As Thanksgiving rounds into view, our thoughts often turn to helping others put food on their tables. This is the daily mission, however, of food banks across the country that collectively gather billions of pounds of food to assist millions of Americans each year. As the economy still struggles to gain a foothold, reports abound of individuals in need of help and of food banks straining to meet those demands. In this article, we spotlight some innovative ways that food banks and their volunteers are raising awareness for the cause and reaching out to more people requiring their services.
Getting “In the Spirit” of the Season
Since fall is a traditional time of harvest, food banks are using volunteers to “glean” fruits and vegetables in gardens that would otherwise go to waste. The Detroit Free Press recently reported that individuals ranging from high school Key Club members to seventy-year-old soup kitchen volunteers rescued cabbages, corn, broccoli, tomatoes, and more. In the span of a month and a half, over 400 area volunteers had given their time to this pursuit. Several hundred miles away in Pennsylvania, a group of over 200 volunteers scoured an or chard for apples that had been missed on the tree or had fallen to the ground. Among those donating their time were families, college organizations, Cub Scouts, and church groups. The fruits of this tenth-annual gleaning by The Society of Saint Andrews volunteers will be distributed to agencies in the central Pennsylvania region.
Just as fall is a time of harvest, naturally, it’s also identified with Halloween. Why not combine the two? For example, this is the fourth year that Cal State Fullerton’s Hunger Coalition student members have participated in a “Trick or Treat for Food” program. Volunteers hang flyers to alert neighborhood residents that they will be collecting canned goods. The items are then donated to local food banks.
And what’s Halloween without a haunted house? In the Southern California city of El Centro, those looking for a good scare can support a great cause in the process. This marks the fifth year the El Centro Parks and Recreational Department and the El Centro Sector Border Patrol have teamed up to create a haunted house with a special mission in mind. Admission is $1 each, or one can of food. All proceeds are then given to the Imperial Valley Food Bank.
Organizations are using competitions to create a sense of challenge and fun. As an example, FOR Maricopa, a food bank and resource center in Maricopa, Arizona, organized a contest among nine of the city’s churches. The goal was to see which congregation could collect the largest amount of nonperishables over the summer, which is normally a low-donation time. The food bank reaped a total of 34,000 pounds. Cash donations were also allowed and weighed in at the equivalent of 12 cents per pound. Similarly, a cross-state college football rivalry in Montana has also been turned into a way for two fan bases to vie for superiority by attempting to collect the most food and funds. Other agencies are sponsoring “Canstruction” events. In these competitions, volunteer groups from many organizations, like Habitat for Humanity and Girl Scouts, procure food donations and then build giant sculptures out of the canned goods. The sculptures are displayed in public places, such as malls, before being given to area food banks.
Food banks are also taking advantage of other ways to generate more donations. In Kamloops, British Columbia, a sixth-annual “Music Makes Meals” has helped support the local food bank. Admission is $10 and three canned goods. In return, local musicians donate their performance time for an evening of music. Since its inception, the event has raised $10,000 and a ton of food. FOR Maricopa, mentioned earlier, recently put on its fourth-annual “Grape Escapes” wine tasting fundraiser, which includes live music, food, a silent auction, and a raffle.
Thinking Outside of the Box
In addition to increasing donations, food banks are finding new ways to reach out to the people they serve. In the Youngstown, Ohio area, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Mahoning County was recently granted $15,000 by ConAgra foods. The funding will be used to take its mobile food pantry initiative to outlying surrounding areas. Across the country in Tulsa, the Eastern Oklahoma Food Bank’s “Backpacks for Kids” also provides a vital outreach function, sending food home with children for the weekend. The Executive Director of the program, Sara Waggoner, says that volunteers are essential to this program, which aids 6,500 children. In fact, volunteers are a cornerstone of her organization in general: last year her food bank enlisted the help of 10,000 volunteers, giving time equivalent to $750,000.
A Common Denominator: Volunteers
Although the ideas listed above vary widely, a common thread runs through them: the food banks’ need for volunteers to help with day-to-day operations, special programs, and fundraising events. However, organizing volunteers can be a huge task all on its own. That’s why VolunteerHub is here to help. VolunteerHub is a cloud-based volunteer management system that acts as your virtual volunteer coordinator. From online volunteer registration and automated email/text communication to report generation and tracking volunteer hours, VolunteerHub frees up time so you can focus on the important work of furthering your cause.