Call it the Ebenezer Scrooge effect: Americans tend to donate more to charities during the holiday season than other times of year. Like Scrooge after his change of heart, we’re inclined to pick up an extra goose to share with those less fortunate. As a result, some 35 percent of all charitable giving takes place in the last three months of the year; and nearly 20 percent in December alone.

But hunger knows no season. As the northern states endure the long, cold slog toward springtime, many U.S. hunger relief organizations are seeing their donations decline—at the same time that need is on the rise.

Canned goods pictured at Salvation Army USA.

Photo courtesy of Salvation Army USA via flickr

“During the winter months, people who are struggling to make ends meet may face additional challenges that put more strain on their resources,” explains Kristopher Tazelaar, communications manager for Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, based in Madison, Wisconsin. “Utility bills generally go up because you have to heat your home, hours at seasonal jobs may be reduced, and the cost of some types of food, like fruits and vegetables, may go up. People end up cutting where they feel they can. Many times, that’s food.”

This “heat-or-eat” dilemma faces many clients of Feeding America, a Chicago-based nonprofit that administers a nationwide network of food banks providing food to some 46 million people. Roughly half of those recipients report having to choose between paying their heating utility or purchasing food.

The upshot? Whether or not you included a local food pantry in your holiday giving, now is an excellent time to donate. And that doesn’t necessarily mean a trip to the grocery store. Although non-perishable food drives are an important part of hunger relief, cash donations are actually much more important.

Canned goods from Salvation Army USA.

Photo courtesy of Salvation Army USA via flickr

“The reality is that giving money will have a much bigger impact than giving food,” explains Tazelaar. For every dollar, he says, “we can get 10 times the amount of food because of our buying power. That’s 10 times the impact for the same dollar. In fact, we can provide three meals for every one dollar we receive.”

An excellent tool to navigate the non-profit sector is the website Charity Navigator. From the organization’s home page, users can browse charities by category and drill down to “Food Banks, Food Pantries, and Food Distribution” to see a list of organizations that can be further filtered by location or other characteristics. In addition to contact information, Charity Navigator provides a star rating based on how much money each organization spends on programming versus administrative costs, as well as other criteria.

By taking these simple steps to donate $25 or $50 to a reputable local food shelf, we can work together to put an end to hunger in our local communities.

Organic Valley is proud to fight hunger by donating our products to food banks in our local communities.