Hosting a potluck is an easy way to draw attention to the issue of food insecurity in your area. Not only can you ask your guests to make a donation, but you can set aside the time to talk about ways to help locally. I attended a seminar recently led by Ellen Damaschino of Cooking Matters and Lindsey Seegers of Manna Food Center. They shared five things hunger-related organizations need most.
1. Money: Food donations are always appreciated, but pantries can stretch dollars farther because they buy food in larger quantities with significant discounts. If you feel comfortable, ask your friends to bring a small monetary donation (perhaps what they would have spent on a more formal dinner party) in addition to their dish.
2. Protein sources: If you'd prefer to donate non-perishable food, Seegers said no- or low-sodium canned salmon, tuna, beans, and nut butters are more valuable than sodium laden canned soups.
3. Fresh food: Many people are afraid to donate fresh food for liability reasons, but in 1996, Congress passed The Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which allows people to give fresh food in good faith without fear of retribution. This doesn't mean every pantry will accept it, of course, so you'll need to call ahead. Even if you don't donate fresh food directly from your potluck, tell your guests about the Act. It's also worth talking about whether your area has a program to rescue excess food from farms. (In my region, there is a terrific gleaning organization called Rolling Harvest.)
4. Volunteers: Food pantries need year-round helpers to receive and sort food in warehouses and help with distribution. Those with cooking or nutrition skills can volunteer through Cooking Matters to teach families healthy recipes or how to strategically shop the grocery store. Talk about ways each guest at your potluck might be able to help.
5. Advocates: SNAP benefits and school breakfast and lunch programs could be threatened by forthcoming changes in laws. Use an app like Countable to follow legislation, and at your potluck, write some postcards to your lawmakers if necessary to encourage them to support programs that fight food insecurity.