Volunteer Training

Developing training for volunteers is key to a successful choice pantry. It will help ensure all staff and volunteers have a clear understanding of their role and the pantry flow, which will aid in a smooth transition and create a reliable, welcoming environment.

To build your training, use the volunteer job descriptions you created in step 5 and the procedure you wrote in step 6 to create a training plan for all staff and volunteers.

As you develop your training and associated documents, be patient and ask for help. During this process of transforming, you will learn more about your pantry, volunteers, and guests.

Effective Training Tips

  • Plan your training around “say it, see it, do it.”
  • Start by sharing information. Follow-up by modeling how to do certain tasks. Anchor the information by having the volunteers physically do certain tasks.
  • Engaging volunteers throughout the training will keep it fun but also help them retain the information to put into practice in the pantry.
  • The order of the below outline can be modified to best suit your organization.
    Click each box below to learn more.

Suggested Training Outline

Organization Information

  • Explain who your organization is, mission statement, where the support comes from, code of conduct, rules and regulations, safety, etc.
  • Describe all of the job roles, the responsibilities, and the hours needed for each.
  • Set expectations about how to talk about the pantry environment.
  • Prompt volunteers to practice explaining the organization, guests they serve, & volunteers like they are speaking to potential/current volunteers or donors.
  • If you have enough time, allow them the opportunity to experience potential positions they are interested in or have them come back another time to shadow the position.

Volunteer Paperwork (Things you may need to include)

  • Determine what you need to include:
    • Application to volunteer, civil rights training/signature, confidentiality agreement, sign in/out sheet (to log your volunteer hours for grants and assistance), and other essential documents.
  • Review all paperwork with volunteers.
  • Prompt volunteers to fill out all documents during the training.

Creating a safe and welcoming environment

  • Remember, a safe environment is a judgement-free environment.
  • Share with your volunteers the information from the “Getting Started” section.
    • Teach them to set a calm and friendly tone in your pantry.
    • Challenge them to help you create the welcoming environment.
    • Be the “Judgement Free Environment.”
    • Prompt volunteers to practice using Asset-Based Language with each other. Check out the printable page from Judgement Free Environment or the Appendix for resources if you need assistance.

Recognize, it is not just about the guest selecting their own food, but also creating a space where an attempt has been made to eliminate points of anxiety, stress.


  • It can be a challenge to change your habits. Still, with practice conversations and training, your organization will be well on its way to empowering your neighbors.
  • We have included a scenario document that contains some common challenging conversations with guests to build on communication.
    • Download and review this document.
    • Consider your pantry’s prior experiences and add your own scenarios to the list.
  • Prompt volunteers to take turns practicing as the guest and the volunteer

Volunteer Training Scenarios

Engagement Tips To Review With Volunteers


  • Do attempt to remember the guest’s name!
  • Avoid gendered language and do not assume a person’s pronoun based on their appearance. Do not attempt to relate to experiences or identities that you do not personally hold. Do not give your opinions about communities or groups you are not a part of.


  • Practice active listening strategies, giving undivided attention to the guest during interactions.
  • Give your full attention to guests, avoid taking notes, and using cellphones while interacting with neighbors.
  • Repeat, question, and paraphrase key points back to the neighbor to ensure they were adequately understood.
  • Ask Offer Ask
    • Ask what they already know.
    • Ask if you can provide additional information.
    • Offer the information.
    • Ask what they think.
    • Ambivalence, or holding two conflicting opinions about the same issue, is normal.

The guest is the expert

  • Avoid telling guests what they need; instead, ask open-ended questions.
  • Recognize neighbors as both agents and experts of their own lives.
  • Focus on relationship building and explicitly recognize guests strengths.
  • Reiterate to the neighbor that they are the person who is best suited to make their food choices.
  • All change is self-change. Staff can change their approach to their work, but only guests can change their own lives.
  • Reluctance to change is not resistance.

You may also create a volunteer handbook to give your organization consistency about all of the critical information you would like to share with new volunteers. Below is an example of a Volunteer Handbook. Review and see if creating one for your organization would be helpful. 

Volunteer Handbook Example

Appendix and Additional Resources

You made it! 

Below is the link to the final exam. The next lesson button on the bottom takes you to the Appendix, listing all of the resources from the course. 

Once you pass the exam with at least an 80%, you will get an option to download a certificate showcasing your hard work. 


Proceed to Final Exam

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