Once you think about it for a minute, a canned food drive is silly. Charities can buy food in bulk, often at an extra discount because they are charities. How much do you think a food drive would pay per can of tuna fish when they buy it by the pallet, versus the price you pay at the store?
Forget the canned goods - donate money!
Canned food drives are a shocking waste of resources
The very idea of collecting cans of food, then employing the person power to sort, pack, transport and distribute them out to the poor, is ridiculous. It's a colossal waste of time, energy and funds. And yet we go through this pantomime every year, particularly in the wake of disasters and in the lead-up to the holiday season.
In fact, Slate's Matthew Yglesias has crunched the numbers. "You would be doing dramatically more good […] by eating that can of tuna yourself and forking over a check for half the price of a single can of Chicken of the Sea."
Now granted, many of us get roped into canned food drives at work, where there is social pressure to donate. No one wants to look like a stingy jerk. Go ahead and drop a few cans in there if you feel that you need to in order to save face with your coworkers.
But as a rule, canned food drives should be abolished. The inefficiency alone is devastating. But worse, participating in a canned food drive makes people feel like they have their charity bases covered. "Why donate money? I left two cans of pumpkin puree in the box at work."
Cash is the most efficient way to donate to a charity. Every charity can put your money to good use. Better use, in most cases, than you could yourself. It doesn't require a whole bevy of volunteers and trucks to handle your check, and it's a lot easier than scooping through your pantry for a bunch of almost-expired canned garbanzo beans that no one's going to want to eat anyway.
Financial donations - even a few dollars at a time - also can be put to a much wider variety of uses. They can cover fuel costs for delivery trucks, help keep the lights on in the warehouse, and provide all sorts of other assistance (like help with electricity and phone bills) for the people the charity is helping.
This year, skip the canned food drive: just give them a few bucks, instead.