Cook for a Cause

Volunteering lifts your spirits―and can improve your health

Cook for a Cause

Photography: Laura Doss / Styling: Jay V. Del Rosario

A survey of more than 12,000 people from England's University of Essex found that members of communities with high levels of volunteerism have better physical and mental health than those who don't. "Healthy people are more likely to volunteer, and volunteering, in turn, promotes better health," says Peggy Thoits, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "In our research, we found that it's one of the best things you can do for your overall well-being." Here are some food-inspired ways to give back during the holidays:

Give to your community. If you're not sure where to start, log on to www.volunteermatch.org, and type in your zip code and interest area (e.g., "feeding the hungry"); you will receive a list of local charities advertising their needs. The postings are varied-a sample search turned up a request from an organization needing volunteer cooks for the ill; another asked for volunteers to make sack lunches for homeless children.

Impart healthful eating techniques. Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit that works to provide food for the hungry, sponsors a nutrition education program that offers cooking classes to disadvantaged families. Volunteers grocery shop for classes, assist students, or teach courses. Learn more at www.strength.org/what/operationfrontline.

Skip a meal, feed the hungry. During the holiday season, organize friends and family to collect the cash you would normally spend on a typical restaurant lunch and give it to a charity that focuses on food, such as America's Second Harvest ( www.secondharvest.org), the nation's foodbank network. With Second Harvest, your money goes a long way-for each dollar raised, the organization distributes 20 pounds of food to hungry Americans.

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