Food Banks: Help Beyond the Holidays
According to Feeding America, a national organization aimed at tackling hunger in the US, food banks serve an estimated one in seven Americans. During the holiday season, it’s easy to contribute to these worthy organizations that help ease challenges around food insecurity for individuals and families. From school food drives to donation bins at local markets to employer matching contribution programs, it is difficult to miss opportunities to feed the hungry during the holiday season.
This tradition of reaching out during the holidays provides needed aid and assistance to organizations that depend on donations and volunteers. “For smaller food banks and pantries that don’t benefit from a development team, this time is crucial for surviving throughout the rest of the year,” explains Sarah Palmer DeFrank, Advocacy Manager for the California Association of Food Banks.
But once school food drives come to a close, once the donation bins at the markets go away, and once the charitable giving programs wrap up at year’s end, what then?
Many of us make food choices during the holiday season that revolve around whether we should eat “just one more” bite of something. Imagine facing the choice of buying food or paying your utility bills. What about food or medical care? How about food or rent? Long after the tree has been kicked to the curb and you’ve stopped worrying about the extra pounds you put on during the holidays, 46.5 million Americans still go hungry.
If you eat well most days of the year, it’s probably hard to imagine what it feels like to worry about your next meal. Food insecurity impacts a person’s ability to learn, to make good decisions, and to function in day-to-day life. “When this worry is taken away, a person can live more fully; their health and quality of life are improved,” explains Palmer DeFrank.
So, if you eat well most days of the year, consider extending the spirit of giving beyond the holiday season. It’s a great way to model the spirit of compassion for your children, and there are plenty of opportunities for families to work together to make a positive difference. While some of the ideas described below may seem small, they’re worth doing. A modest donation can have more impact than you think, especially since food banks leverage contributions by purchasing food in bulk at wholesale prices.
Get the new year off to the right start — both for yourself and others — by trying one or more of the following ideas to help combat food insecurity:
Collect Change for Change. Most of us end up with change jingling in our pockets at the end of the day. Why not collect this change in a jar to donate to a local food bank? It’s as easy as finding a convenient location for a container in your house for collecting coins. If you have small children who don’t spend their money, hand over your change and give them the excitement of dropping coins in the collection. Bring the family along to deliver contributions to your local food bank whenever you fill the jar.
Set a Family Giving Goal. Decide on an amount that your family can contribute each month to help combat food insecurity. If this feels like a reach for you, look for ways to save money to help you meet a giving goal. Talk with your family about making choices that will allow you to redirect funds to help you raise money: eat dinner in rather than going out or watch a movie at home rather than heading out to the theater. There are plenty of ways to save without feeling deprived, and you’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing that your contributions will make life easier for others. Before long, your kids will get into the spirit of giving by offering suggestions that you might not have come up with on your own, like making your coffee at home instead of stopping at Starbucks.
Organize Fundraising Events. Help kids organize a lemonade stand or bake sale to raise money on behalf of your local food bank. This fun learning opportunity will give kids experience with food preparation, customer service, and change-making as they work to raise money for a worthy cause. In addition to the boost food banks get from bulk purchasing with the donation, kids often manage to raise more than you might expect. Whenever my kids set up a lemonade stand for charity, passersby frequently tell them to “keep the change” or even donate cash without purchasing because they feel good about the cause.
Donate “Presents.” Ask friends to make donations in place of traditional gift-giving for birthdays or other special events. You could also ask friends to bring non-perishable food items in lieu of gifts if this feels more comfortable. After the party, deliver the gifts to your local food pantry.
Participate in a SNAP Food Challenge. Challenge your family to live on the average daily food stamp benefit (about $4 per day per person) for a week. This eye-opening experience will help participants understand the difficult choices people face trying to make healthy selections on a limited budget. Donate the money you save to a local food bank.
Volunteer at a Local Food Bank. During November and December, food bank volunteer schedules are often booked solid months ahead of time, but come January or February, they still need volunteers to help sort food and provide general office help. Many food banks welcome kids aged 10 or older if they are accompanied by adults. Some even offer family days to accommodate younger children. Contact your local food bank to find out about opportunities in your area. If you have older kids, consider committing to a regular schedule throughout the year as a family project.
To learn more about food insecurity and other ways you can help end it, visit Feeding America or The Food Research and Action Center. You may never know how your contributions — large or small — make a difference for others, but you can read these stories from real people to help you understand why food banks need your help. No one should go hungry during the holidays or at any other time of the year.
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ABOUT SUZANNE: Suzanne focuses on food as centerpiece for both everyday routines and special occasions. Each recipe featured on Flour Arrangements, from simple loaves of bread to fondant decorated birthday cakes, comes with a story that blends life with cooking. Suzanne lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughters.
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Food Banks: Help Beyond the Holidays was written by Suzanne Cowden exclusively for BonBon Break Media LLC.
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