Food Pantries Need Donations Now More Than Ever

Food pantries need donations now more than ever explains the dramatic increase in the need for nonperishables at local food banks and includes the items that are most in demand.

Chances are pretty good that those of us who rely on the recipes from this site experience hunger in a rather privileged way. And by that, we mean simply what we have the means to remedy the situation at will. Our biggest challenge, if anything, tends to be deciding what to make for dinner.

A less easily remedied type of hunger has long afflicted our country and has increased dramatically in the last 10 months due to Covid-related job loss, reduced wages, and food shortages. Food pantries have seen an estimated 60% increase in the number of households seeking assistance with groceries, according to Zuani Villarreal, communications director for Feeding America, a nationwide collaborative of more than 200 food banks. We all witnessed those videos and headlines of long lines waiting to collect food from local charities. Many of the people waiting in line were first-timers who found themselves unable to make ends meet.


Even before last year, food banks struggled to keep up with demand. The situation is far more serious today. For those of us who can share with food pantries, we want to remind us what’s most in need.

What to donate

Pretty much anything nonperishable is welcome. Also consider the items that nonperishable packaged products require to be cooked, such as olive oil, salt, and pepper. Another thing that’s high on the list of most-coveted items is shelf-stable dairy alternatives, including oat, soy, rice, and almond milk, as well as powdered or evaporated milk. These are essential to go with all those donated boxes of breakfast cereal.

Also think beyond the essentials to things that can elevate the basics to something more satisfying. Olive oil. Spices. Hot sauce or condiments. Even a bar of chocolate, though not a necessity, can be a truly needed godsend. And a boxed brownie or cake mix and a can of frosting that needs only water may be the only means to a child having something special on a birthday.

And don’t discount the need for household or basic items just because they’re not food. These things may seem like nothing to get excited about but such necessities are often overlooked and are always in tremendous demand. Families with children are especially vulnerable. Donations of these types of items can go a long way, both in terms of health and dignity.


Pasta sauce
Ramen (or, if it aligns more with your vibe, whole-grain pasta)
Canned tuna or chicken
Hot sauce and other condiments
Salt, pepper, and spices
Coffee and tea
Olive oil
Shelf-stable dairy
Boxed brownie or cake mix
Canned frosting
Chocolate bars


Household and personal items

Dish and laundry soap
Toothpaste, floss, and mouthwash
Hand soap
Feminine hygiene products
Can openers


We confess: It can somehow feel better to drop off a box of actual food instead of making an online donation. While food pantries appreciate donations of any sort, a $20 donation goes much further than $20 of groceries that you purchased at retail prices. Not only are food banks able to purchase food at discounted or wholesale prices, but food banks know what they need and are able to fill in the blanks.

What not to donate

The biggest rule to follow: Would you eat it? Expired, damaged, opened, and unrecognizable items, or things that just seem weird to you, should be considered unacceptable.

Otherwise, the biggest concern for food banks is perishability. If you’ve come into a surplus of, say, tomatoes, first inquire rather than rush over and dump it at a food bank. Also, most food banks won’t take home-baked goods due to health regulations, so drop that extra 3 dozen cookies on your neighbor’s porch.

How to make your donations mean even more

Ask your company to participate in a corporate matching gift program and you’ll effectively double your donation. If you can’t afford to donate, volunteer your time since food banks are commonly understaffed. Uncertain what to donate? Call your local food bank and ask. Whether it’s time, money, or resources, they’ll let you know exactly what’s needed.



  1. Anyone who works at a nonprofit will tell you that predictable donations are the best–rather than a one-off donation, signing up to give monthly really helps them know how to plan, and planning is more efficient. So pick a food bank, decide what you can afford, and give it monthly. Then, if you’re feeling flush, you can drop off a few extras.

  2. As the former board member of a food bank, I’ve found that a donation goes much further if you give cash (and get it matched by an employer, preferably) than if you buy items at a grocery store and donate. Food banks have immense buying power because they buy in bulk, so they get much better deals than we ever can.

  3. Been working with a local food shelf for years. I donate as much fresh produce from the farm as I can every month, and add as much as I can in shelf-stable milk and get canned goods by the case from a local warehouse store. Was once in the position of need years ago and know what it’s like to not have enough to feed a family. When I lived in another state I cooked meals several times a month and donated as much as I could from my restaurant. The clients there loved it when I cooked for them. Always had plenty of volunteers to help clean up.

    1. Vincent, this is wonderful. It’s unfortunate that you had to go through that experience, but you are incredible for using it to strive to help others. You set an amazing example for all of us.

  4. I take advantage of grocery stores’ marketing strategies to make my donations stretch and easier for the food pantries to match things up. Among the few grocery store chains where I live, one in particular offers a lot of buy-one-get-one-free sales every week. Not only do BOGO deals allow you to help two households for the price of one, but the sale items tend to pair well: canned chili and cornbread mixes; pasta and canned tomatoes or jarred sauces; peanut butter and jellies; canned soups and crackers; canned tuna and mayonnaise, etc. Non-grocery items are often buy-one-get-one-50%-off, like dish soaps and sponges; toothpaste and tooth brushes; bandages and peroxide, and so on. And yes, it’s always good to call the food pantry if you have questions. Surprisingly, some gladly take fresh fruit (bananas are a “no,” I was told, as they attract fruit flies and cannot be refrigerated). So when I see bagged apples or pears with a BOGO sign, they’re making my shopping cart.

  5. Thank you for this article. Bringing awareness to the plight of many is a noble thing to do.

    Love the ideas! Love the blog, too!

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