Today's post is part 8 of chapter 5 of my book, A Day of Hope: Leading Volunteers to Make a Difference in Your Community. I realize that some of these posts might not be exactly related to "leadership," but I believe they are relevant. Feel free to pass them on to someone you know who works at a nonprofit organization or church.
There are many formats and methods you can use to gather donated food for your project. The one we’ve found most successful is our Charity Food Bag Drop. This is where we drop off a paper grocery bag to the doorsteps of homes in Turlock on a Saturday with a flyer saying we will be back the next day to pick up the bags if they want to donate food. The flyer lists specific foods needed. If the home owner wants to donate food, they just need to place the bag filled with food on their doorstep by 1:00 PM the next day, and we pick it up from them as a donation.
It takes a lot of time and effort to coordinate the Charity Food Bag Drop. This is an example of how I focus my time and effort in one area of my strengths. Working with volunteers in an organized way towards a common goal matches right up with my strengths as a leader. That’s why I dedicate so much time and effort to this project, and it’s probably one of the reasons that the event is so successful—not because I am involved, but because leading the event matches up very closely with my strengths.
In 2009, we distributed almost 10,000 paper grocery bags to homes in Turlock and used nearly 100 volunteers. The volunteers prepared the bags by stapling a flyer to them, got maps to neighborhoods ready, delivered the grocery bags, picked up the filled grocery bags, and then got the food back to our storage facility.
The first step in coordinating the Charity Food Bag Drop is to get the necessary paperwork done for liability. For us, we had to let our fiscal agent, CSU, Stanislaus Foundation, know that we were planning to do the event. There was a liability release everyone was required to sign to make sure we were covered in case an accident happened.
Once you’ve got that covered you need to set some dates to do this. We always do the Charity Food Bag Drop over two weekends in November, usually the first two weekends. Each weekend we usually spend Friday night stapling flyers to bags, all day Saturday delivering empty grocery bags to homes, and Sunday afternoon picking them up.
You’ll need to get paper grocery bags to use for the Charity Food Bag Drop. You can purchase them at some stores like Smart & Final, but only purchase them if you can’t get them donated. Sometimes local grocery stores will donate paper grocery bags to you if you simply ask. Ask to talk to the store manager or assistant manager, tell them what you’re trying to do, and ask if they’d be willing to donate some grocery bags.
When delivering the bags on Saturday, I have all volunteers meet me at our church where I give them a map with highlighted areas designating the areas they’re responsible to deliver the grocery bags. I use Google Maps to print out a detailed map for each part of the city and then highlight the areas I want. I exclude businesses and apartment complexes because most businesses aren’t open on weekends and apartment complexes make it difficult to retrieve the food because of the amount of walking you have to do.
I send volunteers out all day Saturday in teams of two to four people so they can have fun together. Once the volunteers have their map and their team, they grab a stack of bags with the flyers already stapled on them. The more bags we get delivered to homes the better! I have volunteers deliver bags until 6:00 PM at night, and the only reason we stop is that it gets dark. Make sure you receive the maps back from the people who help deliver the bags on Saturday because you’ll need those on Sunday when you send volunteers back out to pick up the food.
We include on the flyer that we will return to pick up the food by 5:00 PM on Sunday, so people just need to set the bagged food on their doorstep the next day. The goal is to send volunteers back out to the same areas where they dropped off the bags and have them pick up the food. When volunteers pick up food I have them go in groups of two or three so one volunteer can slowly drive down the streets while the other volunteers in the car look for a grocery bag on the doorstep of homes. The process of picking up donations is much faster than delivering the bags because only about one out of every four homes will donate food.
Be ready for some follow up work from the Charity Food Bag Drop because you always have people who call you later in the week wanting to donate food. Either they didn’t see the bag on their doorstep on Saturday, or they say they put a bag filled with food on their doorstep and no one came to pick it up. Usually they’ll ask if you can still come pick up the food or if they can drop it off.
It’s hard to give you a perspective just how much food we gather from the Charity Food Bag Drop, but I can tell you that it is our most productive event. We gather more food from the Charity Food Bag Drop than any other event, fundraising idea, or outreach effort than we’ve ever done.
Question: Do you have any experience with doing food drives in your community? Have you served as a leader in food drives? (Please share in the comment section.)