What Should I Donate to a Food Pantry?

(update October 2018)


Right now, you are asking yourself what you should donate to the food pantry or local food drive.  I know because I’m psychic, not really, you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t looking for some suggestions.

When it comes to food pantries, food drives, food banks or whatever your community calls them, many people donate the usual items – dry beans, canned vegetables, soup and any other cans sitting in their pantry.  People often 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 and send them out the door.



But maybe we should think about it

So what exactly does a hungry person need?

If you had nothing what would you need to make a meal for your children?

If your family was living in a car what kind of food could you make?

Without a can opener, how would you open your food?


I started thinking about when my children were younger and I had to visit a food pantry to make it through the month.

I wanted 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. Stop using it as an excuse to clean out your cabinets.

I was grateful for what I received but it was extremely hard to feed my four children a week’s 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 ( no milk or butter), a box of pasta noodles ( no sauce), a jar of peanut butter ( no bread), a bag of dry beans, a box of cereal, and the mystery can with no label. If I was lucky there would be 1 roll of toilet paper, or some dish liquid or maybe a can of the USDA government surplus pork parts.

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.

Don’t think I wasn’t grateful for anything I received because it kept my children from going hungry but I wanted to share the reality of a food pantry box for a family of 5.

The bigger question is why in a country full of abundance that throws away tons of food each day is anyone going hungry is the real question but that is for another post.




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 non-perishable foods.


  • 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, chilies, 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
  • Juice and Bottled Water
  • 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
  • Non-food items (call ahead and make sure your local food pantry accepts it) pet food, socks, underwear, notepads, pens, tote bags, blankets, scarves, hats, gloves, rain ponchos
  • School snack food for children – pudding cups, fruit cups, individual snacks, trail mix,
  • Staples – olive oil, sugar, flour, cornmeal, 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, or a natural disaster struck 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. People are hungry all year not just at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Food pantries are desperate for donations in the summer months and right after the holidays when donations tend to drop.


What Should I Donate to a Food Pantry EclecticEvelyn.com


Every year on the Saturday before Mother’s Day the US Postal Service holds the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. It’s 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 each year.


Need Help?

To find out where your local food pantry is, you can call WhyHunger at 1.800.5HUNGRY

or visit Feeding America 

Share this poster so others know who to call.

are you hungry find food here WhyHunger.org


If you have any ideas or additions for the list

please add them in the comments.

No Shame Quote by Evelyn Dortch EclecticEvelyn.com


15 thoughts on “What Should I Donate to a Food Pantry?”

  1. I am guilty as charged, when it comes to selecting items for a food bank. Things purchased by mistake or unpopular to eat here are “donated” without much thought. If I had to live a week eating only items similar to those I donated, it would be a tough week! I shall think more critically about it in future.

  2. My dad runs a food pantry and they are always asking for spaghetti pasta and sauce. It’s a great meal that allows for veggies as well as carbs. This is a great post! Thank you for visiting and sharing with #AnythingGoes.

  3. Becky Richardson

    You are spot on. I volunteer at a Food Pantry every year and I have never seen baby diapers, etc. I don’t think people realize these kind of things are greatly needed.

  4. I would add Ensure to the list up there. There are elderly, and cancer patients who go to the food bank who cant eat much or thats all they can have and it is rarely available.

  5. I’ve been meaning to run some of the groceries that we haven’t used over to our local food pantry. This is a great list of other items that they might need!

  6. Very good info. You are so right — many times we really don’t think about our donations in the same way we look at feeding or taking care of our own family. I will look at this differently from now on.

  7. Important message Evelyn. I usually donate food and send in a check to the community food bank where I live. Yes, trying to imagine myself walking in someone else’s moccasins is an eye opener. Will Pin. Visiting from #WOW 36 this week. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. I’ve been told canned stew, tuna fish, and peanut butter are good choices. It’s hard to think of good options for someone without a kitchen–maybe trail mix and nuts. What about Ensure and protein bars?

  9. These are all good ideas. The food pantry where we live accepts no perishable items but if you donate it goes much farther. $5 provides $25 meals.

  10. Thanks for your article and info. First of all and almost always donate non-parishables. And from someone who has been to a food pantry before please…if you wouldn’t want to receive then donated food that you would.

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