You’ve seen it at the office. You’ve seen it at the library. You’ve seen it at your kids’ Christmas recital. You’ve seen it championed by police, firefighters and municipal officials.
I’m talking, of course, about donating canned goods to holiday food drives.
Now don’t get me wrong. Donating to charity is a good thing, particularly during the holidays, when many charities budget for yuletide donations. But, the simple rules of economics are begging you: Give money to food banks, rather than food.
That $1 you spent on tuna could have purchased $4 worth of tuna if put in the hands of a non-profit employee whose only job is to buy food as cheaply as possible. The savvy buyers at the Sidney Lions Food Bank, for instance, promise they can stretch $1 into $4.
Probably the worst tragedy of the inefficient food drive is holiday events and theatre performances where organisers ask for canned food donations in lieu of selling tickets.
The better option, of course, is to keep selling tickets and donate the box office take to the food bank. By not doing this, these well-meaning organizers are effectively surrendering vast amounts of critically needed grocery money in exchange for heavy cardboard boxes filled with god knows what.
And then there’s the logistical nightmare when these boxes show up at the food bank’s loading dock.
Put yourself in the place of a food bank that has just accepted an anarchic 40 pound box of random food from an office fundraiser. It’s got pie filling, Kraft Dinner, beans, pumpkin and chick peas. All those food items need to be sorted, stored, inventoried and then shoehorned into the food bank’s distribution schedule.
It’s bad form to have low-income families eat nothing but creamed corn until the stocks run dry, so some items move faster than others.
Consider the Herculean plight of the food bank warehouse manager, and it’s easy to imagine how a particularly unhelpful box of food could end up doing nothing but wasting a bunch of people’s time before it ends up shunted into a dumpster.
Of course there are a lot of misconceptions on who uses food banks as well. The Food Bank provides assistance to individuals and families who have difficulty purchasing enough food to avoid hunger. Hunger affects us all. It knows no age, it knows no race and it knows no season. There are many reasons to access the food bank: working for low wages, having hours cut back or losing a job, suffering from chronic illness or disability, living on a fixed income, or homelessness.
Lots of middle class families can’t make ends meat. rent is high, food is expensive, school is expensive, life is expensive, but you keep working. Children and seniors are the highest rising demographic at food banks.
All this has been known for years, and yet the practice continues. There’s a few reasons for this.
First, charities are extremely leery about telling people how to donate. Nothing alienates a good samaritan faster than watching them pull up in a cube van of donated food, only to suggest that “maybe next time they just cut a cheque.” When charities get picky, it’s human for would-be donors to think that they don’t really the need the help that bad.
Although there’s something to be said about the feeling of donating ‘something’ vs. cash. Some people would rather donate an item as Charities have particularly fragile brands — and it only takes one or two charitable scandals showing up in someone’s Facebook feed for them to start casting aspersions on our nation’s non-profits.
So, by donating a flat of condensed milk instead of $30, donors feel they are insulating themselves against any unseemly corruption. Instead, it’s usually quite the opposite: Their bid to protest the perceived inefficiency of a charity merely burdens that charity with more inefficiency.
Still rather donate? Call your local food bank first and find out what items are most needed!
Check out Food Banks Canada to donate or find a food bank that supports your community:
Mustard Seed – Serves primarily the City of Victoria
Goldstream Food Bank – Serves the Western Communities
Sidney Lions Food Bank – Serves the Saanich Peninsula to Sayward Rd and Saturna Island
Sooke Food Bank – Serves Sooke and Port Renfrew
Salt Spring Island Food Bank – Serves Salt Spring
UVic Student Foodbank – Serves students of UVic