I'm not going to go making too many blanket statements like that. Because what is needed in my area is going to differ from what is needed elsewhere in the country, and to be honest, what is needed in my local food pantry this month differs dramatically from what was needed a year ago, much less what was needed in June.
My basic rule of thumb for "but what should I give?" is:
Is that always going to be true? Of course not. But it is a pretty good basic rule of thumb.
Some exceptions, for my food pantry, would be:
- Rice, dry beans, etc. We tend to be able to get 50# bags of this kind of thing, and those get divvied up into individual-sized packages, or we can purchase (cheaply) cases of 1- or 2-pound bags of pinto and kidney beans. Plus, we have a lot of clients who do things like stock up on a 50# bag of beans when they get some extra money. We almost always have rice and beans available (and lots of people take them). The exception would be "fancier" stuff -- dried black beans, dried chickpeas, or another more unusual bean.
- Bakery items. Breads, desserts, etc. We get lots and lots and lots and lots of these, donated by area supermarkets, once they hit the "too old to sell" stage. At no cost. A lot of times, we are telling folks to "take whatever you can use before it goes bad" so this isn't a high need at our pantry.
- Staple veggies, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and onions. Again, we'll end up with literally a ton of potatoes. We let people take 50# bags (plural) of potatoes home with them. At times, we don't have any carrots, for instance, but generally speaking, those four items are things we can obtain (usually) free.
Some things my pantry would love (most of the time), but might not work at other pantries:
- Frozen meat. We have been blessed with extra freezers, and meat is something we never have enough of. Not all food pantries have enough freezer space though.
- Dairy items. We have also been blessed with additional refrigerator space. We particular love being able to give out eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, sour cream and cottage cheese.
If possible, talk to a pantry customer too. That can be a bit touchier, obviously. But it has the potential to give you quite the insight.
My list of what you shouldn't give to the pantry:
- Food you know (or suspect) is bad.
- Food that the pantry cannot store.
- Food the pantry cannot distribute (check with them if you want to donate game or home-processed items of any sort).
- Food that has been opened.