Should you donate cash or canned goods to local food banks?

ABC10 reached out to several local food banks to learn more about their take on what's better to donate during the holiday's; food or money. (Nov. 20, 2017)

It's the giving season and if you're thinking about donating to your local food bank there's some things to keep in mind.

A video on the National Post was published two holiday seasons ago but is still sparking discussions as the holidays roll around again. National Post writer, Tristin Hopper, calls for people to stop donating canned goods to food banks and instead, pull out their wallets and make a cash donation.

Canned food drives are a staple during the holidays. Schools, workplaces, businesses, law enforcement agencies and other groups often organize events for collecting canned goods. And whether it be because of tradition or the impulse to feel good about feeding those in need, food donors often gravitate towards canned goods. 

Hopper argues, canned foods take too much time to sort, generally end up costing consumers more than a food bank would pay for items in bulk and don't fit well in family meal plans.

The National Post video explains, food banks can get more for their clients with a cash donation because the charities are able to stretch $1 to $5 by buying in bulk. Cash also allows food banks to have the flexibility to buy the items most requested by families in need and fresher, more nutritious foods-- such as produce.

ABC10 reached out to several local food banks to learn more about their take on what's better to donate. 

"We definitely mirror that national trend," said Kelly Siefkin, VP of Communications and Marketing for the Sacramento Food Bank and Services.

Siefkin explained, food banks are changing and the charities are buying more fresh produce than ever before. This is why a cash donation can be more beneficial to the families receiving the donations.

But she also said, while cash can purchase more in bulk, canned foods are always a desirable item because it holds a longer shelf life. The Sacramento Food Bank works to educate event and drive hosts to help guide donors on what types of food donations are the most needed.

"We try to get out ahead of it," Siefkin said about local canned food collections.

Like the Sacramento Food Bank, the Yolo Food Bank also appreciates both canned goods and money donations, but agrees cash goes a longer way.

"Everything helps but cash gives us the most flexibility," said Linda Zablotny-Hurst, Director of Development at the Yolo Food Bank.

Zablotny-Hurst told ABC10, the group is trying to push healthier foods when collecting donations. The Yolo Food Bank is working to move away from "marginally nutritious" foods and asking for products lower in sodium and artificial sugars. In six months, the organization will only be accepting food donations that fall into 12 to 15 specific categories, such as whole grain pastas and cereals and canned fruit in natural juices rather than in syrup.

"We have a suggesting list of foods that are most needed and more nutrient-dense," Zablotny-Hurst said.

In general, local food banks are in most need of canned protein such as tuna and chicken, whole wheat pasta, dry grains and beans, soups, juices, canned vegetable and fruit and low sugar cereals.

Zablotny-Hurst reinstated Hopper's National Post message, saying food banks can stretch cash out using additional discounts which are not generally available to the average consumer.

One of the reasons people may choose to donate products over cash is because of the distrust in charities for fear of a scandal. Zablotny-Hurst assured ABC10 that the organization is transparent with how they use the money that comes in.

"Come and visit us-- get to know us." she said. "We're happy to show you where your money goes to feed your hungry neighbors."

Staff at the Second Harvest Food Bank also know cash is productive, but stressed canned donations are important as well.

"I wouldn't say one is better than the other." said Jessica Vaughan, Director of Development for Second Harvest Food Bank.

Second Harvest recently held their biggest donation drive of the year and 90 percent of donors gave canned goods, according to Vaughan.

She explained, to many families, collecting and donating canned foods is a tradition.

"We would never want to take away from the joy that brings them," Vaughan said.

However, it's important to know, cash isn't just used to buy food but is also utilized to run the program. Money is needed to pay rent, utilities and other bills to keep the food bank running, Vaughan said.

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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