Over the last couple of days, I've had four people ask me the same question. "I don't want to drive all the way down to the food bank. How do I find a local place where I can donate food?" I guess if four people ask me, there may be others who want to know the answer as well.
Food Banks are large, regionalized centers that collect and store food. Generally, food banks to not provide direct services to people who need food. Instead, they distribute food to their "partner agencies" or food pantries.
Food pantries are the local, neighborhood organizations that distribute food directly to people. They really are the boots on the ground in the war against hunger. Food pantries get their food supply from direct donations to them and by purchasing food by the pound from the food bank. The going food bank rate at this time is 15 to 20 cents per pound.
Each food pantry determines its own criteria for who is eligible to recieve food. Some work through referrals from pre-qualified sources. Some will serve walk-ins. Others screen applicants for assistance and others do not. Some are manned by one or two volunteers and open only one day a week while others are well staffed and open daily. Some have storage for fresh food and others can only handle non-perishable items. There is great variety out there and pantries can be quite different. However, they all share the need for donations to do their work.
How to Find A Food Pantry in your Neighborhood
In general, food pantries do not spend money on advertising and many do not have websites. Finding them is kinda like finding a needle in a haystack. In all reality, you could have a food pantry in a local church just a few miles from your house or office and never know it.
Sadly, right now, the easiest way to find local food pantries is to visit your local food bank's website and then find the page that tells you who their "Partner Agencies" are. If you need help finding your local food bank, the Feeding America website has a locator tool. Some food banks don't have websites, so you may have to call them.
Donating to Food Pantries
The best advice I can give you is to call your local pantry. Find out what they need and how they handle donations.
If you really want your dollars to stay in your corner of the world, then monetary donations to your local food pantry are an efficient and cost-effective way to do that. Money you donate can be designated to be used to purchase food from the food bank. At the current rate, $10 will buy 50 to 60 pounds of food which equates to 60 to 75 regular-sized cans of food.
There are many good reasons why some food pantries prefer to receive donated food. Some pantries have difficulty coordinating regular deliveries food banks. Additionally, some do not have enough room to purchase the volume to have them placed on the docket for regular delivery from the food bank. Furthermore, fluctuating demand caused by the loss of an area employer, a local crisis, breaks from school (see a previous post on hungry children), or some sort of disaster also complicates food planning.
Finally, another good reason to donate locally is that keeps resources in your community. You help out your local grocery store by purchasing there and help to keep jobs in the area. The tax you pay on the food you buy locally, much of it goes to local government. You also burn less fuel by keeping it local, which saves money and the environment.
Giving Food Feels Good
Last night, some friends and I staffed a local food pantry. Our volunteer hours enable the food pantry to stay open one night per month so that working families and working single parents having a hard time making ends meet can access some help. I see moms and dads come in stressed, worried and embarrassed. It amazing how a little kindness, compassion, and food can lift a burden just for a little bit. These moms and dads, while still worried, can walk out proud that they have done what they needed do for their kids. It really feels good to have helped and to have offered some respite.
So go out and find your own way to help!