Photo: Matthew Tse

Photo: Matthew Tse

You just gave the food drive a box of Cheerios. You would think that by doing so, you have fulfilled your annual obligation of holiday-season giving. But were you really helping all that much? Can a box of Cheerios fuel a food bank distribution truck? Can a box of Cheerios alone feed a balanced breakfast to a child? No, no, and no.

In an interview with The Reckoner, Gail Nyberg, executive director of the Daily Bread Food Bank, said, “If there’s no one to donate [food], we have to purchase it with monetary donations.” When there is difficulty stocking the warehouses of a food bank with a certain type of food, food banks must buy it themselves. The Daily Bread receives most of their food donations from corporations and about 15 percent from individuals. Individual donations are valued at around $3 million. If $3 million were donated directly to the food bank, the food bank could cover for exactly what in-kind corporate donations could not cover. The bottom line: the best way to help is to simply give money.

Food banks have the means to buy in bulk, but only if they receive the monetary funding. For every dollar spent by an individual to purchase a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, a fraction could have been used by food banks to purchase two cans. Although there is good intent in buying a can of soup and dropping it off at a food drive, the money could have been better spent. The Ontario Association of Food Banks has a “Bulk Buy Program” that partners with food companies, such as Nestle and Parmalat, to provide food to food banks at discounted prices. Multiple food banks often partner together to increase their buying power for cheaper prices and larger quantities. The Daily Bread Food Bank uses monetary donations “to make up for any shortfall in donations as well as purchase nutritious, perishable food.” Food banks need money to provided their beneficiaries with balanced meals.

If the fact that monetary donations give more food than in-kind donations is not enough to convince you to write a cheque to the food bank, consider this: monetary donations also fund distribution trucks, programs and utilities that food banks run. Large food banks typically collect food, sort through the food, and ship donations to partner branches. Shipping food and paying employees everyday costs money. Food banks not only provide groceries and hot meals, but also conduct research to end poverty and hunger. It costs money to reduce the amount of people who need food banks. It costs money to pay for the water, electricity and gas bills, and to keep facilities open. In short, it is not cheap to run a food bank. It is the same for all charities; a little money can go a long way.

This is not to say that in-kind donations are not appreciated. Any contribution to a food bank is better than nothing. However, some say that giving cash to a food bank does not have the same personal touch as dropping off a can of pasta sauce—simply throwing money at a cause is less viscerally appealing. Nyberg said “People like to know that a can of food is going into a box labeled ‘food drive.’” Admittedly, there is little holiday spirit that goes into writing a cheque or entering in a credit card number on a website. But at events, such as CBC Toronto’s Sounds of the Season, which has raised $347 000 so far, crowds form to donate in-kind and in cash. There is no lack of holiday spirit in giving the food bank bills and coins.

So, here’s some food for thought this holiday season: rather than giving food donations, donate money to food banks instead. Not only does it save you time to give money directly to food banks, but it also lets food banks prevent shortages in essential types of food. If anything, individuals will more effectively contribute to a food bank’s cause by writing a cheque. It may be difficult to swallow the fact that the money you’ve spent on canned foods all these years could have been better used by food banks, but it is never too late to start: a new year, a new way of giving.



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