Not Your Mother's Food Drive

Most likely, you've been asked to participate in a food drive this holiday season. It may have been through your child's school, at your workplace, your place of worship, or a food drive run by your local food bank.

What you may not know is what happens after the donation is made.

Before your donation can be distributed to someone in need, the items have to be processed. First, the donation is picked up and transported to a location where it can be inspected. This involves checking every product's "sell by" or expiration date, cleaning the package and ensuring the contents are not damaged, and verifying the product was not previously recalled due to a product safety concern. Once this is completed, the items are then sorted by categories, such as canned fruit, canned vegetables, boxed meals, or ready-to-eat items.

Sorting through nearly 40 million pounds of donated items from food drives requires considerable resources to prepare the food for distribution. Unfortunately, a larger-than-desired portion of food drive donations must be discarded due to product damage, expiration dates or recalls.

So how can the traditional food donation process be improved? In 2010, in order to save time and volunteer hours, food banks developed "virtual" food drives. A virtual food drive is a method of collecting food donations for hungry people in your community without the need to drop off physical food items. Instead of digging through your cabinets or going to your local grocery store for donated items, you go online to a virtual food drive website. Once there, you simply select the items you want to donate, add them to your shopping cart, and then complete the donation through a checkout process. It works just like most online shopping websites.

The virtual food drive is not only quick and easy to perform, it also creates options for the organization in several ways:

  • With virtual food drives, the organization receiving the donation can use the funds to purchase food that better matches the needs of their clients. Items normally not donated, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, will be available so organizations can fill the "nutrient gap" that typically exists within traditional food drives. It will also allow for participants to purchase other perishable ingredients that are needed for commonly donated boxed items - like milk for macaroni and cheese, for example.

  • You can make purchases in bulk at wholesale prices, providing much more food than your dollar could purchase at the local grocery store. This allows your donation to feed more hungry people.
  • You can purchase food in cases, simplifying transportation, storage and distribution.
  • There is no need to sort the products, verify expiration dates or check for product recalls.
  • America may be the land of plenty, but 1 in 6 people in the United States struggle with hunger. This means that 49 million Americans live in a food insecure household, including 15.9 million children and 3.9 million seniors. Participating in a virtual food drive is an easy way to help get more food to people facing hunger.

    Every person can help fight hunger. To learn how to help your local food bank feed more people in your community or to learn more about hunger across the nation, please visit FeedingAmerica.org.

    Cisco, in partnership with Feeding America, developed a new online food distribution system, which could enable Feeding America and its member food banks to provide millions of additional meals for people struggling with hunger. For more information visit: Cisco.CSR.com