When you cook and serve a meal, you offer something of yourself, most often to those in your immediate circle of family and friends. Let that same generous spirit and love of food be a means of reaching beyond your table to help feed a larger community in need of sustenance. Whether by cooking and sharing a meal with others or by supporting an organization that feeds others, you can offer food as a nourishing expression of your holiday spirit and as a way of deepening your yoga practice through heartfelt service.
“Feeding people is the practice of yoga outside of ourselves,” says San Francisco vinyasa yoga practitioner Rosie Branson Gill, the program director of 18 Reasons, a nonprofit organization that serves the community through innovative food education.
Focus on your own community, or let your actions be felt in places you’ve never been. Invite your neighbors over to share a pot of soup, or help subsidize the farm or small business of a family struggling toward self-sufficiency on another continent. This year, as you look for ways to share the spirit of the season, consider this list of food-inspired ideas for giving.
1. Gather a Group, and Serve a Holiday Feast
Every year, Branson Gill and her team join with the Medical Respite and Sobering Center to cook, serve, and share a holiday dinner with the center’s residents. “By cooking and eating together, people learn from each other, and when it comes time to acknowledge each other, our Thanksgiving is merry, rich, and heartfelt,” she says.
Organize a group of yoga buddies, or go solo, and visit homelessshelterdirectory.org to find a shelter near you.
2. Collect Cans at Your Local Yoga Studio
Approach your local studio manager or school principal about hosting a canned food drive. First, decide on a range of dates and a place to store the donated goods. Next, strategize on how to advertise the event. Yoga by Degrees, a studio in Wheaton, Illinois, used fliers and Facebook messages to notify the community and solicit healthful, nonperishable items for its food drive.
Find a local food pantry or food bank to support at foodpantries.org.
3. Show You Care With a Home-Cooked Meal
You don’t have to look far to find someone who’d appreciate a nourishing gift from your kitchen. The next time you make a dish that freezes well—such as Spinach and Cheese Pie—double the recipe and deliver a dish to eat now or to freeze for later.
4. Freshen Up School Snacks
Help provide the school of your choice with farm-fresh fruit for snack time by donating to The FruitGuys, a California-based produce delivery company whose Connect with Your Community program will deliver an order of nutritious snacks to a local school.
To set up healthful deliveries, contact The FruitGuys at email@example.com.
5. Help a Family Put a Holiday Dinner on the Table
Organizations like the Salvation Army allow donors to sponsor a family at holiday time by helping fulfill a list of wishes that include a gift card for groceries. Feeding America, a charity working to eradicate hunger, makes it possible to subsidize a family’s meals for anywhere from two weeks to a year by making a donation online.
6. Bring the Holiday Spirit to Work
A gift of homemade granola packed with dried fruit, nuts, and warm holiday spices is a welcome way to shower your co-workers with affection when everyone is overdosed on holiday sweets. Try a simple and easy-to-customize recipe, and give the results in jars or bags with a homemade label that says breakfast is on you.
7. Give Nutritional Know-How
Another way to make a lasting impact is to donate to Cooking Matters, a national organization committed to teaching low-income families how to shop for and prepare healthful meals on a budget. By offering cooking and nutrition classes in churches, community centers, and shelters, Cooking Matters works to teach healthful habits, encourage self-sufficiency, and create lasting positive changes in families’ diets—a strategy that studies have shown to be helpful in promoting overall family wellness.
8. Make a Special Delivery
Organizations that bring food to people in need, including those that deliver prepared meals to seniors and groups that pick up excess food from restaurants and deliver it to homeless shelters, are in constant need of volunteers to help keep things running.
To deliver prepared hot meals to homebound seniors, volunteer with Meals on Wheels, a national organization with local chapters around the country. Sign up to shuttle restaurant food—alone or with friends—at City Harvest in New York City, Food Runners in San Francisco, or Food Rescue, a web-based nonprofit serving the state of Indiana.
9. Invest in Self-Sufficiency
Take a few minutes at the computer to help provide a microloan to a nonprofit group fighting hunger in an impoverished country or to help supply milk cows, honeybees, or a flock of egg-laying hens to struggling farmers. Gifts like these can initiate a chain of positive changes in a family, neighborhood, or entire community by empowering recipients to feed and support themselves and one another.
10. Bring Friends and Neighbors Together for a Casual Meal
Sometimes the offer of a warming dinner is enough to bring families together for a low-key holiday party. “A pot of hearty vegetable soup, a loaf of warm bread, and a chunk of cheese is ideal,” says longtime yogini Phyllis Grant, who chronicles her adventures in food at dashandbella.com.