The former president arrived with bags of donated food and donned latex gloves to work side by side with volunteers at the non-profit organisation, which helps provide meals to more than 700 food pantries and shelters across Cook County, Illinois.
Mr Obama – who helped bag potatoes – brought staff from his Obama foundation with him. The foundation seeks to improve communities across America by offering leadership training and other programmes.
Mr Obama still lives in Washington DC but the former Illinois senator is in Chicago to attend the Obama Foundation Summit, a gathering of community leaders and students.
“We believe no one should go hungry, especially this time of year, and that’s why we’re working to address the root causes of hunger in Chicago and Cook County,” the Greater Chicago Food Depository tweeted, along with a video of the surprise visit.
The video has been viewed almost two million times.
“You guys are doing such a great job helping out,” Mr Obama told one young volunteer. “I’m really proud of you.”
Mr Obama tweeted about the visit on Wednesday, saying that he is “grateful for the next generation of leaders... who understand that hope requires action”.
Mr Obama has volunteered on a number of occasions around Thanksgiving. While still in the White House in 2015, Mr Obama was joined by the whole first family to serve dinner to the local homeless population and veterans at Friendship Place Homeless Center in Washington DC.
On that day, Mr Obama was in charge of serving turkey and gravy, while then-First Lady Michelle Obama served up vegetables. Daughters Sasha and Malia gave out mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberries.
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