Does How Charity Food Agencies Acquire and Distribute Food Matter?–A guest post

by John Arnold
Executive Director
Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank

Does How Charity Food Agencies Acquire and Distribute Food Matter?

Yes!  It does.  International award-winning research in West Michigan identified nine key points in the collection and distribution of food where what exactly is done and how it is done makes a huge difference in costs and outcomes–likely enough to be the difference between a community’s being able to adequately address its hunger problem, or not being able to.

For example, if a charity food agency promotes traditional food drives, what it is promoting is having its supporters pay full retail prices for the food given, and for them to donate that food in ways that are not tax-deductible.   If instead the agency promoted its supporters donating money, the agency could likely acquire 10 to 20 times more food for the same amount of money from the area’s food bank, and the donors could likely claim a charitable gifts tax deduction for their gift.  Where $10 could have put $10’s worth of food into the charity system at a cost to the donor of $10, the same $10 could put as much as $200 worth of food into the system at a cost to the donor of only $7.50!

Over on the distribution side, the possible improvements are equally large, the largest one being how food is given to needy people:  If they are handed a bag assembled by someone other than them, chances are good they won’t be able to use as much as half of what they are given.  Far better they be permitted to assemble their own bag from all the products that are available, because then they will be able to use all that they take.

The bottom line on those three changes–agencies should:

  • Collect money instead of food,
  • Acquire food from the area’s food bank instead of from stores, and
  • Let clients pick out their own food instead of being handed a collection of things they possibly cannot use.

These three intiatives combined, can create up 52 times better leveraging of help per dollar spent.  That is equivalent of having 52 times more money than you have had!

With that much more money and food available, then food pantries can address some of the other critical issues our research identified:  how often people are permitted to draw food aid, what hoops they have to jump through to qualify, how much food they are permitted to take, etc.

Our research’s findings and recommendations can be found on the “Resources” page of our web site:  and can be downloaded and printed free.  Look for “Charity Food Programs That Can End Hunger In America”.