at home or locked in your trunk. Second Harvest is not responsible for any missing personal belongings.

Are there any rules I need to know about?

Yes. Please review the following rules before volunteering with us:

  • No eating, drinking, running or smoking in the warehouse or at a distribution.
  • Food and grocery items are for our clients only.
  • Volunteers should remain in their assigned work areas. Report to the group leader or staff if you need to leave the area.

Cleanup is part of our work. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.

Individual volunteering

General questions

Can I volunteer if I’m not part of a group?

Yes! We have many opportunities for individuals who want to volunteer, whether you want to volunteer one time or on a regular basis. Check out our list of individual volunteer opportunities.

What if I need to cancel or reschedule?

If you need to cancel or reschedule your upcoming volunteer shift, please go to your personal information page. You can then access the volunteer registration calendar to view other opportunities.

Sorting food in our warehouse

Can I sort food in the warehouse if I’m not part of a group?

Yes! Check out our volunteer registration calendar to find a day and time that work for you. Only sign up for the individual shifts. Good times at our Cypress Center in North San Jose for individuals are the three-hour shifts weekday mornings starting at 9:00 a.m., Wednesday evenings from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to noon.

Are there any other food sort opportunities for individuals?

If you enjoy volunteering in our warehouse on a regular basis and you like being a leader, you might be interested in becoming a Team Leader at Second Harvest. If you are interested, please contact us at volunteerservices@shfb.org or fill out our application form.

What if the shift I want is already full?

We are fortunate to have strong community support, but it means the shift you want may already be full. The highest demand for volunteering is during the holidays, but your help is needed all year long. If you find the volunteer shifts you want are filled already, please consider joining us after the holidays. In January, we need help sorting the food we collect during the holidays. Summer is a good time because half of what we distribute is fresh produce, and the harvests come in fast during those months.

Check out our list of volunteer opportunities for individuals. You can also check out volunteer opportunities at our partner agencies.

Why is a shift not displayed on the calendar?

If a shift is not displayed on the calendar, there isn’t a volunteer opportunity at that time or it is too early to be published. We typically publish opportunities on the calendar 45 to 60 days in advance of the date for food sorting.

Does Second Harvest have parking available?

We have ample parking available at our Cypress Center in San Jose. We ask you to park in our lot and not in Ciena’s lot next door. We have limited parking at our Bing Center in San Carlos, with some on-street parking available. We always encourage carpools so everyone has a place to park.

Distributing food in the community

Can I distribute food in the community if I’m not part of a group?

Yes! Generally, our food distribution events are completely volunteer-run. Refer to our volunteer registration calendar to register for an upcoming shift. We also need individuals who are able to commit to volunteering on a regular basis. To see types of volunteer roles we need at food distribution events, check here.

I want to volunteer in the community on a regular basis. How can I sign up?

Our community food distributions have a great need for volunteers who can commit on a regular basis. If you are available to commit to one or more distribution sites on a regular basis, we would love to hear from you! Tell us more about yourself and your availability here.

Group volunteering

General questions

Can I bring a group to volunteer?

Our warehouses and community distribution sites can accommodate groups of five or more. Groups of four or fewer are treated as individual volunteers. The maximum group size varies depending on where and when you want to volunteer, but in general, we can accommodate groups of up to 30 to sort food at our Cypress Center in North San Jose, and up to 15 at our Bing Center in San Carlos.

Community food distribution sites generally need individuals and group size capacity depends on the space limitations and the number of regularly attending volunteers at each site, but in general, accept groups of about 10.

We ask that groups are mindful when making reservations. As we heavily rely on volunteers, we also rely on groups bringing the number of people they commit to. We encourage group leaders to monitor their group size and contact us if the expected number decreases. Group leaders can see who has registered within the group through this form, with the email address of the group leader and the reservation number (GR-####).

What if I have fewer than five in my group?

Groups with four people or fewer should register as individuals and be sure they are signing up for a sort that is open to individuals. For example, families should register each family member individually unless they are bringing five or more family members.

Do you accept large groups of 100 or more?

We currently don’t have opportunities for large groups.

How early do I need to book my group?

It’s best to book your group as soon as possible. This is particularly true during the holidays, when the demand for volunteer opportunities exceeds the capacity. We’re thankful to have such wonderful support from the community. In general, the volunteer registration calendar is published for a rolling two-month time period.

How do I register my group to volunteer?

Check out our volunteer registration calendar and find a day and time that work for your group. You will be able to see how many remaining slots are available. We do have a capacity limit for our volunteer events.

I scheduled my group – am I done?

Almost! Every individual in your group must now register online in advance – including you if you are planning to volunteer. (Often, the person registering the group is not actually participating.)

  • We will send you a confirmation email with a link and a group confirmation number (usually GR-####) that everyone in your group will use to register.
  • You can forward that email to everyone in your group so they can register and confirm their spot.
  • Group leaders can see who has registered within the group through this form, with the email address of the group leader and the reservation number (GR-####).

What if my group needs to cancel or reschedule?

If your group needs to cancel or reschedule a group sorting food in our warehouses, please email us at volunteerservices@shfb.org, or call the Cypress Center Volunteer Coordinator at 408-266-8866, ext. 150, or the Bing Center Volunteer Coordinator at 650-610-0800, ext. 150.

If you need to cancel a group food distribution event, please email us at psvolunteerdesk@shfb.org.

What if the volunteer shift we want is already full?

We are fortunate to have strong community support, but it means the shift your group wants may already be full. The highest demand for volunteering is during the holidays, but your group’s help is needed all year long. If you find the timeslots you want are filled already, please consider joining us at times other than the holidays or reaching out to our partner agencies directly about available opportunities.

Sorting food in our warehouse

What if an individual sort works better for my group?

Groups should only sign up for group sorts. Each shift is specifically designed for either individuals or groups. We want volunteers to have a rewarding experience while helping us provide food to the community. So, it’s important for groups to only sign up for group sorts and individuals to only sign up for individual sorts. Look to the lower right of each sort description and it will note whether the sort is for individuals or groups.

Why is a shift not displayed on the calendar?

If a shift is not displayed on the calendar, there isn’t a volunteer opportunity at that time or it is too early to be published. We typically publish opportunities on the calendar 45 to 60 days in advance of the date for food sorting.

Does Second Harvest have parking available?

We have ample parking available at our Cypress Center in San Jose. We ask you to park in our lot and not in Ciena’s lot next door. We have limited parking at our Bing Center in San Carlos, with some on-street parking available. We always encourage carpools so everyone has a place to park.

Distributing food in the community

Why are group sizes capped for volunteer events distributing food in the community?

The vast majority of our food distribution events in the community are entirely volunteer-run. For this reason, our food distribution volunteer events cap group sizes depending on the capacity of our distribution volunteer site leaders and space limitations at our sites, which preclude us from accommodating large groups.

Can I increase or decrease the size of my group reservation?

Due to space limitations, we sincerely appreciate when you let us know your group size will be smaller than you anticipated. That will free up volunteer spots for others. If you want to increase your group size, please check with us first to see whether we can accommodate you. Contact us at psvolunteerdesk@shfb.org to request a change to group size.

Why does a calendar shift show more available slots than are actually available?

If there is a discrepancy between the maximum group size and number of available slots, please limit your group by the maximum group size.

More questions

I still have more questions. What should I do?

Contact us at volunteerservices@shfb.org for general questions about volunteering. For questions about community food distributions, please email us at psvolunteerdesk@shfb.org.