It’s the holiday season. You’ve probably been invited to something — a kid’s holiday concert at school, a neighborhood party, a church service — where you were asked to bring a non-perishable food item for a local food bank. And, if you’re like me, your well-intentioned donation was left sitting on your kitchen counter, and you end up feeling like a huge slacker.
Good news. It’s better to give cash to food banks anyway, so you can assuage your guilt. Food banks have the ability to turn your cash into food at a rate you can't match. It’s estimated that food banks pay about 10 cents a pound for the same food that costs shoppers $2 per pound retail.
The food that can be bought by the food bank with cash donations not only costs less, it’s easier for food banks to manage. When a donation of canned goods and other non-perishables come in from a neighborhood food drive, that food has to be sorted through, can by can.
I spent some time with my boys last summer volunteering at The Food Bank of South Jersey, and one of the jobs we did was to sort through donations. We had to go through boxes and boxes donated non-perishables to look for expiration dates and damage, and then put the food in its proper place. We were amazed at how much the food bank actually had to throw away because it was unusable. Fortunately, my local food bank seems to have a good group of volunteers to call on for this task, but it still takes hours and hours every week to sort through these donations.
When food banks can purchase food for 5 percent the cost you pay — and when it makes their jobs easier — it’s time to start thinking about donating cash instead of food.
Does this mean that you never donate food? Not necessarily. Our church does a drive before Thanksgiving with a list of specific items that for baskets that will be given to families in need. We also have a small room where we keep food donations that help families in the community. For organizations like my church, cash donations are always welcome, but the food is helpful, too.
It’s also a good thing for kids to be able to donate actual items of food when they have the opportunity to do so. If a child comes home from school and says they’re collecting food, by all means, give him a can of soup. Younger children can grasp the concept that a can of food will help a hungry person, but they won’t quite grasp it when you say, “No, we don’t need to donate food. We donate money.”
But, when you it comes to the larger, regional food banks, cash is king. You don’t have to wait for a request letter to donate either. Almost all regional food banks take donations online now, and many of them have the ability to text your donation. When you text a donation, the amount gets added to your phone bill. It’s that easy.
Another easy way to donate money this time of year is to give at the supermarket checkout. On the East Coast, there’s a program called Check Out Hunger. I can donate as little as $1 each time I buy groceries. I believe there are programs like Check Out Hunger all across the country.
So next time you leave your can of soup on the counter by mistake, feel free to leave your guilt there, too. Just remember to make a small monetary donation to your local food bank. It will go a lot further than your can of soup.
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