August 04, 2011

A Can of 'Nothing' Supports Food Banks

Nothing can end hunger.

That's what people in Rhode Island said when hunger advocates asked them to support food banks, giving the advocates an idea: Maybe nothing can end hunger. Nothing, that is, in the form of an empty can—one made to look like a can of soup with a "Nothing" label.

With the help of local marketing firm Nail Communications, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, in Providence, sold the cans in May last year at Dunkin' Donuts, Whole Foods, and other stores.

For $3, customers could buy a can, and the full purchase price would go to the food bank. They could also use the cans to collect money (they have slots on top) and drop them off at the food bank when they were full.

"People filled them to the brim," says Andrew Schiff, chief executive of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. The average can contained about $50, he says. The Nothing campaign, which ran from May to July last year, raised $200,000 from the purchase of cans, related online donations, and sponsorship from a bank.

The campaign also boosted overall fund raising, Mr. Schiff says. In 2010 the food bank raised $1.2-million, up from $900,000 in the previous year. Online donations rose to $245,000 from July to December 2010, compared with $180,000 during the same period in 2009.

Now the Nothing campaign is spreading to food banks in two other states: Ohio and Vermont. Says Charles Barber, spokesman for the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks: "It's really with the recession a time to re-educate the public that those who used to be in the middle class are now served by the food banks."

From July to September, people in Ohio can purchase the Nothing cans for $3 apiece at participating food banks and grocery stores. They can also text "Foodbank" to 85944, a new component to the campaign, or go to and donate online. So far, the Ohio food-bank group has received about $5,000 from the can purchases and online donations and $500 through the mobile-giving outlet.

Rhode Island also plans to repeat the Nothing campaign in September, just in time to mark "Hunger Awareness Month."