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Many people donate the usual items – dry beans, canned vegetables, soup and any other cans sitting in their pantry. Many people view food drives as a way to clean out their cupboards and help the community all at the same time. I know this has happened to you, the kids come into the kitchen right before leaving for school and say “Mom, we’re doing a food drive and today’s the last day. I need some cans”. We don’t think about it we grab a few cans and toss them in their backpack. I wanted to write this article to let people know that in order to provide adequate meals to the hungry we have to start thinking about exactly what a hungry person needs.
I started thinking about the times I had to visit a food pantry when my children were younger. I was grateful for what I received but it was extremely hard to feed my four children a weeks worth of meals out of a box that often contained: 2 cans of green beans, 2 cans of corn, 2 cans of cranberry sauce, 1 can of cherry pie filling (no crust mix), a box of mac and cheese mix, a box of pasta noodles, a jar of peanut butter, a bag of dry beans, a box of cereal, and the mystery can with no label. When you have nothing at home, no meat, no butter, no flour, no eggs, no milk, no bread, not even salt or pepper, it is hard to make meals out of this box. If you are homeless with no access to a kitchen or a can opener it is even harder.
Unless you have actually had to visit a food pantry, you just don’t think about these things or what items people may actually need. Here is a list of items food pantries often need in addition to the usual canned and boxed food.
- Baby items – diapers, wipes, powder, lotion, diaper rash creme, formula, ready made bottles and nipples, baby juice, baby food,
- Can openers
- Canned meat – chicken, ham, spam
- Cleaning products – laundry detergent, dryer sheets, dish liquid, trash bags, multi-purpose cleaner
- Complete meals in a can – ravioli, beef stew, chunky soup
- Condiments – spices, ketchup, mustard, ranch dressing, garlic powder, Italian seasonings, grated Parmesan cheese
- Culturally Diverse food – adobo, curry, tortillas, chiles, teriyaki sauce, miso, couscous
- Drink mix powders that already have sugar added or are individuals.
- Emergency preparedness foods that only require water to make.
- Food that needs no preparation – jerky, dried meat, nuts, trail mix, protein bars, nutrition bars
- Health specific food – diabetic, gluten free, vegan
- Items that go together – Pie crust mix and pie filling, cake mix and icing, spaghetti sauce and noodles
- Mixes that only require water – muffin, pancake, brownie, instant oatmeal, instant grits, coco wheats, hot chocolate, instant coffee, herbal teas
- Paper products – toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, plastic silverware, plastic sandwich bags (for packing lunches)
- Peanut butter and jelly
- Pet food (call ahead and make sure the food pantry accepts it)
- School snack food for children – pudding cups, fruit cups, individual snacks, trail mix,
- Staples – olive oil, sugar, flour, corn meal, brown sugar, oats, instant rice
- Toiletries – tampons and pads, shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, body wash, lotion, adult size diapers
- Whole meals for example chili fixins – canned chili beans, kidney beans, black beans, tomatoes, and mushrooms, chili powder,cumin,dried minced onions, tomato juice
This is not an exhaustive list in any sense. These are just items I was happy to receive or wished I had received when I needed help. When you donate to a food pantry think about what you would need if you lost your job, your house burned down and your family was hungry. Don’t assume anyone has a kitchen or a can opener because many people don’t have either. Make sure you donate to your local food pantry year round, not just during the holidays. Food pantries are desperate for donations in the summer months and right after the holidays.
Every year on the Saturday before Mother’s Day the US Postal Service holds the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. Its easy to participate just gather non-perishable food items in a bag and leave it near your mailbox. Be sure and spread the word and encourage your neighbors to participate.
If you have any ideas or additions for the list please add them in the comments.