Transcript of Get Ready Report podcast Episode 17: “Food drives: How your local community can address hunger — and be better prepared for emergencies"

Interview with Molly McGlinchy, food resources coordinator for the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., on tips for holding a successful food drive. Listen to this podcast

We hear a lot about the importance of food drives, why exactly are food drives important?

We receive about a million pounds of food through food drives each year through at the Capital Area Food Bank. The food that we receive is most of the food that we need the most. So we’re looking at healthy, nutritious non-perishable foods. So food drives are really important, they help us provide food for our community members and it also helps us provide the most nutritious balanced food for them as well.

When is the best time to hold a food drive? I know food is needed year-round. But are there particular seasons when supplies are especially low?

Yeah, we do tend to see a decline in donations during the summer months. A lot of people go on vacation, they’re not around, they have other obligations. But we do during the holiday months where we have an increase in donations. It’s generally a time where people are thinking about the need, it’s on the forefront of their minds, so issues like hunger and poverty come up often during the holiday months. So we may have an increase of donations during those holiday months but it’s a time to target folks and encourage them to make donations. We’ll see a decline of donations in the summer, so it may be a good time to hold a food drive then. But at the same time, we may have a more successful food drive during the holiday months when they can get more participation.

Can you share a few trips for organizing a food drive and also how long should a food drive last?

Okay, we actually have a food drive kit that’s available on our website. And our website is www.capitalareafoodbanks.org and that is a good way to get started. It’s a great resource that has some tips to get started, has our most wanted list and that’s generally a good first step is getting started with a food drive. I’m also always available for answering any questions and helping work out logistics for food drives. So you can contact me through our website or give me a call at the food bank as well. Sometimes it helps just to have an initial contact with me, just to sort of work out some ideas and talk through our thoughts in order to get started.

Do you recommend having your food drive last for one week, one month? What’s your suggestion?

I generally think food drives should last anywhere from a week to three weeks. You want to give everyone a chance to participate. You want to give them ample time to remember to bring their donations in, but at the same time we don’t want them to lose interest. I would say a minimum of a week and a maximum of a month. Generally for your specific area where you’re holding a food drive, you’ll know who’s participating and you’ll know how to access and how long they’ll want to participate for.

Do you see schools and communities and churches pitching in? Are these generally something that are organized through the workplace? What do you see?

We see all. We see all of those that you listed. We have places of worship, businesses, workplaces, schools. All different communities coming together to provide food for us.

That’s fabulous. So what are the most common mistakes people make when they hold food drives?

Well, it’s hard to say that someone makes a mistake because really any donation can help us. Even one pound of food, which is generally about a can, will allow us to provide us about a meal for our community members. So it’s hard to say that anyone would ever make a mistake. But I find that if there is not enough promotion or if somebody doesn’t take the extra time to communicate and publicize their food drive, then they not be as successful. So I think the big key is making sure that you spread the word and let everybody know that you’re holding a food drive and get as many people to participate as possible.

To that end, can you share some good ways to promote your food drive?

Sure. One of the newer forms of publicizing would be social media. So tweeting or Facebook or any of those types of resources to send the message out that you’re holding a food drive and let them know what you’re collecting and when and where you’ll be are always very good resources. You can always send out fliers or post posters around your office or your school or wherever your food drive may be. Another way is sending out e-mails, just making sure to remind everybody where the collection point may be and also how long your food drive may be so they have that ample time to get their donation in.

Do you see a lot of people holding contests tied to their food drives?

A lot. It’s always a great way to get people to participate. It’s kind of a fun interesting way. A lot of people get really into the spirit, which is neat. So we do see a lot of contests.

What are the best kinds of foods to collect in a food drive?

We can take any non-perishable foods. Any non-perishable foods are helpful. Some specific foods that we are always need of and looking for would probably be some protein items, such as peanut butter, canned tuna, canned chicken, any cold or warm cereal. We’re also looking for canned fruit and veggies, or whole grains and canned soups. We’re striving at this point to try to provide the most nutritious food possible. So generally we’re looking out for low-sodium items, whole grains or foods with low sugar.

Is there a particular food that you don’t want, you would rather people not donate?

Like I said, we’re able to use any non-perishable food. There’s not a particular item that we try to stay away from. But I would suggest if you’re wondering what kind of food to provide, I would always suggest any type of food you would provide for your own family. These are our community members, so we want to be able to provide food that we would also eat ourselves.

We tend to think of canned soups and boxes of cereals, so those are all good?

Yep, those are great.

What about non-food items?

We are always in need of hygiene items. We’re always on the lookout for shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste. We’re also in need of items for homes like laundry detergent, dishwashing soap, those kinds of items.

So how do you find a food bank in your community? Obviously you’re holding a food drive so that you could donate your food to a food bank.

Right so the best to find your local food bank would be to access the Feeding America website. You can find them at www.feedingamerica.org. All you need to do is enter your ZIP code and they will find your local food bank and they’ll provide a contact and they can also provide the address and website for that food bank.

That’s great to know. How do food banks tie into disaster preparedness?

So when disasters strike, a lot of food banks across the country are able to help in any way that they can. Such as when Hurricane Katrina hit and food banks across the U.S. provided food to help out in the time of need.

What kinds of food did they donate at the time?

Any type of food that was needed. I think at the time a lot of bottled water was in need and some food that was available and ready without a lot of preparation. So some ready-to-eat food and any of those types of items.

Do food banks become spread thin in the event of a disaster? Is that something that people should keep in mind?

So we try to send whatever we have available. And often times those areas that are affected, the food banks in that area are able to help out a little bit more than the food banks that are separated by distance.

So that’s good to keep in mind that when a disaster strikes, people should pay attention because food banks in other cities can be helpful. Is that what you’re saying?

Yeah, food banks in other cities can be helpful to that area, but the food banks in that area where the disaster happens are generally the ones that are spread the most thinly.

Thank you very much for sharing very helpful tips.

Interview conducted December 2010 by Teddi Dineley Johnson, The Nation’s Health, APHA

For more tips on organizing a food drive, download the Get Ready campaign’s free Food Drive Toolkit (PDF).

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