Tool & Tips
Learn how to plan an effective food drive with this detailed guide.
In many well-to-do neighborhoods, hunger feels like a faraway problem, something that only happened in remote African villages or during the Great Depression. That’s not the case. In 2015, over 42,000,000 Americans (13%) struggled with hunger. Food Insecurity, defined by the US Department of Agriculture as “a household’s uncertainty or inability to access enough nutritious food due to financial or access restraints,” is found in every state in the Union, in concentrations between 2.4% and 35.2% (1 in 3 households). The problem is real, and it’s in your neighborhood. What can you do to help?
Families and individuals in need depend on a wide variety of charities, soup kitchens, faith-based programs and other sources of food, all of whom, in turn, depend on support from their communities, which means people like you. Organizing a Food Drive is one way to keep these resources supplied with the food they need to help others.
Step One: CONNECT WITH A GROUP THAT NEEDS FOOD
Many hunger-relief programs work with Food Banks and Food Pantries, such as those in the Feeding America network. But many other organizations run programs and can use donations. These may include faith-based organizations, senior citizen centers, schools, community centers and local and state government programs. Ask around or look on the web, or contact your local food bank.
Once you’ve identified an organization, don’t assume you’ll be welcome if you just show up with a bag of groceries. Contact the group and find out about their needs. Details to be worked out include:
- Contact person to coordinate with
- What types of food are they looking for?
- What other considerations need to be kept in mind: do they need age-appropriate food for seniors, like low-sodium or low-sugar foods, and/or easy-to-open packages, or culturally-appropriate products?
- Are they in need of non-food items, such as toiletries, tissues, wet-naps, etc?
- Can they accept fresh food, or only canned/sealed?
- How would they like the food to be sorted before delivering it?
- How and when can you deliver, or will they pick the food up?
Be sure to get information on the organization and who they serve, so that you can share it with volunteers, donors or use for publicity.
Step Two: DECIDE WHERE YOU’LL COLLECT FOOD
Look for a location that’s convenient, with built-in traffic, parking, and options for bad weather.
Whether it’s a church, shopping mall, local business or community center, you’ll need to coordinate with a venue for collection. Make sure you’ve talked over the following details:
- Know your point of contact: (store manager, school principal, minister, etc.).
- When you call, make sure you have the information they need: where and when you would like to conduct the Food Drive, who is organized it and who it is benefiting.
- Find out where in the venue you can set up collection boxes, tables and signage
- Where can food be stored until pick up
- Your host organization or store may be interested in offering additional support beyond just a location, including food, materials, volunteers or funds.
- Depending on your organization’s resources and local needs, you may decide to hold the drive at multiple locations and over a longer period than just one day. This multiplies your logistics and requirements.
Step Three: RECRUIT AND ORGANIZE VOLUNTEERS
Talk to family, friends, classmates, colleagues, neighbors and faith group members to help make the food drive a success. Keep a roster and contact list, and stay in touch through phone, email, and social media.
To produce a successful event, you’ll need people to:
- Make and distribute flyers/signs
- Build awareness through their own networks and contacts
- Show up on the day to staff the event, collect and sort food
- Transport food donations to the recipient organization
- Set up and clean up
Step Four: LET PEOPLE KNOW
If nobody knows, nobody shows. Get the word out in advance.
- Put up flyers/signs in all neighborhood locations that will permit it: restaurants, stores, laundromats, service stations, etc.
- Keep the message simple: What, Where, When, Who and Why (make sure your organization and charitable purpose are prominent)
- Use social media. Increase your visibility by sharing with friends on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
- Make a press release: leverage free publicity from local television, radio and newspapers
Step Five: EVENT DAY
Managing the myriad details of the actual event can feel like herding cats, but you can corral that herd with a simple checklist. Keep track of details as you think of them in the weeks prior to the event and assign them to trusted volunteers or take care of them yourself. Some items you’ll definitely want to include are:
- Boxes / packaging for food collection
- Food sorting instructions
- Tables, chairs and refreshments for the volunteers
- A staffing schedule
- Signage in prominent, visible locations to let people know where to drop off contributions, including who the drive supports
- Be prepared with information for people who tell you they need food; be able to refer them to the closest food pantry, food stamp program or other resources.
- When you’re done, be sure to tidy up the area, take down your signs and leave the area cleaner than when you got there.
Hunger isn’t a one-day-a-year problem, and fighting hunger is an on-going battle, so follow up is key. Part of making your Food Drive a success is establishing a framework for replicating and expanding on what you’ve learned. Here are a few steps you’ll want to keep in mind the day after:
- Thank your team: the hosting organization, volunteers and your contacts at the receiving organization
- Celebrate the Results: when you thank your participants, be sure to let them know what they’ve accomplished—how much food was donated, how many meals were given out, how many people were served. Also, let people know about plans for additional food drives or other volunteer opportunities.
- Look ahead: while the event is still fresh in your mind, turn your checklist into a list of lessons learned for future events. Ask your team, your host and the receiving organization if they have suggestions to include.
- Stay in touch with volunteers and local communities for further volunteer opportunities.
For more information on hunger and how to combat it, check out these useful and informative organizations and websites:
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
The USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center has a myriad of resources and ideas for how to address hunger issues in your community.
AARP Foundation Drive to End 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 the AARP Foundation in solving it.
Meals On Wheels Association of America
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.