‘Tis the season for giving. And that urge to give, that desire to be helpful in a world that needs it, is a glorious thing, a ray of light in what can be an otherwise bleak world. But here’s the thing. We are VERY BAD at making efficient choices. Inefficiency = waste, and waste = not helping people that need help. So lets boil this down to one sentence:
If you really want to help people who are hungry, don’t give food to food banks, food pantries, or soup kitchens – give them money.
Lets do some math, shall we?
(there is some rounding here – the scale works, regardless of how you round)
At this link, you can buy bulk pasta:
That link takes you to dried spaghetti noodles that you purchase by the metric ton. 1 metric ton = 2,204 pounds of spaghetti. And they charge, on average, $700 for that much pasta.
$700 / 2,204lbs = $0.32 per pound.
Now – this link takes you to the cheapest spaghetti noodles I could find available at retail:
Here, you get 24 pounds of spaghetti (which is still an awful lot) for $30.99 with free shipping.
$30.99 / 24lbs = $1.29 per pound.
Now – you won’t be buying a metric ton of spaghetti for donation, but you might buy 24 pounds. And you’ll be doing the equivalent of setting money on fire. Because a food bank WILL buy it by the ton. And that means that if you give them the $30.99 instead of giving it to a retailer, they can buy nearly 4.5 times more food than you can.
If we assume that 1 serving = ½ pound, then you can buy 48 servings with $30.99. They can buy 212. Put another way – for every $30.99 you spend, you’re taking 164 servings of food OUT of the system.
I did this with spaghetti, but it works with just about anything – cereal, canned goods, fresh vegetables, etc. And this is just for direct food purchases – food banks also get matching donations, which scale this up, and they receive food from the USDA for free or very nominal amounts.
And this is for real food, food that addresses nutritional and hunger needs. They don’t need your dusty cans of chili sauce or Rotel. Or your expired food. Or really anything else but your money.
If you simply must give food rather than money, then at least don’t use it as an excuse to clean out your pantry. Go buy new cans, and buy “meal-in-a-can” items. Things like Chef Boyardee products, Campbell’s Chunky Soups, or other items that can be a single meal are the best, because they are the easiest and the least likely to sit and spoil. Think about it this way – if you have no home, and no money for food, how are you going to cook spaghetti and sauce? That’s not how you’ll think. Instead, you’ll take a can of Chef Boyardee Raviolis and put them in a sink full of hot water at the mall, or the Home Depot, or anywhere you can. And then you’ll get something resembling a hot meal, at least.
That’s sad, that people are heating cans of raviolis in public sinks. But it is reality. And we should work with the reality we’re given.
Give, and give generously.
But if we’re smarter about it, we can do more with it.
‘Tis the season