For most people, the holidays are a time for community, family, and coming together to share a meal. Just the phrase “the holidays” makes us think of familiar family stories swapped over heaping plates. Thanksgiving, in particular, gives us a chance to slow down and reflect on the things we’re grateful for. But for millions of families who face daily hunger and food insecurity, the holidays are a sharp reminder that not everybody lives within the same means. Give-back programs can help. 

According to a HuffPost article by Vicki B. Escarra, the President and CEO of Feeding America, for the 17 million families struggling with personal economic crises, hunger always looms. But during the holidays, it hurts that much more. She writes, “My heart breaks when I hear stories from people who can’t afford to feed their families, like David, a single father of a 9-year-old boy who has been struggling since he lost his job as an executive recruiter. He tells us that he had no money and no food and that his electricity is about to be turned off.”

For families like David’s, give-back programs can be the difference between eating or going hungry this holiday season. 

When I first conceived of climbing the 7 Summits, it seemed like an obvious choice to tie my love for mountaineering into a give-back program. I’ve always been passionate about feeding the world. I’m proud that my team’s hard work and dedication—paired with science, data, and technology—can fulfill a basic human need and make people’s lives easier. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to the food we grow at Northerly. Poverty, food deserts, and a lack of education when it comes to proper nutrition are very real obstacles many of us face. 

I’m climbing to feed the world and raise awareness–one step at a time. But there are still things that we can do this holiday season to take care of our communities and make sure nobody goes to bed hungry Thanksgiving night. 

Grocery store give-back programs

Throughout the holiday season, many grocery stores have a round-up program that lets you turn your spare change into meals for families in need. Whether they’ve partnered with local food banks and food pantries or global food networks like Feeding America, these round-ups are an easy way to make the most of your last-minute supply run. Many stores will also host food drives, or donate low-cost Thanksgiving meals to local families. Check with your local grocery store to see what give-back options are available. 

Donate to your local food bank

Looking to make a difference? Food banks should be your go-to for holiday season give-backs. According to a recent online report commissioned by the Feed the Hope campaign, one in five Canadians uses a food bank during their lifetime. That’s approximately 850,000 people per month. Which is comparable to the one in seven Americans who rely on food banks and food pantries to feed themselves and their families. 

While food banks need your donations to fight hunger year-round, they see peak traffic during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Just last year, our partner St. Mary’s Food Bank, made it their goal to distribute 11,000 turkeys to their community. For three days, volunteers distributed holiday dinner supplies to thousands of people. And where did those supplies come from? People like you.

One thing to keep in mind: food banks aren’t a dumping ground. They don’t want the weird cans of unidentifiable fish and vegetables lurking in the back of your pantry, or food that has gone beyond its expiration date. Instead, use a holiday food drive checklist to make sure you’re donating supplies that can actually be used by give-back programs.

Shop BOGO

An easy way to maximize your give-back potential: scope out buy-one-get-one deals. You probably can’t use two 10 pound bags of potatoes on the big day, but a food bank can easily use that and more. This is an excellent way to give back, at no extra cost to you. 

Support give-back brands

Another easy way to give back without breaking the bank is to support brands that have built-in give-back programs. Whether they give product directly to food bank partners like Northerly does, or donate a portion of profits to local and global organizations like these companies, supporting food brands that give back is a simple way to vote with your wallet while supporting communities. 

Cash donations 

A lot of food banks around the holidays also find themselves running low on money. If you’re able to make a financial donation, they can purchase the most high-demand food items to ensure there are no gaps in the food supply chain.

What not to give

Unfortunately, food banks can’t accept your leftover stuffing or even that opened bag of dinner rolls. Most need sealed packages to distribute food to the people who visit. 

Volunteer your time

Time is the most valuable resource in today’s busy world. And you can give yours to help feed people this holiday season. Many soup kitchens, shelters, churches, and schools will host a Thanksgiving meal (or two) this season, and they’re always looking for hands to help serve.

Not sure that’s the best fit? Of the 41 million Americans struggling with hunger or food insecurity every day, 5.5 million are senior citizens. And programs like Meals On Wheels offer volunteer opportunities to deliver hot meals directly to people’s doorsteps. 

Save a seat for someone in need

If you’ve got more than you need, build a bigger table. Maybe you’ve got an elderly neighbor. Or a coworker who always “brown bags” lunch. Or there’s a classmate in your kid’s class who is on the free lunch program. One of the easiest ways to give back this holiday season is to set an extra place at the table. According to Market Watch, Americans are expected to throw away approximately 200 million pounds of turkey this Thanksgiving. Imagine if that wasted food could be used to combat hunger instead of contributing to the problem. 

Not sure a friend or colleague will want to sit through your family’s inside jokes and embarrassing childhood stories? The day after Thanksgiving is still a great day to give back. While most food banks can’t take your home-cooked meals, some pantries and other charitable organizations can. Call around ahead of time to see who might be able to use your leftovers. 

Get others involved in give-back programs

Nobody can end hunger single-handedly. But when we all pull together, it’s incredible what we can accomplish. One of the best ways to help those facing hunger this holiday season is to raise awareness and rally people around your cause. You can put together an office charity basket, where everyone chips in one or two items to create a meal for donation. 

Or you can put together a team for a Hunger Walk, and get people to pledge a dollar amount for every mile you walk. Similar to my 7 Summits climb-and-give, watching those donations rack up will be a motivator to help you press on. 

Or, even simpler, collect cash donations from the office, your friends and family, or any other social organizations you’re involved in. The players on your Friday night pick-up basketball team are probably just as excited about feeding the world as you are.  

Give what you can, share what you’re able, and look out for those who need it most. We’re all in this together. 

buy sustainably at the grocery store, emergency food supply