Homeless Shelter Volunteering: What Is “Serving Out”?

And do those who eat and stay at the shelter like serve-outs?

Paul Ryburn, M.Sc.
5 min readMay 2, 2024


Homeless Journal header: Shanty town with Downtown in the background
Photo by Chris John: https://www.pexels.com/photo/houses-near-concrete-road-2783232/ Edited by author using Canva

This is the second in a series chronicling my day-to-day life without a home.

I got in line for dinner at the homeless shelter at 4:35 p.m.

It may seem kind of ridiculous to get in the dinner line 25 minutes early. I do it because I’m a slow eater compared to the other guys. I like to be not only one of the first served, but one of the first done. That allows me to grab the seat of my choice for the next event of the day — chapel.

Besides, I wouldn’t truly be one of the first served. At 4:35 p.m. there were already 40 people lined up in front of me.

After I’d been in line for about 3 minutes, Percy, one of the shelter supervisors, came out to greet us.

“Gentlemen!” he announced. “We’ll be serving out tonight. Come on in the dining room, get you a seat, and our volunteers will start bringing food out momentarily.”

What is a serve-out, and do those dining/staying at the shelter like it and prefer it to the way dinner is served on regular (non-serve-out) nights? To answer that question, we need to take a look at what happens when it’s business as…



Paul Ryburn, M.Sc.

I write about writing, ideas, creativity, homelessness, intuition, spirituality, life lessons. Ex-college teacher Twitter: @paulryburn