Start Your Own City Harvest
The first steps toward starting a food rescue program in your community include the following:
Assess your community's need for the program
- Are there hungry people? Who are they? Where do they live?
- Are there established programs that feed the hungry, e.g. soup kitchens, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers? Where are they? Do they have enough food? Can they use extra food, especially if it's already prepared or not in top condition (e.g. stale bread)?
- Is there much food wasted? By whom or what kind of food establishments?
- Does your community have any laws that will protect food donors from liability if donated food makes someone ill?
- Is anyone else doing this, or something like it? Do they want help? If not, are they doing it well? Can you compete for support and funds? Should you even try, or will it polarize your community?
Identify support for starting such a program
- Are there people willing to volunteer to pick up food and deliver it to where it's needed?
- Is anyone willing to take on the tasks of identifying potential food donors, of handling telephone calls, of arranging the schedules for pick-up and delivery of food donations? Does anyone in your community have experience with transportation that they'd be willing to share?
- Are any restaurants or food wholesalers or supermarkets or other food establishments willing to sign on at the beginning? Are they willing to let you use their name to try to bring in other food donors?
- Do you have a local health department or authority willing to work with you to set up safe food handling practices?
- Are there any people with money who would like to help start this, by contributing costs for telephone, postage, supplies and other essential items?
- Do you need support from government authorities? Are they willing to provide financial as well as political support? Make a plan for starting the program
- What do you want to call your program? Does any other group in the country have that name?
- What geographic area will you serve? Can that expand over time, or will it be limited?
- Decide how much food you can handle the first six months, first year, second year, etc. How fast do you want to grow? Where would you like to be in five years?
- Do you want to incorporate or not? Do you want to have non-profit status? Is there a volunteer lawyer in your community willing to help you do this work?
- Do you want to be an all-volunteer program, have a small staff with mostly volunteers, or have an entirely paid staff? How will you develop along those lines? How will you train volunteers and/or staff? How will you raise funds? Who will run the operations, do the fundraising, and perform other tasks?
- How do you want to run the organization? Do you want a small governing board, an advisory council, an administrator, or some combination of these? How will you make sure the community supports this program? In what ways can the community get involved?
- In what ways will you keep food donors involved and feeling "ownership" of the program?
- Where can you raise funds to support the program? Are there any prominent people in the community who will sign on as advisors or governing board members who will take most responsibility for raising money?
- Is anyone in your community willing to provide you with free advertising space and advertising designs?
- Print this out to share with supporters to get their comments and suggestions, and to form the basis for any fundraising appeals.
Getting Food Donations
City Harvest arranges for food donations in a variety of ways. First is word of mouth - a current food donor tells someone else who then calls us when they have extra food. We also solicit new food donors, by targeting a certain group - meat wholesalers, top-notch restaurants, bakeries, hotels - and sending them a food donor kit, and later following up with a phone call. City Harvest also advertises its service, usually by getting free ad space in trade publications that will be seen by food merchants of various types. The most common reasons for people to donate food are that they hate to waste food and they want to feed hungry people. Many food donors are reassured by the fact that New York State has a Good Samaritan Law, which protects from liability those making "good faith" donations of food for the benefit of the poor and needy. When a potential donor cites their fear of being sued if someone gets sick, we can give them a copy of the law, which often results in us getting donations. There is also a national Good Samaritan law.
Describing our safe food handling practices is another way to reassure potential food donors. Staff is trained to handle food safely, we have refrigerated trucks to keep food properly chilled, and we make sure recipient agencies have Health Department-approved facilities. Increasingly, food donors want to make sure that we handle their food in such a way as to reduce any possible chance that their food will result in someone getting sick.
Ease of donation is another way to get food donors. We have simple guidelines for food packaging that can be given to staff to follow, and our drivers are in and out of an establishment quickly. City Harvest provides a limited amount of packaging for food donors, including large food-grade plastic bags and aluminum trays with lids.
Each donor gets a receipt, as well. If they are able to claim a tax deduction for their food donation, this receipt is their proof of donation. City Harvest does not place a dollar value on the food donated; that is up to each individual donor.
Where to go for more help
Feeding America is a network of food rescue programs and food banks throughout the U.S. and Canada that helps improve program operations and assists in the creation of new food rescue programs. Feeding America can provide more in-depth information about starting a program in your community.