How to Organize a Brown Bag Food Drive for Your Church

Hunger continues to be a problem in the United States. In 2005, the USDA reports that 35.1 million Americans live in households that are food insecure. This means that 35 million Americans have insufficient access to food and can not meet their basic nutritional needs. Many of these people are experiencing chronic hunger, all of them worry where their next meal will be coming from.

Many communities are stepping forward to meet this growing need by organizing food drives. A well coordinated food drive provides local food banks and pantries with badly needed groceries.

Eight steps to coordinating a brown bag food drive

A brown bag food drive is a terrific way to collect specific food items for an organization. All it takes is several hundred paper sacks, and a little leg work.

Step One First determine where and when your food drive will happen. Church buildings are a natural location for a brown bag food drive, especially if the congregation already supports a food pantry. Once you have the support of the priest or pastor, you can begin organizing the drive.

Step Two Contact the director of your local food bank or pantry and ask for a list of 10 items that are always in shortest supply. This list probably will include such things as chili, soup, canned fruit and vegetables, canned meat, boxed macaroni and cheese dinners, canned stew, cereal, or rice.

Step Three Draw up this list in an easy to read format, and run copies on brightly colored half sheets of paper. Be sure to include instructions for where to return the filled bags. Staple this list to the front of a large, brown paper sack. (Most local grocers will donate large brown bags for food drive use; if not, they may have to be purchased from a local grocery wholesaler.)

Step Four is to assemble a team of volunteers. You will need people to help pass out the paper bags, and to transport the food once it has been received. If the food needs to be delivered elsewhere, mini vans or pickup trucks will be needed.

Step Five Before distributing the bags, meet again with your priest or pastor. Do provide him with a bulletin insert explaining the food drive, and a brief announcement to be read following church. The announcement should talk about hunger issues locally and describe which agency will be receiving the food during the drive. You might also wish to discuss a special “kick off” activity such as baskets of food to be brought up to the front of the church during the offering.

Step Six The day of the food drive, have your volunteers pass out the paper bags immediately after the service concludes. You may pass them down the pews or hand them directly to your congregation as they leave the building. Your volunteers should be able to answer questions people might have about the food drive.

Step Seven Food will start arriving almost immediately and will continue to come in for the next 3 weeks. Depending on the hours your church building is open, your volunteers should check in at least twice a week to collect the food. The food can be stored in a small room or delivered directly to your local distribution center.

Step Eight If possible, try to keep track of the food collected during the drive, whether you count individual bags or the number of pickup loads collected. These numbers should be shared with your congregation who will want to know the results of the food drive. With the permission of your pastor, you might also arrange to have the Food Bank coordinator visit the church. This gives him the opportunity to personally thank the congregation for their contributions of food for the poor.

For information about hunger in the United States visit the website of the Food Research and Action center at www.frac.org

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