Last updated on November 3rd, 2021
(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.
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.
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.
If you have any ideas or additions for the list
please add them in the comments.