The Madeleine Brand Show

The Madeleine Brand Show is a daily, two-hour program that looks at news and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by Madeleine Brand

Charities want your cash, not your food

by The Madeleine Brand Show

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President George W. Bush grabs a can of peaches as he helps load bags of donated food for the needy collected by at least 29 federal agencies for the Capital Area Food Bank Dec. 19, 2002, with volunteer Verona Canty in Washington, DC. A writer for Slate thinks charitable organizations are better served with cash rather than cans. PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

'Tis the season for giving, and it's a time when many charitable organizations set up their annual clothing, toy and food drives to catch some of the festive cheer. While donators can drop off secondhand apparel and used toys, they often have to shell out money to purchase canned goods. Slate magazine writer Matthew Yglesias is no Grinch, but he said that for that reason, "food drives are a terrible idea."

In his recent article "Can the Cans," Yglesias explains why food drives are economically disastrous. He told KPCC's Madeleine Brand that there's no sense in buying the food yourself, when charities can get the same amount for cheaper.

"A food bank can get about 20 times as much food for its dollar as you can for your dollar. That's because you're paying a retail mark up, whereas they actually have access to food below wholesale costs," he said.

According to Yglesias, every major city in America has established a process where restaurants and other people in the food industry will give food at low costs to charities. Organizations just need the money to pay for that food.

Substituting cans with cash would also alleviate a logistical burden. Organizations know their clients better, he said, so they lose valuable time sifting through donations to find what people love to eat, what their staff knows how to cook and what’s nutritionally appropriate.

He said that there's no harm in donating food products. "It's better to give some food than to do nothing whatsoever, I just think most people actually don’t realize how much more good they could be doing by organizing a cash drive."

Charities that have been formerly hesitant to mention their preference are now hinting at monetary donations.

"[Charities] don't want to tell people 'Well, we don't appreciate your effort,'" Yglesias said. "But there's been a move over the past few years, to try and gently suggest ... that maybe [people] should consider raising money rather than putting cans together."


Matthew Yglesias, business and economics correspondent for Slate; writes the Moneybox blog.

With contributions from Andrea Wang

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