Many community-based organizations lack the capacity or resources to meet the needs of the growing population of hungry Americans. Food pantries and other charitable organizations also often run short on food that is age appropriate (e.g., low sodium for seniors), culturally appropriate and/or fresh. Tight economic times have only further burdened these organizations.
Organize a food drive! Collect food and/or monetary donations for your favorite community-based food organization. There are a few models for how to hold a food drive. This guide focuses on the “single-site drop-off” model, where people bring food donations to a place, on a specific date, where volunteers are waiting to receive it.
"There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” Mahatma Gandhi
Consider both the obvious (food bank and homeless shelter) and the less obvious (faith-based organizations, senior citizen centers, schools).
If you want suggestions on food organizations in need, start by contacting your local food bank. You’ll find them listed online at www.feedingamerica.org
Food banks and pantries are all different, so before you start planning, be sure to reach out to learn the best way to meet their needs.
Food banks are warehouses that collect large quantities of food to distribute to local food pantries, soup kitchens, etc. The food bank itself may be interested in benefiting from your drive. Or, they may suggest a local food organization in your neighborhood.
Once you’ve determined what organization will benefit from your drive, use the questions in the Tips for Meeting an Organization's Needs section below to talk with them about your idea and how best to shape it to meet their needs.
Local food organizations often are in short supply of age-appropriate food (e.g., low sodium, low sugar, or easy to open foods) and/or culturally-appropriate foods. Use the Sample Food List in the "Supplemental Materials" section and consider narrowing your requests for donations to these special areas to best meet the needs of the people being served.
If no local organization needs support, consider making a donation to AARP Foundation's Fight Hunger Campaign at www.aarp.org/hunger to help those who are hungry.
Single-site drop off: You ask people to bring food donations to one location during set hours on a specific day. Volunteers stay at the collection site.
Extended food drive: You set up multiple collection points with drop boxes where people can leave food over the course of multiple days or weeks. Volunteers collect the donations once per day.
Food aid groups often lack fresh produce to provide to hungry people.
Event-related food drive: Your team partners with a local event – like a sports game, music festival or county fair – and sets up collection sites at the event.
Establish a small committee to plan and coordinate the food drive. Select an overall coordinator (that may be you) and team leaders for individual tasks. Depending on the size of your food drive, there could be 2 to 6 team leaders.
Teams can help share the work, motivate volunteers/donors and hold each other accountable to deadlines. Many hands make light work!
Schedule a training session for the team leaders. Provide the leaders with background on the selected organizations, a list of key dates/times (timeline of preparation), responsibilities needed to carry out the food drive and contact information for you and the other team leaders.
The team leaders should:
Identify the desired location for food drop-off and collection such as a school, local business, shopping center, faith-based organization or grocery store.
Contact the appropriate person (store manager, principal, etc.) to get permission to hold the drive there and ask if they’d like to participate in any way. When you call, make sure you have information on the food drive (the goal, the preferred date, background on the organization the food will support, etc.).
Depending on the size of the drive and the number of volunteers, you might want to hold it at multiple locations. Keep in mind, this requires more logistical organization and volunteers but will yield more food.
A location that is centrally located, with built-in traffic, a large parking lot and an inside option (in case of bad weather) is ideal.
Once you nail down a location, work out logistics with your contact there:
NOTE: If you are talking to a retailer and they are interested, you might explore additional ways they could support the effort. Examples might include:
Ask your family, friends, colleagues, neighbors and faith group members to help make the food drive a success. Check with local community organizations, libraries, schools, senior citizen centers, places of worship, etc. that may already have a pool of volunteers for their own purposes. Email is a great way to keep the volunteers informed.
Post the food drive on Create the Good by visiting CreatetheGood.org and selecting "Find Volunteers" from the top menu to recruit more volunteers or to promote the drive.
Develop a roster of all the volunteers. Be sure to get each person’s full name and contact information so you can keep everyone informed during the planning stage.
Host a meeting three to five weeks prior to the food drive so the volunteers understand the goal of the food drive, what is required of them, the timeline of the drive, and background on the selected organization you are supporting. Provide a take-away sheet with the information from the meeting.
Develop a schedule for the volunteers so that you have sufficient support throughout the day. Keep in mind, peak hours will need more volunteers than the early and later hours of the event. Communicate the schedule to all the volunteers two weeks prior to the food drive so there is time for rescheduling if needed.
Suggested tasks for volunteers include:
For more tips on project management, see the Nuts and Bolts Guide for Organizers at http://www.createthegood.org/toolkit/nuts-bolts-project-organizers.
The key to a successful food drive is to get the word out about the event. Promote! Promote! Promote! See the Tips for Generating Publicity section below for publicizing your event.
Touch base with the recipient organization, your team leaders and your contact person at the drive location to confirm all details, including:
Send a thank you note, call or email to all volunteers (using the method by which they prefer to be contacted). Include how much food was donated and whether there are plans for additional food drives or other volunteer opportunities. Call or write a thank you note to the hosting organization. Again, let them know how much food was donated and convey their important role in the success of the program and the difference they are making.
While it is still fresh in your mind, develop a list of lessons learned for future events. Check in with the local food organization to see if they have suggestions to include.
Keep in touch with volunteers and local communities for further volunteer opportunities.
Once you have selected the local program you would like to support, get more information on their needs before you start implementing your plan. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. You’ll want your plan to be well-grounded, and you’ll want to be armed with information for your volunteers! Here are some suggested areas to discuss:
Get information on the organization that you can provide to volunteers, donors or media outlets.
Make a Flyer
Be creative but also be sure to provide key information:
Distribute the Flyer
Consider the same sources used for recruiting volunteers (schools, faith-based organizations, community centers) and public places frequented by people including grocery stores, coffee shops, libraries, etc.
Word of Mouth Goes a Long Way
Spread the word to your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. Talk to them in person or use email or social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) to get the word out. Ask them to spread the word as well. Approach everyone with a friendly, positive attitude. Explain that it will be a fun event focused on a great cause. Use message boards – both online and the old-fashioned way.
Reach the Largest Audience
Use your local newspapers, magazines, community guides, websites, radio stations and television and cable access channels to help spread the word about your food drive. The local media often welcome information about community events, and many radio and TV stations and news outlets offer online forms to simplify event promotion. Also try to get the details in school and faith based newsletters or announcements.
How to Contact the Media
Ask some volunteers to develop a list of local editors and reporters (names, phone numbers and email addresses). Most newspapers and radio and television stations will list newsroom contact information on their websites. The reporters most interested in your announcement will be community editors.
Email basic details of the event using plain text without any fancy graphics. Put the event’s date in the subject line. The email should include:
Send your announcements at least two weeks before the food drive day. Follow up with reporters several days after the event to announce the results of the drive, the approximate number of donors and volunteers and where the food will go. Send this information to the same media list.
The best days to send media announcements are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Publicize the Food Drive – Before and After
AARP Foundation Drive to End Hunger – https://endseniorhunger.aarp.org/
In the world's wealthiest country, nearly 9 million people age 50 and older have trouble getting enough to eat. What can you do? Learn more about the problem and join AARP and AARP Foundation in solving it.
Feeding America – www.feedingamerica.org
A network of more than 200 food banks supporting approximately 61,000 local charitable agencies and 70,000 programs which provide food directly to individuals and families in need.
The United States Department of Agriculture –https://www.fns.usda.gov/partnerships/national-hunger-clearinghouse
The USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center has a myriad of resources and ideas for how to address hunger issues in your community.
Meals On Wheels Association of America – https://meals-on-wheels.com/volunteer/
Meals on Wheels represents some 5,000 local, community-based Senior Nutrition Programs, which provide well over one million meals to seniors who need them each day. Some programs serve meals at congregate locations like senior centers, some programs deliver meals directly.