How Retailers Can Partner with Food Banks

How Retailers Can Partner with Food Banks

February 16, 2022
Shari Steinbach
Retail Industry Insights

By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor

Food retailers have a longstanding tradition of active involvement in their respective communities and partnering with local food banks is a great way to support those in need of basic nutritional sustenance. In a recent interview with Juliana Ludema, Communication and Marketing Specialist for Feeding America West Michigan, she shared some specific ways that RDNs can use their skills and knowledge to connect with food banks.

  • Advocacy – Food banks need advocates who can share information about the realities of hunger, it’s causes, and how others can help. A retail dietitian's expertise would make them an ideal advocate! To the retail stores they work at, dietitians can advocate for donating healthy, high-quality foods to the food bank that will ultimately benefit our clients. To their other audiences (friends, family, followers), they could advocate for donating funds instead of food, because it's much more effective (at Feeding America West Michigan, $1 = 4 meals). Retail dietitians can also encourage people they know who are in need to seek out charitable or government food assistance. It is very possible to eat a healthy diet when receiving help from these resources.
  • Nutrition Information- Some food banks may be interested in working with a dietitian to help source healthy foods for specific clients such as helping to create food boxes geared toward certain health conditions. These food banks also may work with hospitals to serve clients through "food as medicine" programs and retailers may be able to assist with this effort. Also, it might sound like a good idea to offer nutrition/cooking classes, however most families aren't going to have the emotional bandwidth to handle this when they are simply worried about eating enough, working, and getting their kids to school on time.
  • Educational Resources – Resources on topics such as how to use best by/use by dates on packages, how to store/prep foods, basic cooking skills and shopping on a budget would all be helpful. Our food bank is currently working on creating a recipe section of our website for clients, so ideas for recipes using common, affordable foods (especially foods often found at food pantries) would also be valuable. In addition, hand-outs giving recipe and usage ideas for how to incorporate unfamiliar foods, like certain produce items or grains, for example, are needed.

For any retail dietitian who wants to partner with a food bank, it’s important to realize that people who are in need are just like anyone else. They want to eat more fruits and vegetables, but like the rest of us, may sometimes struggle to do so. They want their kids to lead heathy, active lives, and turn to the charitable food sector to help make sure this happens. Our clients are under a lot of pressure. Making things easier for them while maintaining their dignity and safety, and addressing their real needs is our top priority. Researching what it means to be food insecure and the myths surrounding this experience would be incredibly helpful to any retail dietitian who wants to get involved.