Conducting a Successful Food Drive

By Lyn Fiscus

Food collection drives are popular during the holiday season, and chances are good your school has either just finished one or is in the thick of one.  Use the following key questions as a guide to organizing an effective food drive.

Where will the food go?

Your first step is to contact the agency to which you want to donate the food. Check with them to see if they have any unique needs or procedures that need to be followed.  For example, many agencies need such non-food items as diapers and personal care items. Ask your contact at the agency how you can conduct the drive so it will be most beneficial to them?

What will be your collection goal?

It’s a good idea to set a goal to strive toward. Make it reachable, but challenging. Translating the goal into something that everyone can understand—such as one can per student, or filling a bus—will help reach it.

How will you keep track of the contribution tally?

At the outset, decide whether you will tally up contributions by the number of items or the pounds of food. Whether or not you are conducting a competition as part of the drive, it will be useful to know how much is collected. (See “How will you report the results?” below.) Weighing the food is a good method to use because you get a more accurate idea of the total amount of food collected; for example, a 50 pound bag of rice and a can of corn would count equally in an item count tally, but their weight is very different. Counting items by weight takes into account the varying sizes and weights of food.

How long will the drive last?

A drive that lasts a week or two is usually about right, although some schools opt for doing it all on one big day. Shorter food drives need to be very well publicized to be effective. 

How will you collect the food?

Make it easy for people to drop off their donations. Place collection boxes in your school’s main entrance for easy access by community members, and make regular collections from classrooms. Keep in mind that food is heavy, so don’t make your collection boxes so big they can’t be carried once filled. 

One idea for helping to publicize the drive and providing eye-catching collection points is to have a contest before the drive to decorate the collection boxes. Ask each homeroom class to decorate a box and have judges award prizes to the best ones.  Then use the boxes during the drive to collect the food. 

Will you also collect cash?

Sometimes people want to participate but prefer to just donate cash. Consider whether you will accept cash and what you will do with it if you do. The money can be donated to the agency—they often have arrangements that enable the money to stretch farther than it will go at the supermarket—or it can be used to purchase additional food items to count in your tally.

How will you motivate people to participate?

Many schools find that raising awareness of hunger issues in the community motivates students and others to participate. A kick-off assembly or a video clip shown on morning announcements that highlights hunger in your community and features a representative of the agency you are donating to can be effective. How will you ensure quality food is donated?

Rather than having students grab their least favorite canned goods from their parent’s pantry, publish a list of the most-needed types of food—things like canned fruit, tuna, stew and chili, canned chicken and other meat, pasta sauces, and peanut butter—and encourage people to contribute these. If you are having a competition as part of the drive, these items could count for more in the total. 

Another way to encourage donations of particular types of food is to designate certain days for them, such as Macaroni Monday, Tons of Tuna Tuesday, Fruity Friday, Oodles of Noodles Day, etc.

Where will you store the food?

Consider where you will store the food as it is coming in. A one-day drive won’t have this problem, but a drive that lasts for a week or two will see food begin piling up. You’ll want to balance the need to let people see how much is coming in—this helps publicize the drive and lets people feel they are making a difference—against keeping the donations secure from theft. 

As you are collecting the food, be sure to only fill boxes until the top can be placed on the box or the flaps can be folded in. Overflowing boxes can’t be stacked. 

How will you transport the food?

Getting the food to the agency can be a logistical challenge. Some agencies will pick up the collected food, but if you can take it to them it adds to the value of your donation since they won’t be using their resources to come to you. Consider asking a local rental company to donate the use of a truck for a day, or make arrangements with your transportation department to load everything onto a school bus. Pick-up trucks can also be used. 

Loading and unloading the food will require lots of able helpers, and is a good opportunity to include students who have been particularly involved in the drive, whether food drive committee members, biggest donors, or the winning classroom in a competition. Be sure to have permission slips for all students who will be helping take the food to the agency, especially if they will be in private vehicles. 

How will you report the results?

Letting people know the results of the collection is an important part of a food drive—people like to feel they have been part of making a difference and it will give your school and organization some good publicity. Be sure to alert your local media that the drive is going on, and let them know when the food will be delivered—they might send a photographer if the effort is particularly impressive. If they don’t, take some photos of students delivering the food and send it with a press release to your local media detailing the total amount collected and what agency received it. Make a report to the school board as well, and give your students a chance to be recognized for the good work they did.