By: NobleHour Special Contributor Dolly Duplantier
As we enter this holiday season of festive get-togethers, parties, and dinners, we often complain about overeating. However, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), shockingly there are approximately 48 million people in the United States, including nearly 8 million children, who live at risk of hunger everyday.
It is getting harder for families to make ends meet and the faces of hunger are changing. Often, those in need are employed, and many are veterans, children, and seniors. Some skip meals or cut back on the quality or quantity of food they purchase. Others must sacrifice food in order to pay for utilities, rent, or prescription medication. In Texas, the Houston Food Bank* (HFB) partners with 600 agencies to distribute 79,000,000 nutritious meals to 800,000 individuals each year across an 18-county service area.
Season of Giving
This time of year, there’s a big push to increase food donations for the holidays. Students in elementary and high schools, as well as universities throughout the country are coming together to collect thousands and thousands of pounds of non-perishable items.
“Food Drives contribute significantly to the amount and variety of food we distribute each year,” says Alexis Guidry, Grants Coordinator for the Houston Food Bank. “They are a great way for community members to engage with the Food Bank to help our neighbors in need who may not have enough to eat during the holidays and year round. The process is easy and we provide our partners with all the information and materials they need to successfully host a food drive from start to finish.”
Food pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens rely heavily on food and monetary donations. They cannot accomplish their goals alone. They need active volunteers of all ages to help in their mission. Guidry says the Houston Food Bank volunteers are the lifeblood of their organization, producing the equivalent of a meal a minute while helping to sort, process, and pack food for distribution. In fact, last fiscal year alone, HFB was fortunate enough to have 70,000 unduplicated volunteers donate a total of 451,859 hours of their time, the equivalent of 217 full time employees! “Not only are our volunteers invited to participate in our primary production areas, but they also provide support for various projects across several departments within the organization,” adds Guidry.
Home for the Holidays
While students are home for the holiday break, a wonderful community service activity is to volunteer at your local food bank. Guidry agrees. “The holidays are a great time for the community to get involved. Students are able to come out and volunteer during winter break, likewise our corporate partners are encouraged to host a food drive or come out to volunteer as a team-building opportunity.”
Many food banks post their volunteer schedules months in advance so groups can plan ahead to sign up. School groups, service clubs, and individuals can help repack bulk food products into individual/family sizes. Always, check each organization’s age requirements. At HFB, volunteer opportunities are available to individuals ages 6 and up. School and youth group opportunities are offered on Mondays and Wednesdays and require one adult/chaperone per 10 minors.
Virtual Food Drives
The Houston Food Bank is a member of Feeding America, the nation's largest non-governmental, domestic hunger relief organization that works to feed the country’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks. Feeding America encourages community engagement by running a number of partner promotions and by using social media in a variety of ways, including Virtual Food Drives.
Whether your son or daughter needs to complete a service project or their club wants to support the community, a virtual food drive is simple to coordinate for today’s tech savvy kids and young adults. Feeding America helps participants set up their own fundraising page. Once that's completed, just set a goal and then use social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter to create awareness about the issue of hunger and raise funds to support the Feeding America network. Have family members sponsor your efforts in a sporting event or ask friends to make a donation to help end hunger as a gift for your birthday or the holidays.
The virtual food drive is also a great way for college students to get involved. Many universities donate hundreds of thousands of pounds of food each year through virtual food drives, along with traditional methods of collecting food. It’s a great way for students to give back to the community and make a difference. Even college students can afford one can of food or a $1 donation. Students can creatively work with different groups on campus to encourage everyone to participate. They can maximize their efforts with existing activities, like sporting events, concerts, and dances. Many offer incentives for participating in the food drive like “cut the line" for at dining facilities, giveaways, preferred seating at events, or immediate access to games and activities. In addition, student organizers can reach out to the local business community for support.
If you prefer the traditional hands-on route of volunteering, Feeding America encourages volunteers to check out local community service opportunities. There are food banks in just about every city in America. The Feeding America website offers a nationwide food bank locator. You can search by zip code or state to find the nearest food bank. Start a new family holiday tradition by volunteering at your local food bank!
Another great way to support Feeding America's efforts this holiday season is to give a donation in someone's name. It's a great gift for that hard to buy for relative, friend or teacher!
Whether it’s a virtual food drive or a traditional one, everyone has the power to make a difference. This holiday season, get involved and support your local food bank.
Want to make a difference in your community? Sign up for your free NobleHour account to learn more about meaningful service opportunities in your area.
For more details on hosting a food drive in the Houston area, please contact Francis Rios at firstname.lastname@example.org. To participate in their virtual food drive log onto houstonfoodbank.org/e-meals.
*The Houston Food Bank is a NobleCause grantee. The NobleCause grant competition invited high schools, school districts, colleges and universities, and nonprofits to identify and address a local challenge. From a pool of several hundred applicants across the nation, 100 organizations were awarded $6,500 grants, while seven exemplary organizations were recognized at the $50,000 level. All grant recipients demonstrated a remarkable ability to raise community awareness, foster partnerships, and cultivate leaders who take action. The competition was made possible by an anonymous donor within the GiveWell CommunityFoundation, which serves Polk County, Florida, and is organized by Get.NobleHour.Com.
Since 2007, NobleHour has proven to be the volunteer management solution for organizations across the nation. With its robust online platform, NobleHour enhances community engagement with a variety of innovative and transformative tools for finding, tracking, and measuring volunteer, service‐learning, and community service initiatives. With offices in Lakeland, FL, and Portland, OR, the NobleHour team is dedicated to empowering good in communities across the country.
Dolly Duplantier is a freelance writer, editor, and social media specialist. She is the mother of three children, one college graduate, one in college, and one in high school. Writing about people and organizations who make a difference is one of the best aspects of her job!