Maximizing Food Donation to Those in Need

Food banks, food pantries, meal centers, and emergency feeding programs are the central hub of New York’s food recovery system. They facilitate the crucial role of receiving surplus food donations and redirecting it to our neighbors who are faced with food insecurity. However, these agencies face a variety of challenges:

  • Bulk donations often provide too much of one type of food and not enough others, which limits the ability to provide a balanced variety of nutrition
  • Prepared and perishable foods require rapid donation procedures due to their limited shelf life
  • Prepared and perishable foods require refrigerated transportation and storage
  • Food pantries, meal centers, etc. have limited funds and volunteers, limiting storage capacity and the number of hours that donations can be accepted

Below are some strategy suggestions to begin addressing a few of these challenges:   

1.) Increase Visibility

Food pantries, meal centers, etc. can increase their visibility to potential donors, collaborators, and recipients by registering with their local food bank and on other platforms, such as AmpleHarvest’s Pantry Map.

2.) Use Tech to Connect with Donors

A variety of new applications, like MealConnect and SpoilerAlert, are now available to efficiently connect generators of surplus food with donation organizations. More can be found here.

Locate food processors, grocery stores, restaurants, and more with the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I) Organic Resource Locator, and locate nearby farms through LocalHarvest.

3.) Have A Plan for Product Acceptance

Develop internal protocols for managing, accepting, and referring donations, including a decision tree to guide staff and volunteers on decisions they'll have to make based on food type, volume, transportation and storage capacity, and more. A sample decision tree can be viewed here.

4.) Foster Partnerships & Collaborations

Set up meetings with your local grocery stores, restaurants, or grade schools to determine if they are able to lend assistance with cold storage and value-added processing (e.g., turning an overabundance of strawberries into jam).

5.) Explore Innovative Transportation & Storage Strategies

If your organization has limited transportation and storage abilities, and is unable to partner with a nearby institution, considering building a mobile walk-in cooler that donators could access during off-hours. Plans can be found here

6.) Take Advantage of Available Funding

The Climate Smart Communities Grants Program is a 50/50 matching grant program for municipalities (i.e., counties, cities, towns, villages, and boroughs) to conduct climate change adaptation or mitigation implementation projects. This year, a key focus is placed on projects or programs to increase food donation and directly support food recovery efforts, or facilitate food scraps recycling at wastewater treatment facilities. More information here.

7.) Recruit Volunteers