Food Bank Dollars & Sense

The pros can stretch your donated dough further than advertised.

A statistic commonly used to goad reluctant donors into contributing money to hunger relief programs is frequently misleading, the West Seattle Food Bank’s executive director says.

Food banks often cite how many meals they can purchase for a set donation of $10 or $25. Yet while Fran Yeatts is unequivocally supportive of efforts to raise money for food banks, she’s not sold on the dollar-to-meal equation.

“You want to know why that calculation isn’t a favorite of mine?,” she says. “That calculation uses pounds of food.”

Yeatts believes focusing on poundage emphasizes food quantity over quality. For example, she says, a pallet of Diet Snapple might weigh a ton, but it’s impossible to wrench a healthy meal from hundreds of bottles of sugary juice drinks.

“People love getting junk food, but it doesn’t equal a meal,” she says.

Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, appeals to potential donors by equating one dollar with eight meals. “Feeding America can work magic with a dollar, and we do,” a spokesperson was quoted as saying in a recent Feeding America release. “One dollar buys 10 pounds of food. That’s enough for eight meals. That dollar is going to go a long way.” The release concludes that $10 will feed a family of four for one week.

Although Yeatts doesn’t agree with the math—”maybe I’m just a bit of a Scrooge,” she says with a sigh—she concurs that cash is preferable to canned goods. The food bank has greater purchasing power than individuals, and its buyers know which items its clients need most.

Yeatts stresses that the holidays are an especially hard time for many of the Seattle residents who rely on food banks.

“The holidays bring so many pressures to do so much for friends and family, so keeping up with the basics is really hard,” she says.

According to Yeatts, donations are “a twitch above” last year, but remain 60 percent off levels achieved five years ago.

“Families are really struggling now,” she says.