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Food + Cooking

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.

DC Central Kitchen
This Washington-based nonprofit reclaims and recycles 3,000 pounds of food each day, making 4,500 meals and distributing them to 100 shelters, transitional homes, and rehab clinics throughout the DC area. It also runs a culinary job training program for people referred by the agencies it serves. Graduates of this program are placed in DCCK’s own full-service catering company or elsewhere in the food service industry; in this respect, it brings to mind Los Angeles’ Homeboy Industries and Streets International, both covered in September by Gourmet Live. The DC group is now spinning off a Campus Kitchens version of its model in tandem with high schools and colleges across the country.

Feeding America
An organization that Gourmet Live’s sibling site Epicurious.com partners with, Feeding America comprises a nationwide network of more than 200 member food banks. Together, they provide food assistance to more than 37 million people across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. If you prefer to find and fund an affiliate in your area, use Feeding America’s Food Bank Locator.

The Hunger Project
Founded in 1977, the Hunger Project advocates bottom-up, community-based solutions for food shortages and self-sufficiency in the developing world, specifically focusing on Africa, Bangladesh, India, and Latin America. It has aligned itself with the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and cites examples of its related efforts online.

Oxfam America
This group, one of 15 affiliates worldwide, is devoted to creating “lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice.” It spans disaster relief, development, and policy advocacy and is active in more than 90 countries. In drought- and famine-stricken East Africa, Oxfam expects emergency conditions to continue well into 2012; its aim is to aid 3 million people and collaborate on lasting local systems to support agriculture and boost earnings. A global food-justice initiative, the GROW campaign, is dedicated to building a “better food system: one that sustainably feeds a growing population (estimated to reach nine billion by 2050) and empowers poor people to earn a living, feed their families, and thrive.”

Save the Children
True to its name, Save the Children defines its mission as “creating lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world.” Established in the U.S. in 1932, the group runs programs designed to improve children’s lives by alleviating poverty, hunger, illiteracy, and disease; it also provides disaster relief, responding recently to the floods in northern and eastern India and the east African famine. Quarterly results are posted on Save the Children’s site.

United States Fund for UNICEF
The U.S. Fund supports UNICEF’s humanitarian support of children—those most vulnerable to food deprivation—in more than 150 countries worldwide. According to a 2010 UNICEF report, child mortality rates worldwide are declining, yet more than 22,000 children under 5 die each day, and 70 percent of them die before the age of 1; “undernutrition,” among other causes UNICEF aims to prevent, is linked to about one third of child deaths.

If you’ll be giving to charity this holiday season—whether on your own or as a gift in the name of a friend, family member, or business associate—you can make your dollar go farthest by looking for high-performing charities. Also take advantage, when possible, of employer donation matches or sponsored matching funds being promoted on an organization’s site. And don’t underestimate the value of donating your time as a volunteer; sites like VolunteerMatch pair people with organizations in a few speedy clicks, according to location and interest. Because it is indeed a joy to give as well as receive, a holiday donation of any amount or kind is guaranteed to benefit both the donor and the recipient.