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Food Drives Can Save Lives – Top Five Tips for Successfully Operating a Food Drive

So, you’ve made the decision to help combat hunger in your community and want to hold a food drive. Great choice! From the outside, it may seem like a lot of work, but I promise, with a thoughtful plan and a committed team you can completely enhance people’s lives and inspire others to do the same.

Before diving into the roles of Boyce Middle School Parent Teacher Organization President, Eisenhower Elementary School Outreach co-chair, and founder of our inaugural school district-wide food drive, I was a lawyer. I’ve always had a passion for outreach, and during my law school days, I began representing people, pro bono, who couldn’t afford legal services. This experience demonstrated to me how one person can really make a difference and I decided that community service would be critical a part of my life’s work.

Once my husband and I started a family, I took a break from the law to focus on my kids and the humanitarian causes nearest and dearest to my heart. I was excited to become involved in our children’s schools and to steer my contributions there toward outreach.

Having run a food drive at Eisenhower Elementary for many years, I was happy to find when my oldest child reached Boyce Middle School, that (among many other charitable endeavors) they also held a food drive. It became clear to me that coordinating a drive with ALL of the schools in our district was attainable and would make a big impact on our community. This year it came to fruition. After a good amount of planning and coordination, we held a very successful, large scale, district-wide food drive. I was extremely fortunate to be a part of such an endlessly hardworking and kindhearted team of volunteer parents who fully embraced the district-wide drive and I am eager to share with you some best practices for initiating your very own food drive.

  1. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
    Moving furniture, painting a room, washing a car – some tasks are just more successful when multiple hands are on deck. Operating a food drive also belongs on that list. If you are radiating passion for the cause, it will show, and people will want to provide support. Think big! Encourage not only your family members and friends to get involved but also local businesses in your community.
  2. Keep A Pocket Full of Strategies
    Marketing to a kindergartener is different from marketing to a teenager. The same understanding applies to how you should promote your food drive. I’ve learned that developing separate strategies for various age groups is pivotal. For example, to get young children involved, you need to target their parents via newsletters or emails, whereas to get middle schoolers on board, you may need to allow the students to really take ownership by allowing them to make decisions about the drive, such as if they begin a school competition or assign classrooms specific goods or foods to donate.
  3. Accessibility + Location = Everything
    Whether it is the location of a donation box in a school or the part of town where the drive is held, you need to consider visibility and accessibility above all else. When choosing your donation location, select an area that is easy to spot and heavily trafficked. In a school setting, I like to put a collection box at every single homeroom entrance. The kids are constantly reminded of the drive and can surreptitiously see how other classrooms are measuring up, encouraging more donations. If your donation box or site is highly visible, people will be much more likely to engage.
  4. Helping as an Admission Ticket
    Party with a purpose! In my experience, the most successful food drives were linked to an event or program. Linking food donation with a social event like a school dance or competition between local coffee shops is an innovative, effective and memorable way to get the word out and reach untapped audiences.
  5. Effective Communication is Key
    Between social media, the internet and word-of-mouth communication, informing the public about a food drive is easier than ever. Develop a promotion plan with your team that ties together the best parts of social media, graphic design and excellent, old-fashion in-person communication. A variety of communication platforms means a variety of people reached!

See? Anyone can help change lives. Hosting a food drive is an enjoyable and rewarding way to serve the people in your community who need it most. Little kindnesses add up to big successes. This spring, Upper St. Clair School District collected 4,425 pounds of food for South Hills Interfaith Movement’s Sack Hunger Campaign. In addition to product donations, Streams Elementary School designated SHIM as the beneficiary of its yearly student-driven fundraiser, Children for Children. The Streams school community raised more than $9,200. Such monetary donations enable SHIM to stock their pantries with items from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. At the Food Bank, SHIM’s buying power is 500% greater than purchasing food at grocery store prices. That means that a donation of $1 can buy $5 worth of groceries. Thanks to many teams working together through hosts of drives and collections, in 2018, 167,812 pounds of food was donated to the South Hills Interfaith Movement’s three food pantries. Through this generosity, South Hills Interfaith Movement was able to provide 359,385 meals to more than 3,500 neighbors in need – proof that every effort counts.

To get involved in a food or donation drive or host your own, please contact Seth Dubin, director of development, at sdubin@shimcares.org.

By Jennifer Schnore, founder of Upper St. Clair School District’s inaugural school district-wide food drive.


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