Have Fun While Giving Back With These Creative Ideas for Canned-Food Drives

It’s probably not surprising that getting organized was a popular New Year’s resolution for 2017. But simply “being a better person” tops many lists too.

If those two goals are among your resolutions, here’s an idea – you can organize your kitchen cabinets and help others by spearheading a community canned food drive.

And since it’s a new year, why not try a new type of canned food drive? Here are some ideas for something more fun and festive than the usual “put your canned-food donations here” box at the office.

Organize a neighborhood pantry cleanout

You’re not the only one who wants to get organized. Your neighbor likely does, too.

Consider dropping off paper grocery bags, perhaps decorated in some way to grab attention, on your neighbors’ front porches. In an attached letter, explain that you want to help them clear their cupboards of extra canned goods, which you’ll then drive over to a local food bank. Tell them that you’ll collect the bags on a certain day and that they can leave the goods on the porch if they’re not home.

In the letter, remind your neighbors that dented cans are perfectly safe and acceptable donations. “Some folks say they don’t want to give [people] dented cans because it will hurt their self-esteem,” says Cynthia D. Kirkhart, executive director of the Facing Hunger Foodbank in Huntington, West Virginia. “That’s kind, but the goal is to feed people, and dented cans are perfectly safe.”

In fact, Kirkhart says cans are preferable to plastic cups and pouches of food. “Those break and leak, especially in backpacks,” she says. “Kids love cans with pop tops. They can open them without a can opener at school.”

Hold a “Soup-er” hero drive

For the past few years, Kirkhart and volunteers from the Junior League of Huntington have spent a few hours every Saturday in January collecting canned goods, especially soup, outside of local businesses such as Wal-Mart and Kroger. To get the attention of passersby, some volunteers dress up as superheroes like Batman. “When parents saw we were doing this on social media, they brought their kids dressed up in costumes to pose with the superheroes,” Kirkhart says.

Each do-gooder also received a flier listing other locations where they could drop off canned goods throughout the month. Last year, the group collected over 61,000 cans of soup during the drive. This year, their goal is to collect 70,000 cans.

“If you want to get attention these days, you have to be creative,” Kirkhart says.

Start a food fight

Like many towns across the United States, Huntington is home to two high schools that have a friendly rivalry. Kirkhart decided to take advantage of the competition during the basketball season by organizing a competition over a few weeks to see which team could collect the most canned goods from students at their schools.

The winning team was rewarded with the cans from both schools and then gave half to the Facing Hunger food bank. The other half went to their school’s own food pantry.

“Many of the students didn’t even realize their schools had food pantries for fellow students in need,” Kirkhart says.

To get students really motivated to bring in canned food, the winners were allowed to punish the losers with “pies of shame.”

“We didn’t let the winners throw pies at the losers,” Kirkhart says. “We just had the losing team bend down and stick their faces into the pies.”

To make the competition fair between schools of different sizes, Kirkhart suggests dividing the total number of cans collected from each school by the number of students in that school. The result will be the average number of cans collected per student.

An added bonus to organizing an event like this? It helps participating students grow into caring adults. “This kind of idea really gets students involved,” Kirkhart says. “First they want to donate, then later on they often want to volunteer.”

You can find other creative canned food drive ideas on the Facing Hunger website.