Time, food and money: With hunger on the rise, here are ways to actually help

More than 34 million people, including 9 million children, in the United States are food insecure

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published August 21, 2023 3:00PM (EDT)

Working at charitable foundation, packing donation box (Getty Images/Witthaya Prasongsin)
Working at charitable foundation, packing donation box (Getty Images/Witthaya Prasongsin)

Hunger is on the rise in America. Food insecurity experts have predicted this surge for months, starting as soon as expanded pandemic-era supplemental nutrition benefits were cut earlier this year. According to the USDA, more than 34 million people, including 9 million children, in the United States are food insecure, while the pandemic increased food insecurity among families of color who already experienced disproportionate rates of hunger. 

However, as Feeding America reports, many households that experience hunger do not qualify for federal assistance. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are a lot of ways to help beyond just digging a few cans out of the back of the pantry during holiday drives. 

Whether you have time, food or money to donate, here are some ways to make an immediate and lasting impact on food security in your community. 

Donate time 

Learn about legislation that impacts food security 

One of the best ways to become an advocate for food security in your community and nationwide is to read up on legislation that impacts hunger, both directly and indirectly. A great place to start is by taking a look at the bills supported by the Food Research & Action Center, a D.C.-based nonprofit that is working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States. Some of these include: 

  • The Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act (H.R.1269): Introduced in March by Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), this bill would permanently increase the federal reimbursement rates for the school lunch and breakfast programs
  • Improving Access to Nutrition Act of 2023 (H.R.1510): This bill would end the three-month time limit on SNAP benefits for certain unemployed and underemployed adults who do not document sufficient hours of work each month.
  • The American Family Act (H.R. 3899): Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Suzan DelBene (D-WA) and Ritchie Torres (D-NY) introduced this bill on June 7, 2023. It would restore the expanded monthly, fully refundable Child Tax Credit.

Read through the legislation — and then maybe read through statements given by its sponsors and detractors —and, if you support it, spend a little extra time taking action. Write to your lawmakers (resistbot, which helps you draft a letter to your representatives in under two minutes, is a solid resource). Then, talk to friends and family about why it matters to you and maybe inspire them to do the same. 

Help deliver meals to the elderly 

Rising food costs, limited transportation to the supermarket and a fixed income can all limit older Americans' access to household items and fresh groceries. One solution, employed by both organizations like Meals on Wheels and smaller, city-led nonprofits, is to deliver meals and groceries to elderly members of the community instead. 

Depending on which organizations operate within your area, there are several different ways to volunteer your time — from preparing boxes for delivery to actually dropping them off at someone's door. 

Reduce food waste in your community 

According to the USDA, between 30 and 40% of the nation's food supply goes to waste. While limiting one's own food waste — or "source reduction" as experts call it — is a great first step, consider looking into food-recovery groups in your community. Food-recovery groups rescue safe-to-eat but unsellable food from restaurants, grocery stores and institutional kitchens.

This is made possible under The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act; signed into law in 1996 by President Clinton, the legislation protects businesses from civil and criminal liability when donating unserved, surplus food or grocery products to 501(c)(3) nonprofits in good faith.

If you are a college student, university staff or an alumni, consider seeing if your school is a member of the Food Recovery Network, which recovers food from dining halls and campus restaurants and then donates it to agencies fighting hunger. If they are not, perhaps see about starting a chapter. 

Donate food

Start or stock a community fridge 

You've probably seen Little Free Pantries, an offshoot of the Little Free Library movement, pop up around your city. Those are a fantastic resource, but they don't offer the ability to keep perishable items like dairy, fruits and vegetables fresh (the same items that aren't available at many food pantries for that same reason). That's where community fridges come in. 

Various groups across the country, from Chicago's Love Fridge to the Los Angeles Community Fridges, have installed refrigerators in their communities in locations that are accessible to the public and stocked with fresh groceries. The two biggest ways to help are by donating groceries to the refrigerator — and then donating and maintaining refrigerators. Debating whether you actually need that extra "drink fridge" out in the garage? Maybe it would be a good fit for a community fridge in your neighborhood. 

You can check out if your city has community refrigerators and where they are located by consulting the Freedge map; the organization also provides a tutorial for starting your own community fridge. 

Get creative with food pantry donations 

While all non-perishable items are great to donate to your local food pantry, I want to encourage you to think a little differently about the types of items you donate. Many donors default to the basics: jars of peanut butter, canned vegetables, beans and rice. 

But open up your own pantry and think about the items you actually reach for most on a day-to-day basis. It's probably going to be things like cooking oil, spices, salt and pepper. Food banks and pantries are in need of those items, too, and they don't get donated super often. 

We need your help to stay independent

Donate money

Sponsor a family 

If your family is in a situation where it is financially feasible, sponsoring another family through either community initiatives or national programs like Family-to-Family is a meaningful way to help alleviate food insecurity. 

Family-to-Family is a national program that was launched in 2003. Participants donate a monthly amount  ranging between $18.50 and $55  to sponsor a family, a veteran or their Holocaust Survivor Sponsorship Program. "By connecting donors one-to-one with specific families in need, Family-to-Family's mission is to bring a large and seemingly intractable problem – poverty – into personal focus, making concrete and meaningful results possible," the organization writes. "One family at a time." 

Host a charity livestream 

Technology has changed the face of fundraising, meaning that there are way more options for raising money for causes you care about than going door-to-door or sending batch emails to family members. Feeding America, for instance, offers options for those who want to host a charity livestream to raise money for the organization, including overlays to brand the stream, unique campaign links and scripted talking points to discuss food insecurity and the impact donations make. 

"Use your battle royale skills, host a cooking tutorial, or showcase your speed running abilities, all to engage your community in the fight to end hunger," they write. "It's easy to fundraise across Twitch, YouTube or Facebook Gaming - set your charity streaming fundraising goal, make it your own with fun rewards and milestones and start streaming! Every $1 you raise helps provide at least 10 meals for families in need, so be bold with your goals!" 



By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

MORE FROM Ashlie D. Stevens

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Donation Food Insecurity Hunger Snap