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.
How you can get involved
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
Step 1: PICK A LOCAL GROUP THAT NEEDS FOOD
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.
Step 2: DECIDE HOW YOU WANT TO COLLECT FOOD
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.
Step 3: ASSESS VOLUNTEER NEEDS
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:
- Help recruit volunteers for the food drive
- Promote the food drive with flyers throughout the community
- Ensure local media are aware of the drive
- Set up the collection site
- Lead a shift during the event
- Help coordinate food sorting and delivery after the drive
Step 4: FIND A DROP-OFF LOCATION
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:
- Where specifically the food drive can be held (e.g., at the entrance of the store or a section of the parking lot)
- The date and the allowed hours of operation for the drive
- Inclement weather backup plan
- Where the food will be stored before pick up
- Place to accommodate the volunteers who will organize the food for pick up
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:
- Printing your flyers (the retailer could receive an acknowledgment on the flyer)
- Matching the donations raised from the public for the food drive in some way (with a dollar amount or a product donation from the retailer to the food bank or organization)
- Adding the option at the cash register for customers to donate money to the food organization you are helping
Step 5: RECRUIT AND MANAGE VOLUNTEERS
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:
- Make and distribute flyers/signs for the event
- Promote the event through their contacts and local community organizations
- Staff the event (including set up and take down)
- Transport food donations to the recipient organization
- Follow-up communication, including the results of the drive and thanking the supporters
For more tips on project management, see the Nuts and Bolts Guide for Organizers at http://www.createthegood.org/toolkit/nuts-bolts-project-organizers.
Step 6: GET THE WORD OUT
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.
Step 7: FINAL PREP ARRANGEMENTS
Touch base with the recipient organization, your team leaders and your contact person at the drive location to confirm all details, including:
- Plans for box/crate drop-off prior to the drive and food pick-up following the drive
- Food sorting instructions (if any)
- Who will supply tables, chairs and refreshments for the volunteers?
- The staffing schedule for the day of the food drive
- 2- to 3-hour shifts are best
- Create 3 or 4 large signs that your teams can post within a block or two of the food drive on the day of the event
- Be prepared with information for people who tell you they need food. Identify the closest food pantry, as well as the closest place people can go to get assistance in applying for SNAP, the food stamp program (see the SNAP Flyer in the ‘Supplemental Materials’ section below).
Step 8: EVENT DAY
- Set up the food collection site (i.e.. two tables with chairs behind them; refreshments behind the volunteer chairs, boxes/crates clearly labeled for various food types)
- Post the Food Drive signs in visible areas and have flyers available
- Welcome volunteers as they arrive and show them how things will work
- Volunteers (not contributors) should put the food in the appropriate crate to ensure efficiency
- Relax, smile and enjoy the wonderful event that is bringing together the community
- When the drive is over, clean up the area and take down the signs. Leave the area the same (if not cleaner) than when you arrived
- Thank the hosting organization and the volunteers
Step 10: FOLLOW UP (within one week after the event)
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.
TIPS FOR MEETING AN ORGANIZATION’S NEEDS
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:
- Who is a contact person to work with for coordinating the food drive?
- Is this a good time of year for them to receive donations? Identify a date for the food drive that works for them and you
- What types of food are in short supply?
- What specific food is needed?
- Do they need healthy, age-appropriate food, like low-sodium or low-sugar foods, and/or easy-to-open packages?
- Do they need culturally-appropriate products? (these needs will vary by local population)
- Do they need any non-food items?
- Are there any foods or packaging that they cannot accept? Can they accept fresh food?
- What quantities (e.g., large or small packages) of each food type do they prefer?
- What is their preference on how the food should be sorted at the collection site? (e.g., canned food, boxed food, condiments, etc.)
- Does the organization have boxes or crates for sorting the food?
- Determine how the food will be delivered to the organization. Can they pick it up or do you need to deliver it? When is the best time for pick up and delivery?
Get information on the organization that you can provide to volunteers, donors or media outlets.
TIPS FOR GENERATING PUBLICITY
Make a Flyer
Be creative but also be sure to provide key information:
- Suggested foods for contribution (specific items requested by the organizations, non-perishable foods, gift cards)
- Date, time and location of the event
- Brief information on the organization that will receive the food
- Look at other food drive flyers to get ideas (see the Catholic Charities food drive flyer in the "Supplemental Materials" section below)
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:
- Name of event (_____________ Food Drive)
- Complete date and time of the food drive
- What organization is being supported, and how much food you are hoping to assemble for a specific cause
- Any special guests or events
- Your contact information (for further questions and possible volunteers)
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
- Ask permission to display flyers, posters or postcards at coffee shops, libraries, malls and local businesses. Invite local businesses to participate with you.
- Ask local community members to promote the food drive through their local place of faith, clubs, community groups, etc. People are most likely to do this if they’re motivated by the charity that will benefit from the donations.
- Invite a local celebrity – a congressional representative, your mayor or a radio show host – to highlight the need for food and promote the event.
AARP Foundation Drive to End Hunger – www.aarp.org/giving-back/charitable-giving/hunger/
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 – http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/
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 – www.mowaa.org
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.