10 Easy Ways to Help Families Battling Hunger or Food Insecurity

Organizing a meal train, or simply surprising a neighbor with a favorite dish, are just a couple of ways you can help those in need

From sky-high unemployment to statewide shutdowns, the coronavirus pandemic has left many families across the country with serious strains on their finances — and that's causing many to be food insecure for the very first time. Feeding America estimates that one in six Americans could face hunger as a result of the pandemic.

Helping those in need doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are 10 easy ways to help hungry families:

1. Surprise a Neighbor With a Meal

If you think a neighbor may be facing food insecurity, there are simple ways to show them support and love. Drop off a meal to a neighbor to let them know they are on your mind. Be sure to use discretion and sensitivity to help avoid any embarrassment, since food insecurity can be a cause of shame. You can always say, “I made too much and thought you might enjoy this recipe!” Or consider putting together bags of baked goods, like muffins, cookies or homemade granola, and share them with all your neighbors nearby, so that no one feels singled out.

More from NBCLX

Food Deserts in Chicago Are Actually ‘Food Apartheid,' Says Community Fridge Co-Founder

Food Banks Report That Even Their Former Donors Need Help as Hunger Surges Across the Country

2. Organize a Neighborhood Meal Train

Chances are good that there are other people in your community interested in helping families in need. Maximize your impact by coordinating your efforts and organize a meal train to give families who need a little extra help a chance to get support from their neighbors until they’re back on their feet. Websites like MealTrain.com and MakeThemAMeal.com can help you organize a meal schedule.

When Luisa Flores of Dallas, Texas, lost her father to COVID-19, it sparked a chain of events that drained her family’s savings and has left them reliant on food banks to eat. Her story is just one example of how the pandemic has devastated families and led to a spike in food insecurity across the country.

3. Volunteer to Serve Meals

According to Feeding America, four out of five food banks are serving more people than they were a year ago, and two-thirds of them need volunteers. Check with your local food bank to see if they need help sorting food donations, or prepping and serving meals. If you are unable to volunteer in person because of the coronavirus, many food banks need virtual volunteers as well.

4. Donate Money to Food Banks

Aren’t able to volunteer right now? Consider donating instead. Many food banks need financial support to continue feeding families through the pandemic. Many times, donating money actually goes farther than donating canned goods since food banks have relationships with farms or vendors that help make that dollar go a lot further. 

Martha Mae Adams is a retired postal police officer who lives in New York City. After leaving that career for health reasons, she continued to support herself with the help of some income she made working with children. But COVID-19 ended that. She talked to NBCLX about overcoming her shame to accept donations from a food pantry during the pandemic. “There comes a time when everybody needs some kind of help.”

5. Start a Community Fridge

Community fridges can help people access donated food without the added stigma of going to a food bank. For perishable food items, consider putting a spare refrigerator where neighbors can stock it with fresh fruits and veggies, and neighbors in need can take what they need, no questions asked. If you have a spare bookshelf, consider setting up a station where people can leave or take canned goods, non-perishables and household necessities.

A community fridge in East Harlem is not just fighting insecurity — it’s bringing the neighborhood together. Three chefs who live in the community launched the Barrio Fridge in June after they saw how the coronavirus pandemic was making fresh and healthy food even scarcer in their dense neighborhood. They have since seen how the simple initiative has brought people together.

6. Start a Garden 

It’s never too early to plan for spring. If you have access to a community garden or have spare space in your yard, think about planting fruits and veggies that can be donated to those in need. There are even free garden plans online to help you get started!

7. Start a Fundraiser

While there are thousands of families facing food insecurity, there are even more who want to help. Host an online bake sale or a virtual garage sale to safely raise funds for food banks, or use your social media network to raise funds through a GoFundMe.

8. Think Beyond the Pantry

While giving food is definitely a great start to combating food insecurity, many families in need have to make tough choices between buying food or other important supplies. Donating items like baby formula, diapers, toilet paper, feminine items, first aid supplies and cleaners can help families save money to buy food or other costly supplies they need. 

Period poverty. It’s when someone doesn’t have access to menstrual products — often because they simply can’t afford them. Scotland recently became the first country in the world to make period products free to every citizen who needs them. But here in the U.S., they are not even exempt from taxes placed on luxury goods in many states. NBCLX Storyteller Ngozi Ekeledo examines this important issue.

9. Prepare Snack Bags

Buy paper lunch bags and fill them with snacks and essential items that can be handed to people in need. Visit discount chains or wholesale stores to find bulk granola or protein bars, trail mix, hand sanitizer, and feminine items, and keep prepped bags in your car to hand to people who are asking for help or spare change.

10. Call Your Representatives

Call your local or state officials and urge them to expand programs that help the hungry. Make sure your community leaders are aware of the hunger facing their constituents and ask that food programs be protected from any budget cuts. Share information on your social media pages to make sure your friends and family know how to help. You can also contact your local news outlets to ask that they cover the food insecurity in your area to help raise awareness.