10 exceptional food-related charities

Published in Gourmet Live 12.14.11
Give the gift of food to the world’s neediest, Patricia Reilly advises

’Tis the season to be charitable: Whether motivated by holiday generosity or a wintery whiff of the coming tax season, individual giving to charities traditionally surges at the end of the year. And though the recession has sharply reduced the influx of donor dollars, individual giving tiptoed up 2.7% in 2010, according to the Giving USA Foundation, stirring hope among nonprofit organizations of a modest sustained uptick in donations.

Especially for those of us in the business of celebrating food each day, it has been a year steeped in contrasts between bounty and deprivation, with famine in the Horn of Africa; natural disasters in Japan, India, and beyond; and ongoing economic hardships in the United States. “In the current economy, both domestically as well as internationally, the need has only grown exponentially. There are more people hungry, starving, than we’ve seen in quite a while,” notes Ken Berger, president and CEO of Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest charity-evaluating organization. Global estimates of undernourished people were at 925 million in fall 2010, 98 percent of them in developing countries, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. Here in the United States, 2010 data from the USDA’s Economic Research Service indicates that roughly 1 in 7 households were food-insecure, with reliance rising on food banks and other relief resources.

All of which makes now an ideal time to put food- and hunger-related charities high on your list of causes worthy of a tax-deductible donation. Whether to give to a local, regional, national, or international organization is a “very personal decision,” more heart than head, maintains Berger. Once you choose the scope, though, it’s essential “to get some objective data.” There are several charity-assessment programs donors can turn to, including the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and CharityWatch; however, Charity Navigator, founded in 2001, provides the greatest breadth and depth, assigning a star rating to some 5,500 organizations on the basis of financial strength, accountability, and transparency. The user-friendly interface makes it easy for donors to see how much of their gift will go to all-important program expenses (the actual execution of an organization’s mission) as opposed to, say, fund-raising, administration, or CEO pay. There is also a side-by-side comparison tool, along with solid tips and resources for givers, including guidelines for assessing charities not evaluated by CN. Whenever you size up an organization’s merit, Berger recommends looking for concrete results—“what data does the organization have to show that it’s providing meaningful change?”—on the charity’s Web site or by contacting the charity directly.

Of the many worthy food-related charitable organizations, here are 10 to consider, with missions spanning from local to global:

Action Against Hunger/ACF International
This humanitarian group, founded in 1979, not only responds to global hunger emergencies but works with local populations on implementing longer-term systems to ensure sustainable sources of food and income. Its more than 4,600 professionals are active in 40 countries worldwide, and specific results in the Horn of Africa and beyond are prominently displayed on the homepage and in the Impact section.

Center for Science in the Public Interest
Established in 1971 and best known in the past decade for pressuring government to safeguard the United States food supply from pathogens, exposing and eliminating trans fats in major food brands, and fighting junk food in schools, this watchdog may bark stridently at times yet is a results-getting ally of the public interest where food, alcohol, health, and the environment are concerned.

City Harvest
Since 1982, City Harvest has made a mission out of sheer common sense, rounding up and recycling excess food throughout New York City. It delivers 83,000 pounds of food daily to more than 600 community food programs, helping feed more than 300,000 people each week—all for pennies (27 of them) per pound.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers
A group like the CIW is a good reminder that there can be hardship at both ends of the food-supply chain—in getting enough food to eat and in growing it. Readers of Barry Estabrook, author of Tomatoland and contributor to Gourmet Live, will already be well acquainted with this community-based farm workers’ organization and its outsize accomplishments. From its home in southern Florida—source of winter tomatoes and other crops for much of the nation—the CIW has won landmark agreements with industry and major fast-food chains to significantly improve worker wages and conditions. The coming year’s challenge: widely implementing the CIW’s Fair Food Code of Conduct in the fields. What the group’s site doesn’t yet make obvious is that it is a registered 501(c)(3) charity and that donations are tax-deductible; give it time—right now, it’s busy putting an admirable 83% of its funds into programs and only 3% into fund-raising.

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