Generally speaking, “giving financially is the most efficient way to help, because food banks have purchasing power beyond what you or I have,” Fitzgerald says. Food banks can stretch a dollar much further because they can secure huge quantities of food at reduced prices, Fitzgerald explains, as well as buy exactly what’s needed. Plus, food banks can buy perishable goods that might otherwise go to waste, like farmers’ surplus produce, in the most efficient manner—so they can provide a greater variety of fresh foods to people and cut back on food waste.
Monetary food bank donations also make things more efficient logistically—eliminating the possibility of not having space for a large, unanticipated influx of goods, as well as the time required to sort and inspect donated food—which is especially vital right now, given that there may be limited staff and volunteers.
Take action: Search for the closest food bank in the Feeding America network here. You can also look on Charity Navigator, inquire with local religious institutions, or do a web search for a food bank near you. Here are some helpful tips for making sure your charitable giving has an impact.
2. Donate food to your local food pantry.
While financial contributions are most effective, “if what people can give is food, then give that food. Because that is always appreciated,” Fitzgerald says. Think shelf-stable dried and canned goods—pantry staples like beans, rice, pasta, soup, peanut butter, cereal—that you buy at the store or have sitting in your cupboards (just check the expiration date). “Our advice would be to give what you would want to eat,” Fitzgerald says. Since food banks are generally set up to receive large-scale donations, you’ll likely want to bring the goods to a food pantry near you.
Take action: Call your local food pantry (or check out their website) for information on what, where, and when to make food donations.
3. Hold a virtual food drive.
When you hear “food drive,” you probably think of the traditional cardboard collection boxes. But today, many food banks actually prefer what’s called a virtual food drive, where the drive organizer collects monetary donations online. (They may also set up an online wish list.) Not only do monetary donations provide the most efficient form of support, but online fundraisers are also safer and easier during the pandemic. You can raise money from your own family, friends, and social media connections, or organize a drive on behalf of your workplace, school, or community organization.
4. Volunteer with a local food bank.
Food banks largely rely on volunteers to operate; 51% do so entirely, according to Feeding America. The pandemic has created a staffing shortage because volunteers are typically older and more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 complications, and about 60% of Feeding America food banks are currently in need of volunteer support, Fitzgerald says. The organization is trying to appeal to individuals who are not at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 complications (like young people without preexisting conditions) and feel comfortable with taking on some additional risk.
Feeding America has worked hard to create a safe environment for volunteers, Fitzergald says—implementing safety protocols (like PPE) and innovative means of food distribution that minimize the risk of transmission for everyone. For instance, you might be able to help out at no-contact distribution sites like mobile pantries and drive-through food pantries. There is also the usual food sorting, shelf-stocking, and packing boxes of food. “Every food bank will have different programs and volunteer opportunities for you,” Fitzgerald says. (Of course, always stay home if you do not feel well, and follow all the safety guidelines set forth by the food bank and public health groups like the CDC.)