Food drives collect food and other grocery products that will be distributed to people in need. Food drives aren’t necessarily about fundraising, obviously, but they can be a big help if you’re running a food pantry or other food ministry. You’ve no doubt seen them, and probably participated in them.
Why do a food drive?
If you’re running a food pantry, or food bank for that matter, food drives will likely be part of your plan to gather resources to feed the hungry. A food drive has a couple essential components: The ask (or marketing strategy), the collection location, and follow-up.
People who don’t like asking for money often find that asking for food is easier. A food drive is self-explanatory. On the other hand, if you’re asking for money, you need to explain how the money is going to be used and who it’s going to help. If you’re asking for food, the answer just jumps out at people: we’re going to use this food to feed people.
Still, the way that you ask and who you ask will make a big difference on the success of your food drive. Food drives thrive on mass marketing. The more people you ask the better. So rather than a one-on-one cultivation like you find in a lot of fundraising, you’re going to want to get the word out to as many people as possible in as many places as makes sense. So this means announcements after church, social media, email, mention in the bulletin or newsletter, flyers, posters, reminder slips, etc. If you’re a large local or regional ministry, this might even include mass media techniques like radio, television, billboards, online, or newspaper ads.
What you’re asking for matters. While it makes sense to ask for food, don’t be afraid to ask for funds to support the ministry at the same time. If you’re partnered with a food bank, the funds will often go a lot further than the food brought in, so don’t be afraid to include a financial component to your food drive. Go as far as calling it a food and funds drive, and include donation information prominently on your marketing materials. If possible, create a way to collect monetary gifts online with a mobile friendly website.
Make sure that you specify what kinds of food you want people to bring. Non-perishable is a must. Child friendly might be a priority. You might get as specific as saying, “Bring canned tuna, vegetables, soups, dried beans, rice, cereals, and peanut butter.” If you are not that specific, don’t be surprised if you get weird items.
The collection location
People who participate in your food drive will need a place to drop off their food . A standard practice at many food banks is to use barrels or boxes in a public area that are then delivered to the food pantry or bank. If you’re a church food pantry, it makes sense to put it in a public place that will catch people’s eye as a reminder that they should participate.
The collection location should probably be in a location that is climate controlled, even though your materials should specify that the food should be non-perishable. Someone in your ministry needs to have access to that location and should check on the food regularly during the drive. Even canned food can sometimes spring a leak and cause a big mess, and if someone donates perishable food, it should be dealt with in a timely manner.
You need to publicize how many weeks the food drive will run. These things should not continue forever. Have a definite starting and ending date. If it goes on too long, people will either tune you out or get irritated with you. It’s much better to do a short drive that has a big push with urgency and a deadline that will help people to take action. No food drive should last longer than a month.
After the collection
You need a good plan for after the collection is finished. The plan needs to take into account the following elements: saying thank you, moving the food to your pantry, and inspecting the food.
Saying ‘thank you’ when you have finished your food drive will enable you to continue to do your drive year after year. Tell people how much you collected. Tell them how many people it will feed. This makes a big difference to people and will make them excited to participate the next time you run a food drive. The way you thank people will depend on the scale of the food drive. If it was entirely at your church, adding a thank you during announcements might and a note in the bulletin might be sufficient. If it was a city-wide or even regional drive, you’ll want to use the same mass media channels that encouraged people to donate in the first place.
Once the food drive is complete, make sure that you move the food to your pantry or storage location immediately. Nothing destroys good will and happy feelings more than a pile of food that was ‘urgently needed’ but sits around gathering dust in someone else’s space. Get it out of there. It may have been a reminder to donate during the drive, but it’s a discouragement to future participation if it doesn’t disappear quickly.
The food that shows up should be inspected to make sure it is safe to distribute. People sometimes empty out their cabinets without ever looking at what they are giving. Half eaten jars of peanut butter, vegetables sold during the ’50s, pet food, etc. Inspecting the food is a great volunteer opportunity, and if you get enough people, you can move through it pretty quickly. If you need inspection standards, ask your food bank. They are required to inspect all of the food donated to them, and have comprehensive standards for you to follow. They might even be willing to train some of your people.
Do it again
People are creatures of habit, and if you run a good food drive, you can do it year after year. Just make sure that you’re following all of the steps for a successful drive, and you’ll find that they can be a fun and fruitful way to support your ministry.