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.
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
Boxed brownie or cake mix
Household and personal items
Dish and laundry soap
Toothpaste, floss, and mouthwash
Feminine hygiene products
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.