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”.


“There’s no hunger in my community!”



By Ed Nicholson

Ever heard that?  I have.
My group’s "day job" is working with managers in the 100 U.S. communities where Tyson Foods has significant operations to engage them in activities in their communities.  A central component of our strategy is to get them involved in hunger relief efforts.
Way too often we hear the opinion expressed from our folks that hunger is not a significant challenge in their communities.  Way too often it’s from people who are quite caring, connected and involved in their communities.  The problem is simply that they’re not connected to hunger.  When we’re able to involve them with groups who can open their eyes to the hunger in their hometowns, they invariably become enthusiastic hunger fighters. Once they’re engaged, they’re also much more open to donating.
This is happening in communities all across America.  We desperately need people in these communities on our side in crafting sustainable solutions to hunger in our country. 
My point:  Unless the hunger community can come up with better ways to connect stakeholders–and connect them locally–we’re going to be swimming upstream with all of the well-constructed strategies, hard work, and resources that are currently being committed to ending hunger.  As an example, if a Congressman’s constituents don’t believe hunger is a significant problem in their own community, how are you going to get them to prioritize resources toward hunger relief when education, healthcare, and infrastructure (not to mention tax reduction) are all clamoring for those same resources?  Most in Congress, though they like to think globally, consistently vote locally.  
The problem is, we’re so close to the issue, we don’t understand how others can’t perceive its gravity.  We believe describing the problem will connect people.  As long as people believe hunger is something that doesn’t exist in their own community, all the rational description in the world won’t work.
What tactics do you use to educate and engage stakeholders?

Who’s thinking about hunger?



                                                                                                  photo Brian Hillegas–Creative Commons

By Ed Nicholson

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the objectives of this space is to increase awareness of the issue of hunger and the people who are making a difference in the battle against hunger.  I hope we’ve done some of that.   I’ve used the space to talk about some thought leaders, like Billy Shore and Jeffrey Sachs

We could do so much more, but I need your help. 

I’d like to know who’s really looking at the big picture when it comes to hunger; thinking about if and how the world can tackle this huge challenge.  Who do you think is looking closely at the issue, considering practical, achievable and inclusive solutions?  Someone in your organization?  Someone whose book you’ve read? 

Who’s inspired you?  Comment here.  Or if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like to leave comments, email me at    ed.nicholson at   

If they can inspire you, perhaps they can inspire someone else.  Sooner or later, lots more people need to get inspired.