Right on the Money: Free Food for Youth-Serving Nonprofits

Photograph of a woman delivering multiple pizzas.

Recently, we revisited the topic of in-kind donations, a kind of charitable giving in which people (or businesses) donate goods and services instead of giving cash. Several organizations told us how they work with local businesses to get donated food. So we thought we’d write a follow-up article focusing on how to get local grocers and restaurants to help you fill empty stomachs for free. Because, as Jai Somers, street outreach coordinator for the Florida Key’s Children’s Shelter in Florida, says, “Kids need to eat.”

Here are tips from Somers and Sarah Smith, of Fairbanks Youth Advocates in Alaska, who says every piece of food in her shelter is donated:

1. Know the business owners and managers in your community. One member of the staff at Fairbanks Youth Advocates has connections with pizza chain Papa John’s, as well as to Sam’s Clubs, Wal-Mart and other big-box stores. When the stores have inventory they need to clear out, about once a month, she picks it up.

Somers was able to work out a deal with the owner of a local grocery that was a block away from drop-in center at the time. The owner made arrangements with the deli manager to call when the prepared food was nearing its expiration date.

2. Make sure businesses (and people) know your organization. If they know the good work you do, they’re likely to help out. Smith says sometimes a pizza just appears at the door of the shelter, sent either by the pizza shops or members of the community. Also, says Smith, “We can go to a sandwich shop that we know, and just ask.” A local bakery donates day-old bread. “It comes down to just asking. When it comes to serving youth, people want to help.”

3. Make it easy for donors. “We want to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes,” says Somers. In the case of the grocery store, she made sure that the deli manager knew he didn’t have to deliver the food or store it. He only had to give her a receipt for the value of the donated food, she’d fill out the appropriate tax form, and send young people from the center to pick it up. The deli provided aluminum pans to carry the food over.

Smith says staff at her program keep a list of what they need to facilitate donations. “You can ask Sam’s Club for anything, anytime, and they’ll give it to you, at least here,” she says. Be sure to have information handy that donors will need, like your organization’s Tax ID number.

4. Be flexible, because things can change. Somers’ arrangement with the grocery store has been on-again-off-again. “It’s a matter of the deli manager,” she says. “If the owner of the chain was on hand every day, he would make sure it would happen. But here, he’s not always available. The deli manager is the one who does all the work.”

It’s worth checking back now and then with an old source of donations. Some managers might be more willing than others, and staff will have turnover. Of the deli managers so far, Somers has dealt with two who were willing to shoulder the extra work of donations, and two who were not. 

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