Driving me crazy: canned goods or cash?

Posted on November 8, 2011


At a food drive, no two boxes are alike. One box holds thoughtful donations of soup, cereal and tuna. The next box holds an open bag of crackers, Easter candy (in November) and soy sauce packets.

‘Tis the season of food drives. But are they a good way to support hunger relief? My head says no; my heart says yes.

3 reasons we love food drives:

1.  Caring.  When our neighbors are hungry, we want to do something tangible. Buying cans of soup feels more real than giving cash.
2.  Camaraderie. A group effort brings people together. Working with Northern Illinois Food Bank, Tellabs employees held targeted food drives. For example, one year our Naperville office divided into 2 teams. One group collected peanut butter, the other jelly. The teams enjoyed comparing totals throughout the competition, sparking great results.
3.  Creativity. Another food drive targeted a different high-need item — cereal. Near the end of the campaign, we set up a fun 2,000 cereal box domino display in Tellabs’ atrium. Other food drives build structures from canned goods. These events are fun ways to bring attention to hunger relief.

3 reasons we’re better off giving cash:

1.  More efficient. In each food drive, individuals buy stuff, take it to the food drive, and organizers bring it to the food bank. Then the food bank recruits volunteers who spend hours checking and sorting the food for distribution. Food banks can use cash donations to buy exactly what people need, with far less labor.
2.  More food. Through partnerships and bulk purchasing, the food bank can get more for your money. Some can buy as much as double or triple what you might buy in the grocery store.
3.  More responsive to need. People need fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy. But we can’t donate perishables to most food drives. We don’t know what the greatest needs are for this week’s distribution. With cash, food banks can buy what people need.

When it comes to fighting hunger, food drives are great. Targeted food drives are even better. Cash is probably best.

Before you donate this season, check with your local food bank on what they need most. Feeding America gives great advice on how to help.

Posted in: Corporate giving