When it comes to making a donation to a food pantry or a food bank, I used to think it was a no brainer. My mind mapped out a Venn diagram of sorts that considered what my dietary staples included, what I knew to be non-perishable items, and then I tried to scoop up whatever overlapped. Rice, peanut butter, canned vegetables, canned fruit, noodles, pasta sauces, soups, sugar, flour, salt, in addition to other baby and personal care items*.
Still, I realize that a big part of what food banks and food pantries do besides keep people fed is to also provide dignity. With that in mind, I’ve tried to expand my donations. If you’re looking to push your giving beyond the basics, here are a few of my favorite items to donate.
I have been a long-time supporter of various local food pantries. In fact, every time I grocery shop for my little family, I make sure to add an item or two that I donate at month’s end. Still, it took a lesson from Boy Scouts to drive this donation idea home. I had never seen it on a most requested list, but pet food really is a no-brainer when you think about it. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates that nearly 80 million dogs and 100 million cats are owned in the United States. That means that nearly half of the homeowners in the US have pets.
When the local scouts left a flyer in our mailbox last spring saying they were collecting only pet food for the local food pantry, I was floored. After a moment or two of thought, it occurred to me – if you’re struggling to feed your family, of course you’re also struggling to feed your pets. Ever since that flyer appeared, I now add pet food to the rotation of items I pick up. An added bonus is the fact that I’m nearly certain Mr. P’s heart stops a little each time he helps me unload groceries and he discovers dog treats or cat food. I’m not sure if he’s more afraid that my cooking has devolved to an all-time low or if I’ve adopted a stray without his knowledge.
Our last school food pantry collection yielded thousands of items of the classic staples – pasta noodles, rice, canned vegetables, beans. I talked to my students a little bit about the types of food we like to eat, and we quickly came to the conclusion that while the cliche “variety is the spice of life” is true, that variety may very well come from spices. Add a pinch of cumin to diced tomatoes for a more Tex-Mex flair, while a dash of oregano and garlic salt will have your tastebuds thinking Mediterranean. We decided that while spices aren’t normally thought of as something that is desperately needed, they would be very much appreciated as people try to get clever with their meal planning. With stores from Dollar Tree to Aldi carrying spices very inexpensively, these items make wonderful additions to other donated goods.
Many food pantries run different programs or initiatives throughout the year. Of all the special programs I’ve seen, I think my favorite is one called Birthday Bags. At our local pantry, a birthday gift bag is filled with cake mix, a can of frosting, and candles to make sure families are able to celebrate their children’s birthdays. While I have a heard a handful of people remark that these are non-essentials, the reminder that you are special and worth celebrating offers children and families happiness and dignity. There’s nothing frivolous about that. Prior to learning about this program, I never would have thought to donate items like brownie, cake, or cookie mixes. Now, it’s one of my favorite offerings, because I imagine the spark of excitement and time of celebration for that family.
*I also try to donate items that require no need to heat or prepare. One local grocer sells tuna-and-cracker kits and hummus-and-cracker kits that have a long shelf.
PS – To read about how I combine couponing with donations, check out this post.
So Tell Me…Have you heard of any other items or initiatives that your food pantries or food banks collect?