Food Bank donations are needed year-round in Delaware

MILFORD — The dusty can, long shuffled to the back of the pantry shelf in favor of tastier offerings, often ends up in a food drive.

But Chad Robinson, director of the Milford Branch for the Food Bank of Delaware, suggests people donate food they would personally enjoy when asked to make a donation.

“People donate items they don’t want to use,” Mr. Robinson said. “Even though someone may be grateful for it, they may not necessarily want them.

Cans line the shelves at the Food Bank of Delaware Milford Branch.

Cans line the shelves at the Food Bank of Delaware Milford Branch.

“An alternative would be when you go to the grocery store, grabbing an extra can of potatoes or items you may use in the future,” he said. “And when that time comes around and you don’t end up using them you can donate that extra can purchased.”

The giving spirit seems to hit most folks during the holidays, but people in need and relief organizations rely on public support all year long.

That’s why the Food Bank of Delaware encourages everyone to donate, regardless of the season.

“This time of year is a very high time for donations. It’s on people’s minds. They’re thinking about being thankful and giving back, but right after the first of the year once Christmas is over donations seem to go down,” Mr. Robinson said.

He added that the food bank partners with anyone they can to help increase the number of donations after the holiday season.

“We try to promote donating all year round as much as we can,” Mr. Robinson said. “We want to remind people that after the holidays are over there’s still a need for donations. We try to get the message out there.

“Last year we did a program and partnered with the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services to let people know that we still need those donations after the holidays. We might run food drives with local organizations, as we do anything we can to make up for the lack of donations we may receive.”

Mr. Robinson encourages people to think outside the box when making a donation.

“In a perfect world I wish people would know we take more than canned goods,” Mr. Robinson said. “It’s not a bad thing at all, but there are other items people can donate like cereal, canned protein or spaghetti sauce. Sometimes people think to just donate canned goods, which are great, but there’s more to offer.”

The Food Bank of Delaware provides food for the hungry in the entire state of Delaware. The organization collects, purchases and stores food donations. It redistributes the food to nonprofit agencies that provide free food to the hungry. The Food Bank’s two branches are in Milford and Newark.

Last year, the organization distributed 1.28 million pounds of food to shelters, soup kitchens and food closets in Kent County, and another 1.21 million pounds to Sussex County, said Kim Turner, communications director for Food Bank of Delaware.

How it works

“Think of us as a bank,” Mr. Robinson said. “We take in donations from people and give it out to pantries and our 550 partners statewide.”

Food manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, brokers and food distributors donate millions of pounds of food and other grocery products to the Food Bank of Delaware each year, said Mr. Robinson.

Those donations include a variety of packaged, canned, perishable and non-perishable foods, including poultry, pasta, cereal, produce, snacks and beverages, available to feed Delaware’s hungry.

The Food Bank also receives food through community donors and groups, businesses and organizations that hold food drives throughout the year.

One major food drive is the annual Food Lion Hunger Relief Day held during the Delaware State Fair. Nearly 22,000 pounds of canned goods were donated July 21.

When the food donations arrive at the warehouse, the items are unloaded, weighed, sorted, boxed, inventoried and added to a menu of items from which hunger-relief partners order.

To participate in these programs, partners must first become members of the Food Bank of Delaware.

Partners come to the Food Bank of Delaware to obtain food, request delivery of supplies or go through the shopper’s choice area, which enables Food Bank members to “shop” through a food selection process, much like in a grocery store.

“They come in and select what they want to fill their shelves,” Mr. Robinson said. “When selecting these items their partners have a variety of choices and pay 19 cents per pound. There isn’t a limit on how much food they can get, as they purchase as many items as it takes to fulfill their needs.”

Linda Grabowski, treasurer of the Milford Food Pantry at 20 North Church Ave., said it always tries to make sure its shelves are stocked, especially after the holiday season when donations tend to be low.

“There has been a few times when our inventory was very low, but we’re constantly on the lookout for that,” Ms. Grabowski said. The Food Banks sends us a menu and from there we make our selections as to what we need.”

Individuals are referred to the pantry from a State Service Center and are given food based on their family size, said Tita Lewis, coordinator of the Milford Food Pantry.

“The y’re sent to us and we supply them with enough food to last five days,” Ms. Lewis said.

“We receive money donations and use that money to buy items from the food bank or other grocery stores in the area.”

Some of the food the pantry gives these families includes peanut butter, cereal, eggs, tuna, canned vegetables and fruit, said Ms. Grabowski.

Importance of volunteers

The volunteers play a big part in donating, and they seem to be the heart and soul of the Food Bank of Delaware, said Lyndsay Humphreys, volunteer coordinator for the Milford branch.

“They’re very important,” Ms. Humphreys said. “They sign up on our website as to what time they want to come in and people usually stick to those times. But they help us a lot with whatever we need and it’s great having them here.”

Some 15,691 volunteers donated 41,555 hours from July 2013 to June 2014, the equivalent of 19 full time staff members, said Ms. Humphreys.

Most shifts are usually three hours, but Joseph Katz, a sophomore at the University of Delaware, sometimes stays up to six hours to help as much as possible.

“I started this past summer,” Mr. Katz said. “I always wanted to give back because I was blessed to have parents to be there for me to help me out anyway they could, so I always wanted to do the same for those that are less fortunate.”

Mr. Katz checks expiration dates and helps package meals.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Mr. Katz said. “When we were making meals for some of the kids at various schools we had to package over 1,500 meals to be shipped out before school started and sometimes it got very hectic. But it was worth it.”

Diane Dolan, inventory manager for the Milford Food Pantry, shared the same sentiment.

“I love it,” Ms. Dolan said. “It’s starting to become a second career for me after I retired from teaching.”

She taught for 47 years.

“I met a lot of wonderful people and it helps bring everyone together for a great cause,” she said.

Ms. Lewis encourages everyone to donate all year-round.

“Hunger doesn’t have a season,” she said. “There are people struggling all year round and I encourage people to continue to donate after the holiday seasons, so we can continue to help those in need regardless of the season.”

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