Community food drives are a wonderful way for businesses, civic associations, schools, scouting groups and other organizations to get involved in supporting their local food pantry, soup kitchen and even their regional food bank like Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank. Quite often volunteers are outside local supermarkets, post offices, libraries and at shopping centers collecting food to feed the more than 300,000 Long Islanders experiencing food insecurity and domestic hunger. Many emergency food distribution agencies rely upon the generosity of the community to support their efforts through food drives. In some cases, the food donated by the community or local supermarkets or specialty stores may represent more than fifty-percent of a pantry’s inventory.
In the past five years, Long Island Cares and other regional food banks across America have increased our focus on the provision of healthy food choices for the organizations and people we serve. It has been well documented that there is a correlation between food insecurity and health problems. When people don’t have enough food, or they don’t have access to healthy foods on a regular basis, they are at-risk for a myriad of health problems including, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and more. Food banks are focusing on the health of people experiencing food insecurity because we not only have an obligation to feed the hungry, we have a responsibility to help them eat healthy.
When people donate to a local food drive they often want to donate as much as possible. They look to see what’s on sale in the supermarket or they go through their own home pantry to see what types of extra food they have that they can donate to feed the hungry. Often, the items a pantry or food bank receives from a drive are foods that are high in starch, carbohydrates, salt, sugars, and fat. Although there’s nothing wrong with pasta, peanut butter, jelly, rice, cereals, juices, tomato sauces and canned fruits, most nutritionists will tell you that eating these types of food in abundance can affect your health, especially if you’re food insecure and these are the majority of the food you receive from your local pantry. I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from supporting food drives. What I want to encourage is that when we think about sponsoring a food drive we think about the people who will receive the food, especially infants, children, people with medical conditions, and the elderly. Long Island Cares has launched an innovative initiative with some of our member agencies to encourage developing a “healthy shelf” in their pantries, as we’ve done in our warehouse.
There are many choices we can make when donating food to help those in need, and sometimes we don’t have to even donate food to feed the hungry. Here are some ideas to consider when sponsoring your next food drive: whole wheat pastas; brown rice; natural peanut butter; canned fruit in juice or light syrup; canned tomatoes; bran flakes; oatmeal;100% fruit juices; spreadable fruit; Cheerios; low-fat shelf stable milk; reduced salt canned vegetables. Non-food items frequently donated: toothpaste; antibacterial soap; tissues; paper towels; new school supplies; new socks; tooth brushes; To locate your nearest food pantry, log onto www.licares.org and click the Food Locator link on our homepage.
Initially published in the HIA-LI Reporter, August 2017