Thursday, November 13, 2014

Food Pantries - What to Give

Some things are funny, some never are.

I know that humor is subjective but when it comes in the form of dismissive unawareness to another's plight, I can't not say anything. Yesterday I was at our grocery store when I overheard someone pushing their cart in front of me say, "Oh, the Thanksgiving food barrels are out! You know what that means, I can clean out my cabinets of the turtle soup I never used!"

Oh, so funny, right? Nope. Nope nope and again nope. I told her how I think if I were without food, that I'd appreciate food that was within its expiration date. (maybe she'll listen to me, maybe she won't. you can't tell with people)

There are families who count on the food donations that fill food pantries. It's hard to think of families making the trip to a pantry to find items that so obviously scream 'discard.' I've heard jokes like this before. When I was working and around a lot more people than I am now, our company would hold food drives. There would be laughter when someone would say, "Good! Finally a place to dump the canned artichokes I've been hanging on to for ten years!"

To the people who think this way about food pantries, can I ask you to please stop? If someone goes to a food pantry, it's because their family has to eat.

Before I decided to write this post, I called our area pantry and asked them the best items to donate with the food donation barrels that are out for the month of November. I want to share this with you so that when you do pick up extra unexpired items at the store (as would be, you know, the loving thing to do) you'll get these items, educate others about these items, and let your kids see and remember what items are best.

Happy food drive filling, and enjoy the warm fuzzies fluttering in your heart:

1.) Mixes and cereals made with water. Many households are without eggs or milk, butter, so anything that only requires water is awesome. Think pancake mixes, cereals, oatmeals, Ramen, boxed noodles, instant rice. You get the picture.

2) Mac and cheese that comes with the cheese mix in a foil pouch. Nothing needed but boiling water for the noodles. Stovetop stuffing is perfect, too.

3.) Lots of canned protein. Turkey spam is really good and along with some boxed noodle mixes, there are the fixings for a complete dinner. 6-packs of tuna are awesome!

4.) Peanut butter. Oh, in all the sizes and packages. I pick up the peanut butter crackers in a 10-pack because I know they 'll be used to build a protein-packed lunch for a hungry child.

5.) Squeezable fruit sauces. These can be used for breakfasts, school lunch, after school snacks. We can help kids to get their fruits during times of  doing without. Small lunch size cups of mandarins are great for Vitamin C. Target sells them in packs of 16. Also, fun sized cartons of craisins, raisins, yummy yogurt raisins.

6.) Toothpaste and toothbrushes! Some cute toothbrushes will make a child's day! I pick up 5 or so and toss them in, along with kid toothpastes and some floss.

7.) Something special for kids. Why not? They're little and what fun to find bags of individual Oreos in the bags your parents bring home. Wouldn't you like that if you were little? Say yes. Something that is unexpected and not a necessity, but a reminder of what makes you happy, that's doing good right there.

8.) Remember canned and dried beans/lentils/chickpeas for vegetarians. Minute Rice makes a dehydrated pack/combo of rice and beans together -- you add water to the fill line, they're pretty good.

This list will be my guideline when I donate to food pantries. I'll vary it, but one steady item that I will always always always include from now on is 2 boxes of instant baby cereal. It only needs water, it's the first food many infants have, and what a relief for a mama to know that in her cabinets, her baby has something to eat.

You guys are the best. If you have it to spare, please share.


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  1. Agree x 1000, except I would also add that in most cases with food banks it is more effective to donate money - the food banks get discounts and bulk orders and this results in more food to give out. I remember when we used to have food drives at my high school, people thinking it was hilarious to bring in strange chinese items or things they didn't like. When you haven't been there, it can be hard to get.

    1. Yes. Giving food may give you a feeling of being more connected, but money really is the best thing for food banks so they don't have to inspect, sort and store all of the random items people give them. Then they can use the cash to buy at wholesale.

  2. Great post! Also, some food pantries really appreciate feminine hygiene products. They're expensive and not always covered by help programs.

  3. It's so hard to get fresh produce into the hands of people who use food shelves, too. Many co-ops or CSAs) donate a certain amount of their produce to food shelves, as well, and I shout "BLESS YOU" their direction. First, we want families to have enough to eat, but ideally, we would also have kids growing up in houses where they know that fresh produce is the best stuff they can put into their bodies.

    What a great idea for a post, Alexandra. Spread this message!

  4. Thank you for this list. Now I can be more purposeful. I try to remember proteins and be aware that the probably get tons of corn and green beans and peas. The baby cereal is brilliant. I'm so glad you let us know.

  5. I love you.
    I think of the foods I put in our emergency kit. Proteins like tuna and peanut butter. Pop top cans of mandarins. Bags of nuts, boxes of pilaf. Things that last, give good energy, and don't require well stocked cabinets.
    Then for the women's shelter: socks, razors, tampons, small toiletries, hand warmers, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand wipes.

  6. Great idea. Peanut Butter has always been one of my go to donations, as I know from my own childhood what a vital staple that is. Baby cereal is a great idea. I'll be sharing this.

  7. Great list! Our pantry could says they could always use more 2 lb bags of rice and dried beans.

  8. Anna: dried beans were on the list, and I never thought of them.
    Meg: Thank you! My kids love picking out from the list. we give every time we go in November... have to, right? The baby rice cereal is the best. Only water needed.
    Naptime: Yup. That's what they told me, too. Health and beauty products aren't covered. Makes me laugh, but that would be tampons, pads, toilet paper, soap, deodorant, all the necessary for life!
    Maggie @: i'm excited about the baby cereal info., too. I'm telling everyone
    Jocelyn: THANK YOU, friend!
    Pam: YES. That is so true. Tampons, deodorant, shampoo, soap.

    SueBob: I didn't know that! When I called them, they only told me food items, but spreading the word on this now, too. THANK YOU

  9. Bibiliomama: Thanks for the info!

  10. Awesome post, Alexandra. When my daughter was in Girl Scouts, we sorted food items donated for a holiday food drive. We had to check the expiration date of all items and you wouldn't believe how much we had to get rid of. Not only is donating that garbage not being kind to those in need, but it also creates more work for those organizing the drive.

  11. Great and useful compilation! xoxo

  12. You are truly wonderful, my dear. Sharing this!

  13. Rita: We've done this in the past, too, and love it. The sorting is fun and it's a job that needs to be done. It also opens your eyes to the JUNK that people send, dented cans, no labels, 5 years past their expiration date. As if people who are hungry don't deserve to eat good food. Ridiculous!
    Leigh Ann: Thank you!
    ALison, thanks so much for sharing!



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