| Apr 27, 2015
Whether you’re planning an upcoming move or not, there’s no denying that spring is in the air everywhere you look. From April showers and May flowers to nonstop allergies, there’s one more thing that everyone seems to be sharing in common –it’s high time for most of us to take on some much needed spring cleaning.
The key to gaining an effective fresh start from your spring cleaning repertoire will be to cover every base of the house, from garages and guest rooms to your closets—this includes your food pantry!
So what exactly do you do with your unwanted foods, unneeded extras, or goods that you just plain will never have use for? Why, donate of course! Donating these foods would be an absolute no brainer, especially for those who are about to move out and leave a great deal of non-transferable and perishable foods behind. However, have you ever wondered what happens with your donation, such as how it was used or how it ultimately gives back to the community?
This week, we asked a variety of professionals from food banks around the country for their thoughts on donating effectively—we were lucky enough to be able to speak to a number of regional food bank directors and managers, all who were more than happy to provide insight into the best practices and more when it comes to donating unused food.
Our round of interviews on donating to food banks revolved around the following questions:
1. In your opinion, what is the best way to generate a high amount of donations?
2. With these donations, how does the local food bank give back to the community? Do they participate with other local or national programs?
Those we were fortunate to be able to speak with on the topic include Nate Smith-Tyge, the Director of Michigan State University’s Student Food Bank—a highly noteworthy organization in that they were the first food bank in the nation to be independently founded (and maintained) by college students.
“We have always found that working directly with community partners is the best way to generate donations to our food program,” Smith-Tyge said. “We work with campus-based and community-based departments and organizations to connect with their staff directly and share the Student Food Bank story. When people have a direct connection to our mission and see the difference we make in the lives of our clients they become invested in helping our program.”
Smith-Tyge also shared his thoughts on giving back, both through collaboration with local channels and on the national level. “We work with the Greater Lansing Food Bank (GLFB), which is our regional Feeding America and USDA supplier. As a member of GLFB, we are able to purchase food far below wholesale costs, and this allows us to make effective use of our financial donations,” Smith-Tyge explained.
“I always tell potential donors that if they gave us the dollar they would spend to buy one can of food to donate, we can buy 3 or 4 cans of food with that same dollar.”
We were also able to speak with Susan Acker, Communications Manager for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, who offered her expertise on what it takes for food drives to succeed. “[We] serve 280,500 clients each month through 690 partner agencies throughout Los Angeles County. We are able to serve that many people because of the donations we receive from growers, manufacturers, corporations and individuals,” she said.
Acker added, “The most successful Food Drives have all been well organized. Food Drives play an important role in helping us collect donations, but also in raising awareness about the issue of hunger in our community.”
On the unique challenges and realities faced by independent non-profit food banks, we spoke with Becca Seul, Coordinator of the Middle Tennessee State University Food Pantry, who provided insight on the use of social media and other crowdfunding opportunities to keep donations strong outside of the big league arena.
“Since our pantry is a non-profit student resource, it is run solely on donations from our MTSU and surrounding communities. They use high-traffic events (like sporting events, concerts, benefits, etc.) to attract a crowd, then use food as the cost of admission. These same groups conduct stand-alone food drives throughout the semester. These typically consist of advertising on social media—Twitter, Facebook, even SnapChat –and collection points or boxes in high-traffic areas. These work great!” she said.
“Our largest contributor, however, is our online site. We have a link on our website where anyone can donate online using a credit/debit card. It’s quick, easy, and, since we are a school, tax-deductible. ” Seul added. “We store what we can for our food pantry, but we are partnered with several local non-profits—Greenhouse Ministries, Way of Hope, our local Rutherford County food bank –to make sure nothing goes to waste.”
We were also able to speak with Caitlin Sadler, a graduate assistant and Inventory Coordinator at MTSU’s Student Food Pantry that plays a large role in the pantry’s day to day operations, on the key factors in generating large-scale donations.
“I think that the best way to generate a higher volume of donations is to advertise. The times when we have had the most donations coming in have been when we had a write up in the paper or a segment on the local news,” Sadler said. “These news stories sparked local high schools to help with food drives in which we received 8000 cans donated!”
Media Relations Manager Blain Johnson was kind enough to speak to us on the strategies incorporated by SF-Marin Food Bank, stressing the importance of networking with food banks across the nation from the ground up.
“It’s easy to support your local food bank,” Johnson said. “We have many ways community members can engage with us, from hosting a food and fund drive to coming down to the warehouse and volunteering. For every $1 donated, we can distribute $6 worth of food. So every donation makes a big impact.”
The SF-Marin Food Bank is a member of Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks across the country. Feeding America makes it easy to find your local food bank with the Food Bank Locator Tool. Simply input your zip code and state to find a local food bank where you can get involved.
“If you’re moving to a new area, volunteering with your local food bank is a great way to connect with your new community – and maybe even make some new friends,” Johnson added.
Ann McManus, Director of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania, explained that raising awareness is one of the most important factors when it comes to strengthening donation quantities.
“Raising awareness of the plight of our hungry neighbors often spurs the public to action. Second Harvest participates in a number of regional and national food related campaigns, which make it possible for us to distribute nearly 7 million pounds of food each year through a network of 200 member agencies,” McManus said.
In addition, we spoke to Angie Clawson, Public Relations Manager for Atlanta Community Food Bank, who offered tips on donating at your own convenience.
“Many outside groups host food drives for us such as one coming up May 9th, called Stamp Out Hunger. These types of events provide some of the largest nonperishable food donations that the Food Bank receives throughout the year, and is an easy way for anyone to donate if they want. For every $1 donated, the Food Bank can turn that into more than $9 worth of product to help those in need,” Clawson said.
Jenny Moore, the Development Manager of Public Relations and Marketing for Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, emphasized the importance of close correspondence with local community outlets and businesses to maintain a strong network of donation opportunities.
“To fulfill our shared goal of helping to ensure that no one goes hungry, Second Harvest Food Bank of NWNC and our partner programs rely on strong, year-round support from concerned and compassionate business, civic and faith-based organizations, as well as individuals,” Moore said.
“We believe hunger is solvable problem. The resources exist to solve it. We need more people to become part of the solution. Everyone in the community can get involved by telling at least one other person that hunger exists right here and that there’s something they can do about it.”
Stephanie Melnick, Food Drive Manager for Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, explained the significance of food drives for pushing long-term growth of donation quantities.
“The best way to generate a high amounts of donations is through a food drive. A food drive can take many forms and we encourage creativity. We have everything from school groups who try to collect enough cans to fill their principal’s office to businesses that collect donations and build can creations out of the food collected. Last year, Gleaners distributed more than 34 million pounds of emergency food to over 510 partner schools, soup kitchens, shelters and pantries.”
So what are the best overall ways to donate? Some of the most effective ways include:
->Local community partners for regional food banks, which maintain a presence in most cities that serves to accept donated foods and preserves at your convenience.
->Independently-run student food banks founded across prominent college campuses, many of which maintain a strong track record for successfully donating the majority of their proceeds.
->Take advantage of any nearby corporate initiatives that accept intermediary donations for regional food banks—these can include everything from moving charities
to realtors and paper supply companies –make sure to keep an eye out around local businesses in your community.
->“Virtual Food Drives” have increased substantially in popularity as an alternative to food donation in recent years, allowing users to simply donate cash in lieu of non-perishables through a web portal.
At North American Van Lines, we make the effort to maintain a strong partnership with Move for Hunger programs across the country to accept non-perishable foods from any and all moving families that don’t need them—this means that our movers take the time to pack up your spare food and deliver it to the local food bank ourselves.
We don’t just feel that giving back to the local community makes for a nice gesture—we believe it’s a key factor for our long term success as a whole. Joining the effort to curb hunger nationwide is one of the first steps of many needed to ensure that the future will be bright with opportunity for everyone. Collaboration with the dedicated efforts of food banks across the nation means that ending hunger continues to move closer towards becoming a reality.
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