How do you shift gears when people's hearts are in the right place?
Take, for example, food drives. Your local grocery store, workplace or place of worship has a cardboard box set out for comestibles. You put in a can of corn, and you feel good about yourself. The corn cost you very little, and it's going to a good cause, but that corn won't last long, and getting it into the proper hands takes time, gas, and money.
By the time that can of corn ends up where it's most needed, says Sarah Santora, community involvement coordinator with Foodshare, "it will have more miles on it than a '57 Chevy."
Since the first of the year, Foodshare has seen a 34 percent increase in need among its sister agencies. Foodshare doesn't distribute food to individuals, per se. As the region's food bank, Foodshare puts food into shelters and community food pantries, anywhere people in need go for a meal or for groceries.
That increase is just through July. All over the state, emergency food outlets that rely on Foodshare are reporting a record-breaking number of requests for help. Last year, Foodshare distributed 11 million pounds of food, and there's every indication that amount will increase.
So we've got to be smarter about getting food to where it's needed.
Better that we donate money. Most of the people at food pantries won't tell you that, because it sounds like they're looking gift horses in the mouth, and isn't it better that people do what makes them feel good about doing good?
Not entirely, says Ernie Pitti, Foodshare's food-donations coordinator. Thirty dollars delivered directly to a food pantry — which buys in bulk and enjoys multiple relationships with food companies, restaurants and the like for donations — will feed a person for a month. Try doing that with $30 worth of groceries you buy yourself. That might get you two bags, says Amanda Renna, Foodshare communications specialist.
Roughly 80 percent of the food distributed by Foodshare comes from partnerships with food-industry members: Shaw's, Stop & Shop and others. That food costs Foodshare only roughly $1 per three to four pounds to transport.
A few years back, Foodshare started to introduce the idea of donating funds rather than food with their Turkey and a Twenty program. Turkey, says Santora, is one of those rare foods that the food pantries can't get cheaper than a regular consumer. But introducing the idea of including $20 in their donations has started the ball rolling toward switching more to funds, and less to food.
If you're squeamish about giving money, Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities, gives Foodshare four stars, their "exceptional" rating. Your money goes to good use.
On Sept. 15, Foodshare will sponsor its seventh annual Convoy of Caring for food-industry donors such as Price Chopper, Pepsi Bottling Group and Geissler's Supermarkets. Participants will travel from Rocky Hill to the organization's Bloomfield distribution center with thousands of pounds of food; last year, more than 225,000 pounds of food were donated in one day. Without them, Foodshare wouldn't exist.
If people or organizations are still committed to food (not fund) drives, Foodshare will help them work with a local pantry or shelter. Meanwhile, they watch the numbers edge upward.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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