How to help the hungry?
December 30, 2011 8:01 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: What is the best thing a typical person could do to combat food insecurity in children in the United States?

We are considering an average person here, with limited time and money. (Don't say vote Democratic, please.)
posted by reren to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
posted by roboton666 at 8:02 PM on December 30, 2011

Almost any big city will have a Food Bank, which will take money and/or canned food and distribute it to people in need.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:10 PM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Probably supporting the local food bank, or how about volunteering to teach kids/families about how to grow nutritious/wholesome food at home in gardens, and then what to cook with it?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:11 PM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you are interested in volunteering at/supporting a food bank (which is an excellent way to combat food insecurity) I have a few tips. These are garnered from my time working for a food bank in a particularly poor community.

Money is better than food. Money keeps the lights on, pays the volunteer coordinators, and they can generally get lots of 'damaged' (un-sellable but not inedible) goods from distributors and processing companies instead of you buying it from markets, even at a discounted price.

Many hands make light work. I would usually sort incoming donations, but having a heavily-built buzz-cutted guy sitting behind the nice old lady taking people's WIC info tended to cut down on the drama.

The food bank I used to work at actually ran an organic farm and then turned around and plowed the money into operations and buying non-perishables to distribute. It was more cost-effective to sell organic produce to the yuppies and DINKs in the local farmers market than distribute the produce to the hungry.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are the times that people give the most food. Most food banks stockpile in the time of year and try to stretch through the 'lean times' of the late summer and fall. A good times to give would be july/august/september.

Protein is in great demand for families with growing children. Peanut butter, tuna fish, salmon, SPAM, sardines, and MILK are all great ways to deliver protein.

MILK. Canned, dried, evaporated, condensed (NOT SWEETENED). Milk and formula. Lots of calories, lots of protein, and blended hard and chilled, not too bad.

Canned pumpkin pie filling is not actually food. Stuff that grandma canned can't be distributed. People who don't know where their next meal is coming from don't really want exotic cocoa samplers.

And only assholes put cat food into the donation bin.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:39 PM on December 30, 2011 [10 favorites]

Also an excellent way to combat food insecurity would be to support local community gardens.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:53 PM on December 30, 2011

Encourage people to apply for food stamps / combat shaming comments about food stamps (now EBT). They bring federal money to your community! They have few restrictions on use, as well (must be food, no hot food, no booze) and you get a debit-style card to use, which is fairly discreet. Many farmers markets take EBT, too.

There are also summer meal programs for people under 18 that are an extension of the school breakfast/lunch program, and many people who qualify don't know about them. Usually they have some summer camp sorts of activities attached. If your friend works with children, promoting summer meal sites would be awesome.

Donate money to the food bank rather than cans, often they can buy/salvage food for much less than retail. (And some food banks give away cat food - often people are very concerned about caring for their pets as well.)
posted by momus_window at 9:05 PM on December 30, 2011

One of the larger food banks in my area gets donations from local agribusiness (this being the Midwest and all). My department at work volunteered there as a group activity a year ago. Our task was to take donated pasta--like, a semi truck load shipped in monster industrial containers--scoop it up and repackage it into individual family-sized bags for distribution. We had a whole assembly line going, sealers, labellers, hairnets, rubber gloves, the whole works.

So yeah, there's a whole lot of logistics that may need to happen at your local food bank to support the final step of actually giving food to people who need it.
posted by gimonca at 9:24 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

What are the friend's important components in terms of ROI? R = economic impact, feel-good-ness, visible difference to friend? I = money, time, sweat?

An ongoing contribution of time to a local food bank or soup kitchen? As an aside, in case OP finds herself/himself flexible in terms of target demographic and not sure of OP's "typicality" in terms of work schedul, I found delivering for Meals on Wheels to be a super humbling experience and very much appreciated service. Took a few hours once a week, but in the middle of a weekday. Not sure if Second Harvest is available in OP's friend's area/ up his/her alley?
posted by shortskirtlongjacket at 9:52 PM on December 30, 2011

I really like food rescue services that take good food that would otherwise be thrown away, and either turn it into meals for distribution, or give out groceries - here's the Wikipedia description with links to various organisations.

You can either give money or give them a hand by volunteering. I give money to one of these sorts of organisations in Australia each month. For the organisation I support, the $20 each month is worth 40 meals.

No, I don't know if it is the best way to help the hungry, but I feel that throwing away so much good food when people are hungry is awful.
posted by AnnaRat at 12:50 AM on December 31, 2011

I thought it worth pointing out that the above-mentioned Angel Food Ministry turned out to be a scam. I agree with those who suggest local food banks and community gardens.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:40 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

My mom volunteers at a local food bank and what they really need are strong, young volunteers who are available to work in the middle of the day. They are mostly staffed by the earlier mentioned "nice old ladies" or people on disability benefits and they need people who can unload a truck and carry heavy boxes.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:00 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

And only assholes put cat food into the donation bin.

FWIW, our local food bank has started accepting pet food and supplies so people in need can keep their pets.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:05 AM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, time and money are the two things that can do the best, in the form of helping out a local food bank. If you work in an office, you might be able to amplify both your time and money by getting others to help out, too -- talk to the local food bank and your employer and ask if you can help run a fundraiser or a canned food drive at your office.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:17 AM on December 31, 2011

Best answer: I'm pretty active with my local food bank, they're my local charity. I sometimes donate money and sometimes donate time, but they have other needs and there are other things that people do for folks with food insecurity in my community. Just to amplify what other people have said, stuff like money and volunteering are important but so is getting OTHER people to donate money or time. I participated in a fundraising walk and brought in some cash, but also got other people to join in it and raised the visibility of the entire event so that there will be more people committed to it next year.

Our region has a monthly community supper thing that happens, sort of a joint project with some of the community organizations and the churches [it is NOT a church event] where people can eat together, talk about things, and the meals are free. You can participate or just help out planning for one of these larger events.

Letting people know about their food options such as the food bank or food stamps [many fewer people get food stamps than are actually eligible for them] or pay-what-you-can meals at the senior center or elsewhere help people make smarter choices about their own meals. One of the problems that people with food insecurity face is that they are often facing other challenges [social, health] that can make problems seem insurmountable or give them bad information about what the range of their choices actually are.

Additionally, there are programs that help people in need such as school lunch programs and sometimes school breakfast programs that need people to advocate for them and help keep them solvent and in the forefront of the minds if the people who are voting to fund them. Sometimes being politically involved can really assist programs that are serving people who badly need service but don't have available time/energy to lobby people.

So think about what your friend does have to give. Maybe it's helping design flyers or keep a website updated, or answering a phone, or delivering meals on wheels, or washing dishes after a community supper, or getting donations of supplies or other stuff to the food bank, or working at a state level to make sure food insecurity is an issue on people's minds, or working with local CSAs to get healthy food donated to people in need. There are a lot of options and likely people who are more familiar with the systems locally who can give your friend some guidance.
posted by jessamyn at 9:04 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older What does this make?   |   Business checking account Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.