10 Things to Keep in Mind Before Donating to Your Local Food Pantry
The winter storm of 2021 was not only one of our worst storms to date, but it left millions of Texans without the basic necessities of power, water and food. If you’re looking for ways to help, your local food pantry is the perfect place to donate. They are, in most instances, the best outlet to serve the full range of needs a community has, especially during a pandemic. I’ve worked in a food pantry and, to be honest, it’s humbling to see the need as people line up to receive food but joyful to know that you’re giving them a box of goods that they can actually use. Unfortunately, I’ve sorted food donations that either have expired or unusable food and neither benefits the people who need help or the pantry that has to dispose of the food.
So before you rush off to the store or open your cabinets, consider these 10 ways you can really benefit that community:
1. Call the pantry and find out what they need before you shop for it. Before you go to the store, call the food pantry to get a list of food that they really need. There’s no point in buying extra cans of corn if they have 2000 on hand.
2. Remember to get food for well-rounded meals. Think about how you plan your meals. You normally plan with a meat (or meat option) in mind, a carb and a few vegetables. Remember that pantries try to pack boxes that will allow for well-rounded meals and shop accordingly.
3. Canned goods are a pantry’s BFF. Canned goods are great for any pantry because it takes a long time for them to expire. Consider buying not only canned vegetables, but canned fruits, soups and meats like tuna or chicken. 4. Be mindful of donating produce, fresh meat or bakery items to pantries. Some pantries are not equipped to handle fresh foods, like produce, meat (refrigerated) or bakery items. They either don’t have refrigerated storage or have to battle exposure issues (i.e. critters). Call them and ask before making the investment. 5. Go for common and easy-to-cook foods. Now is not the time to see how people cook up miso. Think about those things your family commonly eats. Foods like rice and pasta are food staples that can be used for all three major meals and they don’t take a long time to cook. Also, people need food staples like sugar, flour, salt and pepper for food preparation, too. And don’t forget cereals, oatmeals, grits and other quick one-box foods that would be easy fixes and great for the inexperienced chef. 6. Check the expiration dates on the foods you’re donating.
Please make sure that no food you give to a food pantry has expired. Also, be mindful of the condition of the goods you are donating. Cans that have dents and dings might be discarded because of potential contamination. 7. If you don’t eat it, don’t buy it. A general rule of thumb: if you don’t eat it, don’t buy it for someone else to eat. Also, if you’ve had it in your cabinet for 5 months and haven’t touched it, don’t use this as an opportunity to get rid of it.
8. Remember to include some treat items. It’s okay to include some healthy snacks in your donation. Things like graham crackers, granola bars and fruit snacks are great to add to the food boxes of people with children.
9. When in doubt, donate money. If you’re just not sure about what to buy and donate, donate money. Most organizations accept direct, in kind donations, or have some way to electronically transfer money. Make sure to donate the amount you would have spent and that allows for the pantry to get what they need in the moment. 10. Thank your local pantry for the work that they do. Pantry work can be hard, emotional work. Thank everyone that works at the pantry as you drop off your goods and it will help them to stay motivated and keep fighting the good fight.
And don’t forget, if you have an opportunity to volunteer, packing boxes and distributing food and other supplies, then do it. For a list of organizations needing your help, visit the North Texas Food Bank website. For more details on the do’s and don’ts of donating, including what to donate and what to leave out, visit this great blog post from Feeding America.