A common need among food banks is for volunteers to process incoming donations and pack distribution boxes. This involves light lifting and a little bit of walking, but generally is not physically intensive work. Typical activities might be checking incoming produce, sorting donations, separating bulk foods into individual or family servings, packing an assortment of foods and supplies in individual- and family-sized boxes and distributing those boxes at contactless pick-up sites.
“Our volunteers are really important to us because with the massive amount of food that we get in, we need hundreds of people every week to help us sort that food, pack it up and separate it out by the places it’s going to go,” commented Jeff.
Another need is volunteers to help with administrative tasks. At Second Harvest Minnesota, phone bank volunteers call donors to thank them for their support. Another group assists callers with questions about SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (what used to be called food stamps) — to assist them with the application and make sure they’re getting the help they need.
Scheduling can be very flexible, too, with opportunities to volunteer during the day, in the evening, over the weekend — really, any time you’re available, there’s likely a volunteering opportunity open at a food bank or other hunger relief organization.
Some food banks are even set up to allow families to volunteer as a group or have designated “family days” where they allow younger kids to participate — which can be a great way to combat cabin fever, get the whole family out of the house and do good in your local community all at the same time.
If you have specialized skills such as accounting, graphic or web design, IT management or logistics, check in with your local food bank or food pantry has skill-based volunteering opportunities. Plus, with COVID-19 affecting individuals’ and families’ ability to physically visit food pantries to pick up supplies, there’s an increased need for volunteers with driver’s licenses and operating vehicles who can perform food deliveries around the community.
Donate your time to a food bank: Educate & advocate
Did you know you can provide essential support to your local food banks and food pantries without ever leaving your house?
It starts with educating yourself on the issue, then using your knowledge to raise awareness within your community, engage local companies and even coordinate outreach to lawmakers and other leaders to encourage them to support policies and funding for food banks and other meal programs.
"Awareness is a great big need, especially in America,” commented Scott. “Because the idea of hunger existing in a wealthy country like the United States just doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, and on the surface it may not seem to exist, but it is a reality."
In fact, according to Feeding America, more than 35 million people in the U.S. struggled with hunger in 2019 — and that number may increase to 50 million in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19.
“Regardless of where you live, hunger is a problem,” Scott stated. “It’s prevalent in all parts of the country, urban and rural. One of the big challenges of hunger is that it’s a well-hidden problem. It’s not obvious a lot of times. People with food insecurity often go out of their way to conceal the problem."
In fact, in parts of the state served by Feeding Missouri, there are areas with food insecurity rates of 30% or more — that means roughly a third of the population is dealing with food insecurity. Even some farmers struggle with food insecurity.