If there are two themes that are central to the holidays they are food and giving. There is no other organization that embodies the two quite like the Harry Chapin Food Bank (HCFB.)
The holidays are consistently one of the biggest times of the year for food-related charities like HCFB; second only to summer. During the summer a large portion of the local, seasonal workforce has reduced hours and less money coming in.
“About one in eight people in our community will experience hunger this year, one in five of those are children,” says Harry Chapin President and CEO, Richard LeBer. Even with a strong economy, you’ll find people in need. “Someone could be out of work due to an illness, or in the middle of a job transition, there are all kinds of reasons why they would be in need,” says LeBer.
If a person has an hourly job and their employer closes to celebrate the holiday, they might not get paid. If they take time off to spend with family, they may also miss a paycheck. “Kids are also out of school and need to be fed,” says LeBer. “I hate the idea of anyone going hungry during the holidays. Food is such a central part of most peoples’ celebrations.”
The Thanksgiving holiday kicks things off, crossing all religious and political boundaries. It brings families together around the dinner table, expressing gratitude for what they have, regardless of how much or how little. That appreciation and thankfulness spill over to friends, neighbors, and others in the community.
Harry Chapin provides food to more than 150 agencies in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades and Hendry Counties, which have direct distribution links to those in need, such as food pantries, mobile pantries, senior citizens and in-school pantries. Find a list of these agencies on HCFB’s website. If one is close to you, you can always donate items directly to them says LeBer, just call ahead for hours of operation first.
While physical donations of shelf-stable foods and frozen turkeys are still welcomed, the organization has slowly been shifting how they provide for families during the holidays and monetary donations offer the most bang for the buck.
“Money goes a long way and is more flexible for us to use depending on what is needed at the moment,” says LeBer. For every dollar donated, HCFB can turn that into $8 worth of food. Some of the money is used to send trucks to grocery stores or farms that are donating fresh produce.
Rather than just bags of food, HCFB also gives out $25 gift cards at Thanksgiving time that are only good for food purchases. LeBer explains, “Consumers more often than not, find better deals on chickens and turkeys than we do and can take them directly home to the freezer or refrigerator.” In addition, gift cards allow families to purchase the side dishes that are unique to their celebration.
96% of all monetary donations to Harry Chapin go directly to the food bank’s programs; the rest, only 4% goes to administrative costs.
If you or your organization is planning a food drive during the holidays LeBer says, “It’s a lovely idea to have parties with a purpose. It gets friends engaged and shifts focus to the issue that not everyone has as much to give thanks for.” He suggests having a goal in your food drive to provide a meal for a family or two. Or for a greater impact, setting an empty place at the dinner table to remind guests there are hungry people in the community.
No matter how small your drive maybe it can serve to inspire people to get involved and do something. One person at a time can make a difference.
“Harry Chapin would not exist if people weren’t so generous,” says LeBer. “I’m stunned every year by the generosity and community spirit that makes this whole thing possible.”