8 Tips for Distributing Food Packets

By Jeff Palmer, CEO on October 19, 2017 | Print

Photo from imb.org

Once you determine your target group and have a good idea of your resources available and the scope of your response, you will need to start thinking about what kind of goods, especially foods, that you will be distributing. There are several organizations that create pre-packed, ready to cook foods for groups like BGR. You can use these food packets, but before you do, let me caution you: locally sourced is almost always better and more economical.


The foods we get locally to distribute usually are culturally acceptable. They are familiar to the population undergoing hunger and usually desired by the people. The practice of buying local and distributing is much more economical – in other words we can get more food to more people since we don’t have to pay international shipping. Moreover, the speed of delivery of local food is much quicker than waiting on a shipping container or even airlift of pre-packed foods. And, the purchasing of food to distribute from local vendors can help to stimulate a suffering economy.

So, what do we need to think about when distributing a locally sourced food package?

  1. Determine traditional sources of carbohydrates, proteins and other needed food groups in the target area. I won’t go into it here, but there are well documented UN SPHERE standards for the amount of each of these (mainly based on calories) needed for a person based upon their age, gender, etc. Using locally available foods helps to ensure they will accept and use the food given.
  2. Identify what is available locally and supplement as needed. Going back to the first paragraph of this blog, use local contacts to find local sources. In many cases, you will find vendors who may even give good deals or offer to cover transportation. There are still good people in the world!
  3. Determine when the situation is likely to improve and when your distributions might need to end. This is good stewardship of resources and helps to derail false expectations of recipients.
  4. Compute food quantities and types needed to make a significant difference until the crisis improves. It may be the target group may have enough carbs but have little or no protein. We can shift our focus to providing protein rich beans/grains in a case like this. Knowing what they do have and the gap of what they need to have a nutritious, balanced diet, can help us help them bridge that gap.
  5. Consider the timing of distributions. What is culturally appropriate? What is best for security of the distribution team? While daytime might be best for us, there might be some mitigating circumstances that would make a different time for distribution optimal for the target community.
  6. Calculate the number to be fed and plan accordingly. We generally use the community and local leaders to help us come up with this number. We also usually have a “ticket” system in place that those who will receive at the distribution have been pre-approved, have their ticket in hand, and will exchange it for food on the day of the distribution. This can be tricky but organization along these lines can help avoid a number of pitfalls.
  7. Decide how food will be transported. Don’t forget the transportation. It can be a significant part (resource wise) to your distribution efforts depending upon the circumstances. Be ready for break downs and delays. Be flexible. On a side note, it may be that the greatest role you and your team play in a food dispersal program is the transportation of the food/goods to be distributed. In a few places, we have had governments, the World Food Program (WFP), or other NGO’s who provided the food packets but didn’t have a way to deliver and our part was simply the delivery.
  8. Identify any medical needs due to hunger issues. There may be some cases where you need to step in and get people help especially in life threatening situations.

We would love to hear your experiences in food distribution projects! Please feel free to share the good and the bad!