A food drive is a charitable event hosted by individuals, clubs, or organizations. They are often tied to a festive holiday like Easter or Thanksgiving when people may be in a giving mood, and when the community needs may be highest. By focusing on the Easter and Thanksgiving seasons, food banks and affiliated agencies can 'stock up' twice a year. By contract, the December holiday period is often focused on toy drives, Christmas Wish events, and similar initiatives that focus on needy children.
Organizing a food drive can be as simple as placing a big cardboard box or other container in your organization's lobby, or by adding a "bring a canned good" provision to a party or other social event. You may need burly individual to wrassle the box afterward, so make sure it's sturdy, or if it's big put it on a skid before it starts to fill up. Some larger food banks will provide sturdy containers for a corporate food drive or similar large event.
Seeing the food pile up in the collection bin gives most people a warm feeling. For those who can afford to contribute, a trip to your local generic brand grocery store will usually provide a haul of staples at low cost.
What to Donate
Things that are always needed and welcome include:
- Canned fish and canned meat (e.g. spam)
- Canned vegetables and tomatoes
- Pasta and Pasta Sauce
- Peanut Butter or school-safe substitutes like soy butter
- Juice boxes
- Cereals (preferably low sugar, let's not create a dental emergency)
- Instant soup or other instant meals (preferably low salt, let's not create a myocardial infarction)
Please avoid items in glass containers which may chip, crack, or smash!
Additional items that are always in demand at the food bank include:
Donating 'expired' food
While generally not a good idea because of poor taste or reduced nutrition, many items with a 'best before date' can be safely used if they're not too far past said date. Many food banks use a '90 days past' rule for deciding whether to accept and/or use such items. Note, however that certain items have explicit expiry dates that must be honored. These items cannot be used past the expiry date. Fixed expiry dates apply to baby formula and other human milk substitutes, nutritional supplements, and many specialty dietary items.
When in doubt, throw it out.
If you wouldn't eat it for safety reasons, please don't put someone else at risk.
What about giving money?
While it's less visceral than a physical donation, many larger food banks run 'food and fund' drives, and they are equipped to use the donations to work at scale, as well as to pay transportation and admin costs, so money is an equally valuable way to give.
* The products are consumable, not the babies! Yes, despite the fact that babies are depicted on the packaging. Yes, I know that the tomato cans have tomatoes on them, it's not the same thing. Except for Jelly Babies.