How to Organize a Food Drive

Michele Meleen
Volunteers packing canned goods at food drive

Learning how to organize a food drive is easy and could help keep your entire community healthy and happy. Whether you're a church, school, or corporation, starting your own food drive can be a fun and simple charity project.

Planning Your Food Drive

The way food drives work is simple: you set up a location where people can drop off unopened food, then you deliver that food to some place that distribute it to people in need. Most of the work involved in hosting a food drive happens before and after the actual collection days.

Choose a Partner Organization

Any company, office, church group, school group, or other organization can host a food drive. Unless you are a food pantry or other organization that distributes food directly to people in need, you'll want to choose a partner organization. Look for food pantries nearby and contact them to see who has the highest need for donations at the time.

Make a List of Donation Items

Once you have a partner organization, you can start making a list of donation items. This ensures the food pantry really gets what they need and isn't stuck with a bunch of items that will go to waste.

  • Consider the highest needs of the food pantry, the time of year you'll be hosting your drive, and the pantry's storage capabilities when creating a list.
  • Donation lists can be anywhere from 1 to 20 items or fewer so donors don't feel overwhelmed by their options.
  • Be specific about sizes, varieties, and packaging. For example, some locations may not want glass packaging or only the smallest cans of vegetables.
  • Avoid brand names so everyone feels like they can donate, no matter their budget.

Identify Your Target Donors

Knowing who you believe will donate to your food drive can help you select the collection sites and where you market your event. Are you a large office asking only employees and customers to donate or a church only asking parishioners to donate? Do you hope the whole community will participate?

Choose Your Food Drive Dates

Food drives typically take place over the course of one week or less. This keeps things manageable for organizers and volunteers, but still gives people time to bring their donations. A great way to choose your dates is to ask your partner organization what months or weeks tend to be high needs times. You can plan your drive for a week or two before one of these times.

Choose Your Food Drive Collection Locations

Where you actually collect food donations is determined by who your target donors are. You'll want to have large collection boxes for unmanned collection sites, which you can often get from local stores. If you have manned collection sites, you'll want some folding tables and boxes of all different sizes. Make sure you have permission to collect donations at every location you select.

Create and Distribute Marketing Materials

Now that you have all the details worked out, it's time to start creating marketing materials to get the word out about your food drive.

  • Make sure all marketing materials are branded the same so they are easily identified as the same project if they're seen in different locations.
  • Include dates, times, drop-off locations, the list of donation items, your group name, and your partner organization's name on all materials.
  • Hang fundraising flyers on public bulletin boards.
  • Create a Facebook event for the food drive.
  • Share virtual flyers on social media.
  • Send out an email to your network.
  • Work with the post office to get small flyers in every mailbox in town.

Gather Volunteers

You'll need volunteers to help plan the food drive, set up the collection sites, and possibly man the collection sites. Once the donation period is over, you'll also need volunteers to load up and deliver the donations. Use a free, online sign up tool like SignUpGenius.com or SignUp.com to organize volunteers. Have shirts made so all volunteers are easily identifiable and designate a lead volunteer to manage each site or specific job.

Collecting Food Donations

Make sure your collection sites are marked with all your information. You can even decorate them to make them more enticing. There are several ways you can collect the food donations, depending on the size of your group and your collection area.

  • If you are collecting off-site, look for high-traffic public places such as banks, gas stations, and the post office.
  • Off-site collection locations that sell the foods you're collecting are ideal because people can buy and drop-off their donations in one location.
Volunteers packing food

Small Food Drive Collection Sites

If you're a small group, you'll be most successful with a smaller food drive. Small food drives operate off of one collection site and may host a one-day only donation event.

  • Have large collection boxes placed right next to all main entrances of your office or church so people are reminded when they enter and leave the building.
  • Look for one store that sells the food items you're collecting and set up a manned table or unmanned boxes for donations there. Store employees can help promote and safeguard donations.
  • Choose one day where volunteers with trucks can drive around collecting donations people leave on their porches.
  • If you're collecting perishable items, have a donation stand set up at your local farmer's market.
  • Host an event like a dance or holiday party and ask guests to pay with donated food items instead of paying for a ticket.

Large Food Drive Collection Sites

When you have a large group of volunteers or plan to collect donations from a large area, like the whole city, you'll want to have more than one collection site.

  • Partner with a chain store and have collection boxes at all their sites, like a bank chain, grocery store chain, or dollar store chain.
  • Post volunteer "shoppers" at grocery stores to man a table full of your donation items. They can ask people to add these items to their carts so donors don't have to go looking for the items.
  • Parner with a truck company and have small or large trucks stationed at different locations to collect donations.
  • Have volunteers ready to take donations from the school drop-off and pickup lines and load them straight onto a small school bus or van.

Food Donation Distribution and Thanks

Once you've collected all the food donations, you'll need to get them to your partner location. Make sure you publicize your food drive's success by sharing how much food was collected. People love to see pictures of all the donated items together because it shows how big of an impact was made. Thanking all those who helped with your event reminds everyone that this was a team effort.

Ways to Get Food to Its Final Destination

Taking food donations from your collection sites to the place where it will all be distributed can be just as fun as collecting the items. Look for ways to make a memorable drop-off to get the whole community excited about your food drive.

  • Deliver the food in a memorable vehicle like a fire truck, school bus, hay wagon pulled by a tractor, or even a dump truck.
  • Host a donation parade where volunteers carry the food from the collection site to the food pantry. People can carry decorated boxes and pull wagons full of food.
  • Enlist the help of a local professional sports team or military unit in uniforms or team gear to attract attention.

Ways to Thank Donors and Volunteers

Use the same means as you did for marketing your event to follow-up with donors and thank them for participating. Acknowledge your volunteers in these flyers, posts, or emails so they get some public recognition for their help. Send thank you cards to local collection sites.

Creative Food Drive Motivation Ideas

While you can host a successful, standard food drive, one way to get more people involved is to utilize creative motivation ideas. From contests to themes, anything that gets donors excited about your project will increase the donations you receive.

Food Drive Theme Ideas

Food drive themes often include plays on words in the form of funny slogans or incorporate the season.

  • Can Hunger - Collect only canned goods.
  • An Apple a Day Keeps Hunger at Bay - Collect plastic jars of applesauce, plastic cups of applesauce, and even bags of apple chips.
  • Uncanny Meat Drive - Collect high-need canned meats like chicken, SPAM, ham, tuna, and salmon.
  • Get Crackin' on Hunger - Collect all types of crackers that are full of whole grains.
  • Pantry Raid - Collect pantry staples like herbs and spices, cooking oils, and baking items such as flour and sugar.
  • Give a Meal This Instant - Collect healthier instant foods such as instant mashed potatoes, instant oats, and instant rice.
  • Go Nuts! - Collect high-protein, unsalted nuts and nut butters or nut butter alternatives.
  • Warm Their Hearts - Collect canned or packaged items typically served hot like soups, stews, and chili.
  • Bring Us Your Breakfast - Collect non-perishable breakfast items such as whole grain cereals, breakfast bars, pancake mix, syrup, and even shelf-stable or powdered milk.
  • Allergic to Hunger - Collect staple food alternatives for people who have food allergies like gluten-free, nut-free, and dairy free canned and packaged foods.

Food Drive Competition Ideas

Schools and offices are the ideal groups to turn their food drive into a contest because there is already a natural division of smaller groups within the larger group. Adding a competitive element helps get people excited and motivated to donate more. Try to get a prize donated so you don't add to the costs of your event.

  • Game of Cans - Divide the group into three "houses" like the popular show Game of Thrones, but yours are based on types of canned foods. Your houses could be House Fruit, House Vegetable, and House Meat. Each team will try to get the most of their item donated.
  • Break the Bank - Create a goal thermometer for each group with a dollar amount goal at the top. The objective is for each team to try to "break their bank" by collecting donated items whose retail value is higher than their dollar amount goal.
  • Variety Versus - The goal for each team is to get the largest variety of different items. You could also do this as a whole group contest where you try to get a wider variety of items donated than you did the previous year.
  • Supermarket Sweep - Give each team an equal time limit and number of volunteers to try getting shoppers in a grocery store to buy and donate items. The team who gets the most individuals to donate will win.

Food Drives Made Easy

When you properly plan a food drive, it's an easy charity project that can make a big impact in a small amount of time. Food drives are important because local food pantries depend on donations to keep kids, families, adults, and seniors healthy in their communities.

How to Organize a Food Drive