As we entered our local grocery store last weekend, volunteers handed us a flier for a food drive to help children and families in Orange County. In September, 780 families came to the South County Outreach food pantry for assistance, the highest month ever.

According to a homeless assessment, there were approximately 34,000 homeless people in Orange County in 2005. The numbers have certainly increased in the last couple of years… this number likely doesn’t account for the hidden homeless here (the 1,000 families estimated to be living in motels in Orange County) as reported by The New York Times earlier this year.

The flier listed items needed (e.g. peanut butter, jelly, canned fruit and vegetables, cereal, tomato sauce and pasta, and canned meats and beans) and a bag with the hope that we would purchase food and add it to the shopping carts outside the store.

Once inside the store, we bought several items and donated them on our way out. I liked this approach by the volunteers for a couple of reasons:

1. They weren’t asking for money. In my opinion, with charity trust is always under scrutiny. I don’t like giving money when I don’t really know the organization.

2. They made the donation process easy by asking us to add a few items to our shopping list. Obviously, cash is the most useful donation to any food bank (so they can buy in bulk), but this was a way to take spontaneous action.

Some of you might be thinking, jeez, is this the first time I’ve ever been approached by food bank volunteers. Well, yes. We don’t attend church and I work from home, so my opportunity to be “in” the community is pretty limited. I haven’t been asked to give to a food bank in a very long time.

What are your views on food banks? Is there a better way to convert the donated food and volunteer hours into a more direct link between hungry people and food? What if people donated gift cards instead that could be redeemed at the local supermarket? Or would I have been compelled to give more if I could have just grabbed a preselected bag of canned foods at checkout? Feel free to comment below.

Photo credit: stock.xchng.