Turning Dough Into Bread
The holidays are a time of giving, and while many people work some end-of-year giving into their holiday budgets, sometimes the money is best spent when it goes directly to the recipient’s stomach. Especially in a year in which holiday donations are expected to be flat, it’s even more important to ensure that every dollar given makes the biggest impact possible these days.
Last week we looked at charities that specifically rely on end-of-year giving for the bulk of their philanthropy; this week, as families prepare to sit down to a table full of turkey, we take a look at the best national charities that feed people.
It’s important to note that providing meals to those in need is a very localized effort – and indeed there are more than 100 top-rated charities on CharityNavigator.org that work on these efforts in specific cities or regions of the U.S. – so, check your local resources if you want to make sure your donations go to your neighbors in need by sorting CharityNavigator's list by city or state.
Here, then, are the charities that know that the best way to a person’s heart is through his or her stomach. We focus on the five major national hunger-relief organizations, and then pick a few notable local efforts that scored highest on CharityNavigator’s combined scoring model.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
CharityNavigator Score: 58.67/70
Based in Chicago, Feeding America (formerly known as America’s Second Harvest) supports a network of food banks in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Low-income Americans, with a special focus on children and the elderly, benefit from Feeding America’s efforts, which source donated food and other grocery store items for distribution to local food banks. According to its own calculations, Feeding America is able to turn every donated dollar into eight meals for the needy.
The best part? Donate before Black Friday and the organization will match the amount, dollar for dollar. You can also donate in-kind to one of the group’s many food drives or food pantries. To find a location near you, check Feeding America’s food bank locator page.
Photo Credit: FeedingAmerica.org
Share Our Strength
CharityNavigator Score: 57.59/70
Share Our Strength, a group based in Washington, D.C., takes the idea of hunger relief to the next level with bold goals and bold projects to meet those goals. The group says its goal is to end childhood hunger in the U.S. by 2015. It works toward this by targeting the most at-risk communities in every state and working with local partners to get food – emphasizing nutritious food – to needy children. The group gives grants from its revenue of around $30 million (in 2010) and works to improve poor families’ access to national programs like food stamps and the Women-Infants-Children program. It also runs nationwide events like the Great American Bake Sale and Taste of the Nation food festivals to raise funds.
Perhaps thanks to its focus on children, the group claims that every dollar provides 10 meals for kids, and donations received by Dec. 31 will be matched dollar for dollar by partner organizations, meaning that now is the time to make your contribution go twice as far as it would during the rest of the year.
Photo Credit: ShareOurStrength.org
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
CharityNavigator Score: 62.11/70
Don’t let the name fool you, MAZON is a non-denominational hunger relief group based in Los Angeles whose sole mission is to provide food for the hungry, no matter their faith or background. The organization does that by collecting cash donations, which it then uses to administer grants between $3 million and $4 million to a variety of organizations that attack the hunger problem in different ways. That means food banks and meal-delivery programs, but it also includes nutrition education programs and efforts to support government policies that address hunger. While the group does work internationally, it says that most grants are given here at home.
This four-star charity manages an annual budget of more than $6 million, and gets high marks for its low administrative expenses (2.4%) and a reasonable salary paid to its president, so donors can be confident that their money is being used as efficiently as possible.
Photo Credit: Mazon.org
The Society of St. Andrew
CharityNavigator Score: 66.49/70
The highest-rated national charity on this list, the Society of St. Andrew takes a decidedly faith-based approach to ending hunger. Along with the group’s ministry activities that aim to relieve spiritual hunger, Society volunteers gather leftover crops from farms after the harvest to distribute to food banks and other distribution groups. Gleaning these remaining crops, which would otherwise rot in the fields, provides more than 15 million pounds of nutritious food, the group claims, which is distributed to poor communities nationwide.
This reliance on volunteer efforts – some 30,000 volunteers participate every year – allows the group to keep its administrative costs way down (1.3% in 2010) to ensure donations are used in the best way possible. Last year’s budget was more than $11 million, none of which came from public government sources.
Photo Credit: EndHunger.org
CharityNavigator Score: 53.78/70
Based in Cambridge, Mass., most people know Farm Aid for the annual concerts it puts on that feature country-flavored rock from Neil Young, Willie Nelson, and the Dave Matthews Band, among others, but the group’s role as an advocate for family farmers means that it plays a big role in helping small farms survive and bring affordable local food to nearby communities.
While the group has significant administrative expenses that go to organizing concerts and selling merchandise, Farm Aid’s popularity and wide reach give it a number of ways to change small farmers’ lives across the country, and it does so without taking any taxpayer cash from Uncle Sam.
Photo Credit: FarmAid.org
San Francisco Food Bank
CharityNavigator Score: 69.78/70
The first of the local food charities on our list, the San Francisco Food Bank manages revenue in excess of $50 million (in 2009) to serve meals to the poor in San Francisco and Marin County in California. The group feeds more than 200,000 people a year, it says, thanks to donations collected from organizations in the area that volunteers inspect, repackage and distribute to soup kitchens in the Bay Area.
Donations made through Thanksgiving Day will be matched dollar for dollar through a partnership with Visa, so there is plenty of time left to give a poor family in the area something to be thankful for.
Photo Credit: SFFoodBank.org
Food Bank of the Rockies
CharityNavigator Score: 69.73/70
Based in Colorado, the Food Bank of the Rockies has expanded past its home in Denver to provide meals to struggling families across northern Colorado and into Wyoming. With revenue last year of more than $50 million, the group distributed almost 40 million pounds of food to more than 1,100 different programs, and it aims to do even better this year. With administrative expenses around just 1%, donors have good reason to help make that happen.
Photo Credit: FoodBankRockies.org
Food Bank of Lincoln
CharityNavigator Score: 69.73/70
Serving the poor in and around Lincoln, Neb., the Food Bank of Lincoln provides food to soup kitchens, mobile pantries and even in area schools through its “Backpack Program,” which distributes backpacks full of food for needy students to take home with them for the weekend. The group is notable in part for its research into local conditions and the cost of housing and basic services to see where government assistance was not meeting families’ needs. Through this research, the group has targeted programs in 16 Nebraska counties to receive the food it collects, ensuring that donations go where they are most needed.
The charity’s high ranking on CharityNavigator comes from low administrative costs and a reasonable salary paid to its executive director, which should be a model for organizations across the country, no matter what their conditions. To find a high-rated local charity near you, check out CharityNavigator’s complete list of top-rated food charities here.
Photo Credit: LincolnFoodBank.org
MainStreet’s Complete Charity Guide
Charitable giving is an act of generosity that many Americans strive for every year, but sometimes we are held back by a worry over how our donated dollars are used.
Check out MainStreet’s spotlight on some high-rated charities to consider with 10 Great Charities That Need Holiday Help, The Best Charities That Don’t Take Taxpayer Cash, and the 20 Best Charities in America.
For a look at the groups that aren’t as good at managing your donations, take a look at MainStreet’s rundown of the Charities With the Highest Admin Costs and the 15 Highest-Paid Charity CEOs!
Photo Credit: MainStreet
Tweet alongside us
Greg Emerson is a writer/editor for MainStreet. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @emersongreg.
And if you haven't already, now is a great time to follow us on Twitter. You'll get all of our most important stories, right as they publish.
Follow us @mainstr!
Photo Credit: clevercupcakes
Read More: charity