Stay up to date on our work and the latest news
Create Account / Login

Make yourself at home!

You’re currently browsing our US site, but our family reaches across the world.

To make sure you’re supporting your local Mary’s Meals, please select your country from the list below.

If you can’t see your country then don’t worry! You can use our International site.

Volunteer serving porridge

A Daily Meal for Just 13 Cents: How Can It Cost So Little To Provide Essential Food at School?

Find out four of the ways Mary’s Meals keeps running costs low in bringing much-needed daily meals to children from vulnerable communities in their place of education.

Published on

At Mary’s Meals, we often refer to ourselves as a low-cost charity. Low cost certainly doesn’t mean low quality and across our school feeding operation, we work hard to ensure we can source good quality produce for good value for money – and locally wherever possible.  

Embedded in our core organizational values is a commitment to the good stewardship of all funds entrusted to us and a belief in the innate goodness of people. These are two of the pillars that underpin our everyday work and, to honor them both, we strive to keep administration and fundraising costs low.  

Every decision we make is informed by the understanding that generous donors entrust us with their resources, and we regularly assess the effectiveness and appropriateness of our work to ensure donations are being spent where the need is greatest. Here are some of the considered and effective steps we take as an organization to keep our running costs to a minimum while allowing us to reach more than 2.4 million children across 18 countries with a nutritious meal every school day. 

Volunteers walking

Efficient Practices Across the Board 

The average cost to provide a child with a meal in their place of education for an entire school year is just $25.20. We are open and transparent about where the donations we receive are spent, and those who decide to support our mission with one-off or regular gifts can be sure their gifts will have an impact in some of the world’s poorest communities. One of the main reasons that we can provide such a reliable service to the children we serve is that we buy our ingredients in bulk. Economies of scale enable us to purchase large quantities of food, centralize logistics management and negotiate favorable costs for the items we need for our program. One of the other main reasons takes us back to the innate goodness of people. 

Volunteer pouring porridge

Volunteers Are Central to Our Model 

Mary’s Meals has always been an organization that relies on the generosity of volunteers. In the countries where our meals are served to children while they learn, local volunteers – many of whom are mothers, fathers, grandparents or neighbors of children who receive the meals – take ownership of the everyday running of our school feeding program. They leave their homes early (some walking miles to the nearest school or education center) to prepare, cook and serve the meals for the children. In Africa alone, there are tens of thousands of volunteer cooks sharing their time and skills to bring hope to some of the most vulnerable children living in their local communities and without their unwavering support and dedication, our life-changing work simply wouldn’t be feasible.

Mary's Meals supporters at concert

Our global movement is always growing, with new people being inspired to join the Mary’s Meals family and looking to play their part in our work. An intrinsic part of our mission is to involve as many people as possible, recognizing that each of us has a unique part to play in this work, and our fundraisers and volunteers continually amaze with their energy and creativity. Some put their endurance to the test and complete sporting challenges to raise funds for our work, while others attend events and hand out Mary’s Meals flyers or set up volunteer groups where they live to get their friends, family and wider communities involved. We even have talented writers who donate proceeds from their book sales to further our work. Other volunteers offer professional skills that bolster our organization in a variety of ways. Across North America and Europe, we have volunteers who help us with social media, communications, finance, IT, and much more, and the time they offer allows us to grow as an organization while maximizing the good we can do with the donations we receive. No matter what time they have to spare or what skills they have to share, the passion and commitment of all our volunteers across our movement is priceless. 

Magnus and his books

The Power of Storytelling 

In the early days of Mary’s Meals, our founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow very quickly became aware that sharing the story of Mary’s Meals ignited a spark among people and prompted support for our mission (so much so, he eventually wrote the story down in a book!) The power of our story and the passion of those sharing it with people they meet has continued over our decades-long history and still, to this day, is one of the most effective ways to generate support.  

The simple act of Mary’s Meals volunteers dressed in bright blue t-shirts telling our story and introducing people to our work in parishes, schools, fairs and markets or on local radio stations brings new hearts and minds to Mary’s Meals every day. And the growth of social media has given us many opportunities to share our story far and wide without big costs. 

Of course, it’s not just our story that we share but the stories of the children we serve, the communities we work in partnership with, and the volunteers who are instrumental in delivering our program. These stories recount the enormous challenges communities often face but they also highlight the community spirit we see every day that triumphs over adversity and ensures that children can receive a meal every school day.   


Staff With a Vocational Attitude   

We have a conviction that those who are paid to work for Mary’s Meals should never be paid high salaries. This is because we work with some of the poorest people on earth and rely on tens of thousands of volunteers all over the world. 

We have a team of passionate, talented people with a deep vocational attitude to our mission and an understanding of why we must stay committed to good stewardship of funds.