It’s 2005, small-town Pennsylvania. The only grocery store in town is shutting down. Helen Lazara, the founder and then-owner of local business IP Services, has some concerns about food insecurity.
“When that store closed, I did worry somewhat about food insecurity for people who couldn’t always drive easily to go to an out-of-town store,” Helen recalls. “Food insecurity seems to touch all ages, kids, college students, seniors, young adults, and families – many people have either used a food bank at some point or know people who have. Directing some IP Services support to help take the edge off of local hunger seemed like a good way of giving back to our local communities in a direct and meaningful way.”
Finding the Best Way to Fight Food Insecurity
IP Services began supporting several local food pantries, though it quickly became clear that the best way to fight food insecurity and have donations directed where they were most needed was to support the regional food bank, Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania.
Donating to Food Banks
Second Harvest Food Bank is the largest nonprofit food distribution organization in northwest Pennsylvania. The organization serves almost 90,000 individuals facing food insecurity in 11 Pennsylvania counties. The average poverty rate in this region is 14.8%. Of the individuals served by Second Harvest, one in twelve is a veteran, and 18% are children under the age of 18. Second Harvest works with 390 agencies and over 1,000 volunteers to distribute food to the region in their fight against food insecurity.
Food banks, unlike food pantries, do not distribute food directly to individuals. Instead, they coordinate the large-scale safe storage and delivery of food to distribution centers such as food pantries. Food banks receive food from a variety of sources. Over 40% of the food donated to Second Harvest comes from Feeding America, a national organization that secures donations from businesses and government agencies and rescues food from going to waste and transports it to food banks across the country.
On left, IP Services supported Feeding America’s Hunger Action Month, September 2021
Other donations come from farmers, food manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. In 2022, Second Harvest’s food rescue program prevented 5 million pounds of food from going to waste in a landfill. Second Harvest and other food banks also benefit from the more than 10,000 products the food industry test markets every year, as things that cannot be sold are donated. Even established products will frequently be donated or sold at cost, since the first run of any manufactured product is frequently imperfect.
Food is also frequently donated as part of a local or national food drive. The Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, for example, is the largest one-day food drive in the United States.
Hosting Food Drives
IP Services began to hold an annual food drive in 2006. Frequently over the years, we’ve broken into teams and held a competition to see who could donate more. Things have gotten heated over the years – and teams have gotten creative about how to beat the competition! We’ve had bake sales, pocket change shakedowns, pasta lunches, buy-in breakfast burritos, and pay-to-eat potlucks. We’ve raffled off coffee mugs filled with tea and biscotti, homemade knitted hats and scarves, local swag, and even a coveted spot in the parking lot!
The Covid-19 pandemic meant moving to a work-from-home model, so we had to get creative with our food drive process. We used a mobile payment app to collect team donations, and scheduled our food donation drop-offs so they were completely contact free.
In 2022, we moved to a hybrid model, with some staff working part- or full-time from the office. We were able to get creative in a way we hadn’t for several years, including bringing back the bake sales and raffles. We even got the chance to partner with local company Velocity Network for a friendly competition to see who could donate more – an event which culminated in IP Services president Scott Yeager writing and recording a food drive themed rap.
Organizing Volunteer Events
Volunteer work is another important component in our fight against food insecurity. Over the years, IP Services staff has volunteered at various food pantries and food banks, including volunteer work done by Seattle-based employees at Northwest Harvest, a food justice organization in Washington state. In July 2023, the IP Services management team also had the chance to volunteer at the Second Harvest Food Bank warehouse, which they thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, more than one person who attended said they planned to return as an individual volunteer in the near future!
As we gear up for Hunger Action Month in September, I’d like to encourage you to consider what impact your organization can have on food insecurity in your region. In our long experience, it’s a great way to give back while providing many great community-building opportunities for your team!
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