Even those nonprofits whose names we know by heart are more than meets the eye. I discovered this when I recently toured the food bank closest to me: Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee.
My tour guide for the morning was Karen Benson, who happily showed me around and gave me a better perspective on what a day in the life of Second Harvest is like. Whether she was pointing out features of their kitchen, walking me down the rows and rows of food, or even firing off meaningful and eye-opening statistics about hunger, her expertise allowed me to realize how big of an epidemic hunger is in our communities.
Begun in 1978, Second Harvest distributed more than 30 million pounds of food last year. Their food was sent across 46 counties in Tennessee and ended up in food pantries at churches and nonprofits (over 450 of them), where it was used to feed some of our poorest citizens. Their food was also used to run programs that provide nutritional meals to children, who may not always be getting what they need. Indeed, food insecurity affects children the most, as over 50,000 students in their service area are on free or reduced lunch, and children comprise nearly half of all food recipients.
Of course, all this food has to be collected somehow. Years ago, Second Harvest could rely on corporate donations from food manufacturers and grocery stores. But now that inventory systems have become so specialized, they receive less food this way, since overstocks are less common. As a result, the food bank relies on donations – both in the form of food and money – from folks like you and me.
I'm sure you've donated a canned good before, and Second Harvest appreciates that act tremendously. But during my visit, I learned that they can actually stretch a dollar farther than you or I can. We spend a buck on a jar of peanut butter; they can use this same dollar to buy many more times that amount, since they can purchase in bulk. And, over 93 cents of your donated dollar goes to feed people.
Other than supplying local food pantries and programs, Second Harvest also has a host of programs designed to get food to those who need it the most. Second Harvest is the first food bank in the county that is able to package food under its own label. As such, they can receive a variety of food donations, cook them, package them and freeze them in order to provide complete meals. So, instead of giving someone a box of pasta and a jar of sauce, they can actually offer someone a dish of spaghetti.
And if you are interested in donating food directly, the most needed items are canned meats, dried beans, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, and rice. These items are usually very affordable and contain many nutrients that are badly needed by the hungriest in our communities.
It's amazing, however, what Second Harvest is able to accomplish with their efforts. And when a concerned citizen is willing to help, they can do even more. As you might imagine, fuel and energy costs have an effect on Second Harvest's bottom line. After all, cooling many square feet to house food and fueling trucks to distribute food comes at a price. But in the end, your dollars do matter.
As much as I learned about Second Harvest, I was equally enlightened as to the reality that I didn't know as much about my local nonprofits as I thought. And, all it took was an hour of my day to make the appointment and listen.
Nonprofits are eager to tell their stories, so think about listening to one near you. Whether you pick one you've never heard of, or visit a community staple, your time spent learning will be personally rewarding, and can lead to a revolution – especially if you're willing to share what you learn with others.
Spend 3 minutes right now watching this segment from CBS Evening News about the work of Second Harvest. You might find that hunger and poverty look a bit different than you imagined: