According to Feeding America, more than 34 million people in the U.S. including 9 million children are facing food insecurity. In a nation where food is abundant in some places and scarce in others, there are several ways you can volunteer to ensure everyone has enough to eat.
Whether you want to ensure that the people in your community are properly fed or tackle hunger on a more widespread basis, here are eight ways you can give back through full bellies.
1. Find the need.
Food insecurity in your community might be visible, or it might be hard to spot, but it exists throughout the country. To get a sense of the issues where you live, Feeding America publishes a map that includes data about the rates of food insecurity in various regions as well as the average meal cost.
Local nonprofits and organizations working with unhoused populations can also serve as valuable resources for information on dealing with food and housing insecurity. Understanding the extent of the issue within your community allows you to identify areas with the most pressing needs and where your volunteering efforts could have the most significant impact.
2. Get in the (community) garden
From bustling cities to rural towns, volunteers are the powerhouse behind community gardens that help fight hunger. These havens of fresh produce are cultivated and maintained by locals who dedicate their time and green thumbs to growing nutritious fruits and vegetables. This food is either directly distributed to those in need or donated to local food banks, soup kitchens, and other nonprofit food sources. Create the Good® even offers a Do-It-Yourself guide on how to join or start a community garden.
If you're a farmer or a dedicated gardener, you might consider exploring gleaning programs in your community. In some areas, volunteers harvest and distribute surplus crops when farmers have an excess. The National Gleaning Project is a great resource to find out about the laws in your area as well as relevant gleaning programs.
3. Be a food rescuer.
Restaurants, grocery stores, and other food-based businesses generate millions of pounds of food waste each year. However, much of this food is still suitable for human consumption. Food rescue programs divert a portion of this edible food, which would otherwise end up in landfills, and repurpose it to feed the hungry, simultaneously reducing waste. Food Rescue U.S. enlists volunteers to collect food from donors and distribute it to social service agencies. Therefore, day-old bread and restaurant leftovers can be enjoyed by those who truly need them.
4. Bring food door to door.
Meals on Wheels America is a national food delivery program that recruits volunteers to deliver hot, nutritious meals to seniors and individuals with disabilities who are unable to leave their home or require food assistance. The nonprofit operates in nearly every community nationwide, so chances are there are opportunities near you.
In addition to delivering food, volunteers also offer companionship and kindness to the individuals they serve. Some communities host additional programs, like the Adults with Disabilities program in California and other similar initiatives across the country.
5. Take it to the food bank.
Nearly two-thirds of food banks have experienced increased demand this year. You can help meet the need by buying a few extra items when you shop and dropping them off, or organizing a food drive for a local soup kitchen or food bank. Food banks, pantries and soup kitchens also need volunteers to work during the hours they’re open. You may find yourself sorting donations or helping visitors get the items they need. Find a location near you by searching here.
6. Incorporate food security into fun events.
The next time you throw a party or barbeque, ask your guests to bring a donation for your local food bank or soup kitchen. Alternatively, you can host a themed event aimed at raising money or collecting goods to help fight hunger. Then, drop off what you’ve collected to one of the local nonprofits dedicated to fighting hunger in your community.
7. Spread the word.
Many people are unaware of the scope of food insecurity in communities. You can help raise awareness by organizing a lunch and learn or speaking event at your place of work, local library, school, or municipal meeting. Work with those in charge to invite a representative from a local hunger-fighting nonprofit to speak about the issue and how people can help. You can also write a letter to the editor and spread the word on social media.
8. Help a family get the benefits they need.
Some families need help to ensure they have enough food but knowing where to get that help can be overwhelming. If someone has confided in you that they need assistance, you can help them sign up for food assistance programs like SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp Program). By helping a friend or neighbor access these benefits, you’ll not only help them ensure they have access to nutritious food, but you’ll also ease the anxiety that comes with food insecurity.
Still looking for more ways to give back? Visit www.createthegood.org for specific opportunities, ideas, and inspiration.