For most people, the answer is going to the store to buy food to donate to their local food pantry. And for most food pantries, it’s asking their supporters to buy them specific items to put in a standardized food box or bag.
There Is a Better Way
Food banks were created to collect donations of edible products the food industry doesn’t want to or can’t sell and then distribute that food to charity agencies that feed people in need. Along the way, everybody benefits. The companies get an extra tax write-off. Agencies can get lots more food for a fraction of the cost. Agencies’ supporters become financial donors who can deduct their donations from their taxes. And in the end, the people who need help can get a lot more of it.
But for an agency to really take advantage of a food bank requires a completely different way of doing business:
Standardized food bags or boxes? Forget ‘em. With such a wide and changing variety of food available, there’s no reason to replicate the old experience. The best way to get the food out the door is to let clients choose what to take home with them. (Learn more about easy-to-implement variations on this practice.)
Limits on how often people can get food or how much they can take? Toss ‘em. With so much food available at so little cost, there’s no need to hoard it to keep some on hand for each new individual.
View our full set of recommendations for operating a pantry or take a look at the highlights, but first, let’s see how it all plays out:
A Tale of Two Churches
Imagine two churches across the street from one another. Both of them are aware of people in the neighborhood and in their congregation who are suffering from unemployment, low wages, debt, and other problems such that they periodically have trouble getting enough food to eat. So both churches decide to provide such people with help.
Decides to procure food to give to needy families by asking the members of the church to buy food at the store and to bring it with them to the church for the church’s food pantry.
So the members do that, spending $5,000 over the course of a year. They receive no tax benefit for their gifts, so the after-tax cost is $5,000.
For their $5,000, the members are able to buy about 3,500 pounds of food for the pantry.
The pantry lovingly assembles standardized 50-pound food boxes.
70 families are given those standardized food boxes. As much as half of the food ends up not being used.
Bottom Line: At a cost of $5,000, Church X has reduced hunger in the community by about 1,750 pounds or 1,367 meals.
Decides to procure food to give to needy families by asking the members of the church to donate funds onto its account at the Food Bank so that the church’s food pantry can obtain food there.
So the members do that, spending $5,000 over the course of a year. Their gifts qualify for up to a 25% deduction on their Federal taxes, so the after-tax cost to them is as little as $3,750.
With that $5,000 on its account, the pantry is able to draw approximately 35,700 pounds of food from their regional food bank.
The pantry lovingly stocks its store-like shelves with the food.
714 families are invited to select 50 pounds of food they can use. All of the food ends up being used.
Bottom Line: At a cost of as little as $3,750, Church Y has reduced hunger in the community by about 35,700 pounds or 27,891 meals.
Which approach does the pantry you support use? Which approach would you want used if your family was hungry?
Ready to Work With a Food Bank?
If you’re in West Michigan or the Upper Peninsula, contact our agency relations manager Nancy Ullrey at NancyU@FeedWM.org to find out how you can start working with Feeding America West Michigan. If you’re located outside of our region, visit FeedingAmerica.org to find your regional food bank.