10 Best Steps for Students to Organize a Food Drive

Do you have a student that wants to organize a food drive? If your student is in high school and they have a way to transport the items to the food bank, they could manage this process all their own. However, if your student is in elementary or middle school you will likely need to help them a fair amount. Even if your high school student doesn’t drive, they could still coordinate a virtual food drive as an alternative option.

Best Steps for Students to Organize a Food Drive

1. Find a Local Food Bank

Organize a Food Drive - Bank

The first step to organizing a food drive is to find a local food pantry/bank. Feeding America, which is a network of food banks across the United States, is the best place to find a food bank. All you have to do is enter your zip code and you will get results that serve near you. If you don’t get any results, try selecting your state so you can figure out which food pantry is closest. As of the fall of 2022, there are approximately 200 Feeding America member food banks.

2. Decide on Virtual vs. Physical Food Drive vs. Fundraising

The next step to organize a food drive is to decide if want to create a virtual, physical or fundraising drive. There are pros and cons to each. An online virtual drive is very easy to set up, however, it might be difficult to get people to donate. While it is easy to donate online, it just doesn’t feel as impactful as dropping off physical goods. Fundraising is another option to consider. Check out the comparisons below to determine which food drive works best for you. Keep in mind, some food banks might strongly prefer one over the other.

It is also important to research your local food bank to determine if they have specific rules or requirements regarding virtual or physical drives. As of fall 2022, it appears there is a strong preference for virtual drives.

SetupEasy to setupNeeds more planningDonated money allows food bank to purchase what they need exactly when they need it
TransportationNo car neededCar is neededNo car needed
Food Bank ResourcesFood bank saves on resources to sort & process the donated itemsMore food bank volunteers needed to process itemsFood bank saves on resources to sort & process the donated items
TimeframeCan happen anywhere and anytimeTimeframe might be impacted by your region’s weatherCan happen anywhere and anytime
ResultsWith some food banks you might be able to view how many items people purchased onlineEasy to see the impact of your drive, can weigh or count donationsDifficult to know exactly how the raised funds are being used.

3. Create a List of Needed Items

Organize a Food Drive - List

Check out the food bank’s website to find out what items are most needed. Also, determine what items they cannot accept. Some food banks might not accept things such as glass containers, refrigerated products, and of course expired items.

Now you know what is needed, you can create your list. You can have a theme where you just collect certain types of items or you could open it up to everything listed on the website. You get to choose! Finally, if you are going to email or post a flyer, I highly suggest converting that flyer to a PDF or a graphic file. It will look more professional and people will take you more seriously.

4. Create a Goal

An important step in organizing a food drive is to create a goal. Does your pantry prefer a goal to be based on pounds collected or the number of items donated? Our local food bank prefers pounds. Are you focusing on certain items such as peanut butter or canned goods?

You might check to see if your pantry has a focus on particular items during the timeframe you are considering. For example, the North Texas Food Bank has a peanut butter drive every September. In 2021, this drive collected 347,979 pounds of peanut butter! A focused physical food drive might be easier to manage than one that accepts a variety of items.

5. Select a Timeframe

Organize a Food Drive - Timeframe

Each drive needs a start and end date. For a physical drive, this is especially important so you don’t receive donations after you have made your delivery to the food bank. If you are wanting to collect for a specific holiday, make sure your drive is a few months in advance. A good rule of thumb would be to drop off items approximately 6 weeks in advance of the holiday.

If you are doing a physical drive, figure out how long you will be willing to accept food on your doorstep. You will likely need to leave some sort of bin by your front door for people to drop off items. Additionally, be mindful of the weather as well. You probably don’t want to be collecting food in extreme heat or cold.

For a virtual drive or online fundraiser, it might be easier to have the timeframe be a little longer since you are not physically managing items.

6. Manage Physical Donations

If you are hosting a physical drive, you will need to manage the items that are dropped off at your home. Some things to think about:

  • Where will your collection bin be located? Find a place out of the sun.
  • Do you have a large plastic bin with a lid?
  • Get boxes for delivery. Some food banks will provide these for you. Make sure you know whether the food bank has a box size preference.
  • Do you need to weigh the food for the food bank? If so, get a scale handy to weigh each day’s donations.

7. Promote the Food Drive

Create a theme or slogan for your drive to generate excitement. I know it may sound silly, but it helps! SignUp Genius has a great list of slogan ideas here.

SignUp Genius would also be a great place to create the drive so you can easily track what people are signing up to donate. As I mentioned earlier, if you are also going to email or post a flyer, please convert the flyer to a PDF or JPEG (or other photo file format). The option to export as a PDF is included in most word-processing applications.

Another great option for creating promotional graphics would be to use Canva. Canva is free, and it is easy to use. The free version has plenty of of templates and graphics included. You will find access to all types of social media templates as well.

Posting your newly created graphics to social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram and Nextdoor are great places to promote your drive. Be sure to tag your posts with the food bank handle and hashtags such as #fighthunger, #cannedfooddrive, or #feedingamerica. If you have created a SignUp Genius, include a link to your drive on the sign-up. As you start to collect items, take photos and post to social media to continue help with promotion.

8. Deliver the Food

It’s a good idea to either weigh or count the donated items. Check to see if your food pantry has a preference. Make sure your items are in boxes that match the pantry’s recommended box size. Basically, large boxes might be hard to lift and move for the pantry volunteers. Hopefully, you can use some boxes you have around the house. If not, you can buy relatively inexpensive boxes at your local hardware store.

9. Write Thank You’s and Post Results to Social Media

Make sure you send thank you notes to everyone that donated. Ideally, you write a quick handwritten note to each person who donates. A handwritten note is better for conveying a genuine grateful feeling. Certainly, it will increase the chances of your donor supporting your next drive. Don’t forget to post your results on social media as well.

10. Evaluate Process for Next Year

As with everything, there are lessons to be learned from any endeavor. Don’t skip this step. Think about what went smoothly and what steps could be modified to run more efficiently. Write down what you learned.

Organizing a food drive every year during high school is a great way to help the community. Additionally, it will give you something to put on your college applications for community service and it might even give you an idea of something to write about in your college essays.

This post is all about how students organize a food drive.

If your student wants to organize a a food drive, please consider these steps to help make it a success. Helping fight the food insecurity problem is a great way for your student to contribute back to the community!

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