Hunger equality and hunger action are both causes just about anyone can rally around. According to Feeding America, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children in 2013. Poverty and hunger statistics are even more alarming in communities like the San Francisco Bay Area, where hunger is a daily threat to 1 in 4 people.
These statistics are pretty moving, which is why when I heard about the Startups Give Back event being hosted at the SF-Marin Food Bank on August 21st, the Causecast team and I jumped on the opportunity.
Six companies attended including Causecast, Founders Pledge, LinkedIn, Disqus, MixRank and Tradeshift, and in 3 hours, our group broke the food bank’s record by packaging over 46,000 lbs of food. Seems hard to believe, right? That is a lot of food for a small group to pack in just 3 hours…eight adult elephants worth of food, to be exact.
The truth is, even with all the people in our group working nonstop, this level of impact could not have been achieved without major volunteer management from the food bank. In my years of volunteerism, I have seen very few volunteering programs that carry this level of efficiency.
When our group arrived, we were greeted with a brief but extremely informative tour from an SF-Marin Food Bank employee. Shortly after, we got to work on a long assembly line where each box of food (that would feed recipients for about 2 weeks) was passed down while being filled along the way. Boxes flew, pallets of additional food was wheeled in at just the right time, and our group was fired up. The scene was industrial poetry.
Corporate volunteering and engagement is certainly a challenge for many reasons, and Causecast is determined to make it as simple and accessible as possible. A huge part of this engagement comes from the nonprofits themselves, though, so we sat down with SF-Marin Food Bank employees Cody Jang and Goldie Pyka, along with Startups Give Back founder Jeremy Brown who coordinated the event in order to get a breakdown of this excellent project from start to finish.
Tell us more about the mission of your organization…
Jeremy (Startups Give Back): Ultimately, the goal of Startups Give Back is to make philanthropy a top priority for startups.
Goldie (SF-Marin Food Bank): It might be obvious, but it can't be stated enough: our mission is to end hunger in San Francisco and Marin. Of course, we provide food to people who need it, but we also advocate for fairfood policies, reach out to those who might qualify for benefits from the government, specifically CalFresh, and we provide cooking and nutrition classes to people who are interested.
Are you doing anything special for Hunger Action Month?
Goldie: This year we are really ramping up our Hunger Action Month efforts. In the past, we focused more specifically on the Hunger Challenge, which is also a national awareness raising campaign, but this year we are doing something different. We have a “30 Ways in 30 Days” calendar. We’re also inviting people to raise awareness by wearing orange t-shirts and sharing the photos on social media using these hashtags: #GoOrange, #HungerChallenge, #HungerActionMonth.
Do you see any volunteer or giving increases during Hunger Action Month?
Cody Jang (SF-Marin Food Bank): Every year we see a drop in volunteerism right before Labor Day. The end of August and beginning of September is always a time where we struggle to get volunteers, and it’s a tough time because there’s a lot of produce coming in and fewer volunteers than is typical. After Labor Day it starts to pick up again, and it drops off again in January and February.
How did the SF-Marin Food Bank and Startups Give Back connect?
Jeremy: The Food Bank has been a staple in the area for a while. My first exposure to the Food Bank was in 2013 when I joined a technology startup. For the very first Startups Give Back event, we went to the Food Bank because I’ve known that they have a good process in place, and they were very accommodating in terms of volunteer size. That’s when I reached out to them and we got connected.
What makes the SF-Marin Food Bank unique?
Cody: I think one of the things that makes us different is that our volunteers do real work for us. When you come in, you’re preparing food that we’re going to deliver out within the next couple of days.
Goldie: It’s pretty easy to volunteer with us because it’s all online, there’s no approval process, and we have shifts for every day of the week all year. We’re very accommodating of people’s schedules. We have volunteers as young as 4! We make it really easy for people to come: you can come for a day, a couple of hours or you can sign up to come regularly, every week, month or quarter.
Cody: We definitely try to have the fewest number of barriers for someone to be able to come through the door and volunteer. And once they do come to volunteer, we have a good process in place so they spend their time volunteering instead of waiting around. We’re closed just a few days every year, but we are extremely committed to delivering food to people six days a week because hunger doesn’t take a break.
Are there any volunteer opportunities for the SF-Marin Food Bank outside of the warehouse?
Goldie: A lot of the people we serve speak other languages besides English. Right now we are looking specifically for Korean-speaking and Russian-speaking volunteers to help in the onsite pantries. We are also looking for CalFresh volunteers who we would ask to dedicate 30 hours total over the course of a year to help screen people and answer questions about signing up for CalFresh in order to make the process a little easier for candidates.
Cody: These kinds of volunteer opportunities do require more of a commitment, which is why it is challenging for us to find folks, but we are always looking for people to help make CalFresh less of a mystery and help spread the word to make sure people who can’t access food, do.
Do you have a different strategy for engaging with corporate groups?
Jeremy: There isn’t a process in place yet to engage those folks. What we find is that it’s been growing organically, mostly through word of mouth. At the very first Startups Give Back event, we had 13 people come to the Food Bank from 3 different companies. At the event Causecast participated in on August 21st, we had 37 people volunteer from 6 different companies. We started by reaching out to our internal network, and it’s been spreading from person to person.
Cody: We have volunteer opportunities available seven days a week, and group sizes vary from 60 to 100 people, so we definitely see a lot of corporate groups come in, take over the entire shift, and use it as a team building activity to engage their employees in a different way outside the office. We will often pair a food drive with the volunteer opportunities so they can do something in preparation of the time they are at the SF-Marin Food Bank. We work very regularly with companies and are able to customize quite a bit in order to accommodate an event that works for them. The large group, one-time opportunity we provide is quite unique, and there aren’t many places that can provide that level of volunteer service.
Goldie: We do have a corporate development manager to build those relationships, but it isn’t directly connected to volunteerism. We do, however, recognize our corporate volunteers in Food Mank materials and on social media using the hashtag “#welovevolunteers.” If you go on our Twitter feed @SFMFoodBank you’ll see that we’re really diligent about this. We also have a few events throughout the year that cater to specific communities. In November we host Canstruction, which targets architects and engineers. We get a bunch of cans donated, and the volunteers make really cool structures out of them. Another example is our Food From the Bar event that engages the legal community.
Do you have any suggestions for Food Banks that are having difficulties engaging volunteers?
Cody: I think one of the things that is most effective for us is having shifts at all times of the day. It’s a little difficult in terms of staffing, but once you get staff members to commit, more people will be able to come. Only having weekday shifts excludes a whole lot of people. Adding weekend and evening shifts allows more people to volunteer.
Jeremy: From a Food Bank standpoint, don’t be afraid to reach out to businesses. A lot of companies want to give back, they just don’t know where to start. They don’t know who to talk to. It’s actually very difficult to organize events for companies.
What’s next for your organizations?
Goldie: We’re on the cusp of our very busiest time of the year. A significant portion of our operating budget comes in during the holidays. We have food and fund drives with various radio stations at grocery stores, which on its own is a lot of work. We’re also working on launching a completely renovated, awesome website that we’re really excited about. We also have our annual gala in September. So we need to fill our shifts with volunteers. We cannot do our work without them.
Jeremy: We have volunteering events coming up in October, and we plan on expanding Startups Give Back beyond the San Francisco Bay Area in early 2016. I've received interests from people around the world who want Startups Give Back in their community. It's extremely exciting to see their eagerness to make a difference.
Learn more about Startups Give Back here.
Learn more about the SF-Marin Food Bank here.
Jill is a Florida-born social impact fanatic with a strong belief in the phrase "no profits without nonprofits." When she isn't volunteering, you can probably find her wandering around the nearest art museum or attempting witty improv comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade. As the Nonprofit Champion, Jill is working to connect nonprofits to Causecast clients in their areas to forge sustainable relationships and advance corporate social responsibility efforts around the world.