All year round, my credit union collects donations for our local food pantry. Employees have to bring in a donation in order to wear jeans on Friday, members often drop things off to add to our collection, and we frequently do fundraisers like bake sales or 50/50 raffles to help raise money. Because we work so closely with our food pantry, we get a lot of questions about what things they need, what stuff is okay to donate, and what stuff is not. So here are a few simple guidelines to follow when you are making a donation to your local food pantry:
Keep it simple. Consider donating things that are easy to open and easy to prepare. The living situation of some food pantry clients can be unstable, which means they might not always have access to stuff like an oven, a microwave, or even a can opener. Foods that require little to no preparation are therefore super valuable to these clients; consider donating things you’d pack in a school lunch like granola or protein bars, goldfish, peanut butter, etc. Similarly avoid food that requires a lot of extra ingredients to be cooked properly. For example a cake mix that you just need to add water to is better than a cake mix that calls for milk, eggs, and butter, because the recipient might not have access to those extra food items. If the recipient can’t open the packaging or can’t cook it, your donation is thoughtful but not very practical.
Keep portions small and items in their original packaging. Our credit union buys a lot of our supplies in bulk at BJ’s so we often pick up items for the food pantry while we’re there. It’s great because you can get a lot of food for a good price, but what’s not always so great is the portion sizes. A gallon jar of peanut butter for $11.99 is an awesome deal, but it only feeds one food pantry client because it can’t be portioned out to multiple people. Four 12 oz. jars of peanut butter would be better because they can feed four people instead of one. However, let’s say you’re donating a 12 pack of granola bars. Keep all 12 bars in the box they come in when you donate it. Don’t open the box and separate them out. Depending on the need, the food pantry can decide whether to give the whole box to one client or give the bars individually to multiple clients.
Ask what’s needed. The volunteers at the food pantry know exactly what things their clients need most. If you’re not sure what to donate, just ask them! They’ll have plenty of ideas. They might also request non-food items that can’t be purchased with food stamps like paper towels, toilet paper, tampons/pads, soap, or deodorant. I also never would have guessed that the food pantry wanted all of my old plastic shopping bags, but when I asked one of our food pantry friends what she needed they were on the top of her list! Clients use them for shopping, so instead of being annoyed by the 300 plastic bags I gave them, they were grateful.
Don’t donate anything that has expired. A lot of food pantry donations come from people cleaning out their own pantries, which is awesome. Instead of throwing stuff out, why not give it to someone who would eat it? But it’s important to check the expiration date before you donate these items. I know I don’t want to eat crackers that went bad in 2007, so chances are food pantry clients don’t either. Plus you don’t want anyone to get sick from eating food that has gone bad.
Consider donating cash. Often times non-profit organizations can get better deals on food than you can shopping as an individual, so making a cash donation to your food pantry can be very valuable to them. If you’d like to help out your food pantry but aren’t sure what to give, inquire about how you can make a cash donation. It’s less work for you and potentially more food for them.
I hope these tips help make your donation decisions a little easier. Food pantries are so crucial to making sure no one in our community goes hungry. Our local food pantry serves over 100 households every month – that’s a lot of food! However you can help, big or small, $1 or $100, your food pantry will appreciate your contribution.