I never considered holding a food drive to be a potential waste of resources until I spoke to the CEO of a food bank in our state. As I stared up at the walls of dry goods available, she remarked, “I’m not saying food drives are a bad thing, but if you’re thinking about spending money to then donate goods, think again.”
Not all food banks are created equal, but in general, it’s far better to donate money than food.
See most food banks have what’s costed a “cost sharing” program through which food pantries can purchase additional goods at a significantly lower cost (at the food bank I visited, the cost was about $0.16/lb!)
Now as someone who has worked in fundraising and not-for-profits, I get the psychology behind donating a “good” versus money, but it’s time to re-consider where your dollar is going.
We’ve all seen those “brown bag offerings” at grocery stores, where you can “buy” a bag to then be donated to a family in need. It’s great that you want to help, but guess what? Not only is the grocery store still profiting from this good deed, but your $20 would go 100x further if given directly to your local food pantry or food bank.
Even if you were to shop at Aldi, $20 might get you 10-ish boxes of dried goods to then send off to someone in need.
But $20 at a food bank? Heh well that could get you nearly this entire pallet of Cheerios:
The best part is that most food banks will allow you to donate funds to them and direct those funds for a specific purpose (i.e. if you’re looking to help one specific food pantry vs general food bank costs).
So if you’re considering hosting a food drive, might I suggest a few alternatives that are not only way more fun, but also far more beneficial to those in need.
Food Drive Alternatives
Hold a Garage Sale
If you’re going to be asking people for physical donations anyway, why not skip the food and go right for the goods. When done right, it’s easy to hold a successful garage sale and you’re not missing out on the “feel good” vibes people get from donating something other than money.
Partner with Food Trucks
Here in Springfield, IL (and well…pretty much everywhere these days) food trucks are a big hit. There’s little better than grabbing a breakfast burrito from my favorite food truck as I meander my way through our local farmer’s market…well except if said food truck was then donating a percentage of their proceeds to our local food bank! While it may take a bit more technical work and scheduling that a regular ol’ food drive, you might consider hosting an event when a number of food trucks come together in one specific area for a night and then donate part of their profits to your community food pantry.
What’s better than you getting dinner while helping someone else get theirs!
This was a fun one my students came up with prior to my quitting my job at the college to become a professional blogger. Each club participating would receive one point for every penny donated, but would then be docked points for every silver coin donated “against” them. During this week long event, they raised nearly $300; more than enough to buy over 3,360 cans of tomatoes –
Hold a Raffle
Once again if you’re going to ask for donations, why not ask for goods that can then be raffled off? Some of the baskets could even be “food centered” – i.e. a date night basket in which you have a box of spaghetti, some marinara, a movie rental coupon, and a bottle of wine. While it may only go for $15, that $15 can then be turned into 6 pallets of Nature Valley bars:
And that’s just one basket!
Run a Virtual Food Drive
Know someone who can build a simple website? Have them create a one page site that allows for monetary donations, but gives donors the opportunity to “shop” for the goods they wish to donate. When someone can see just how far their dollar will be stretched, they’ll be all the more likely to donate a bit more than they might were they simply shopping for products themselves.
Battle of the Bands
This is another one that I just LOVED putting on when I worked in Higher Ed. Not only is it a great opportunity to showcase the talent in your local community, but you’re almost guaranteed a massive turnout. Charge $5/person and hold a 50/50 raffle or sell t-shirts and you could be looking at raising an easy $1,000!
Sell Those Tickets
We’ve all been to events where you could bring a canned good for your entry fee, but what if the company were to simply keep selling tickets and instead donate proceeds to a food bank? If you highlight where the money is going, it’s unlikely that you’d see a significant decrease in attendance, but you WOULD see a massive increase in how you’re helping your community.
I get it – as far as donations go, it feels far better to say “we collected over 1,000lbs of food this month!!” than simply “we raised $500 for the food pantry this month!!”
But put yourself in the shoes of a food bank employee and imagine getting twenty 50lb boxes of mixed donations – some expired, some smashed up beyond recognition, and sure plenty of good food…that now needs to be sorted, put away, and stored somewhere. While those donations will certainly help someone in need, the time, energy, and (yes even) money then impact just who is helped and how.
And if you still feel the need to do something beyond writing a check – or if you simply don’t have the funds to do so – consider volunteering your time at the food bank or pantry itself. That in and of itself is so incredibly valuable, not to mention is sometimes a volunteer opportunity you can do with children (note: always check with any NFP regarding their age requirements for volunteers!)
It’s important to give back and if you’re motivated to host a food drive, by all means, go for it. But if you really want to stretch your time and money, consider an alternative route that can make a much bigger difference.
Do you agree or disagree with the idea that donating money is better than food?
Comment below and let me know, I’d love to hear from you! And don’t forget to PIN to share!
This is such good information! I wouldn’t have thought that donating money was better than donating food!
Very interesting – I never thought about it in this way before. I know I used to be the contact point at a local food bank for our church and they could really use grocery gift cards so that people could use them for their prescriptions and/or gas.
I hadn’t really thought about the impact of food donations vs. money donations. Great ideas! ?
I would rather donate money than food, but I didn’t really understand that they was such a difference. I’ve volunteered at food banks sorting the food and packaging it up. It’s a shame all the donated food that is wasted because it’s expired etc. I love the ideas you share on how to raise $$ to donate. I think that adds to the value of a group getting together to raise $$ for a good cause – so you still feel like you contributed more than by just giving $ from your own pocket.
Myself and 2 other senior ladies run an in-house food bank for the 250 senior residents here in London Ontario Canada. The new face of hunger is a senior face. We supply food to 1 in 4 residents. We have had a lot of ups and downs in keeping supplies on hand. Your ideas may be the best idea going. When we receive cash or gift cards we always spend them on fresh fruits and vegetables in season as it seems that is now considered a luxury. Thank you for you insightful article.
I’m so glad you enjoyed. Thank YOU for doing what you do in helping others. ❤️
Yourself or your group could donate money and the foodbank could let you know what they could purchase with that money. I run the Sauk Valley Foodbank in Sterling, Illinois. The Burton Foundation donated money to us to purchase food. I sent them a list of all the food we purchased using their donation. One of the items we purchased was Angus burgers for a low income high-rise that has mainly elderly clients. We only paid 79¢ a pound! All 114 residents received this.
That’s amazing!! 🙂