Saturday, December 6, 2014

Feed My Sheep: Just what should I give?

I've posted a bunch lately about donating to food pantries and food shelves, and the important role those places play in the lives of their clients.  I've also read countless articles and blog posts talking about "the ten things you should donate" or "three things to never give" or other such things.

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:

If you purchase it for your family, chances are good that your nearest food pantry would love it too.

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.  
That is probably about it, really.  And we wouldn't turn away any of the above either, but if you are going to spend money to get something for the pantry, it would be better to purchase something that we don't already have in abundance.

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.    
Really, the best thing to do, if you are looking to donate regularly to a food pantry, is to actually visit it.  Talk to not only the person in charge, but some of the regular volunteers.  Get a tour of it.  Ask them to show you what YOUR family would be able to get from the pantry if you were a customer.  And then think about what that would mean to your family. 

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.
That's it.  


Susan said...

Something that our local food pantry likes to receive: paper products. Toilet paper and paper towels can be pricy and EVERYONE hates to be on their last roll.

Debra said...

Paper products are always great too! Most definitely. said...

Thanks for posting this! I've seen many, many posts telling folks to take sweet treats and such to the pantry... as a pantry patron for the last few years, our local pantry hands out TONS of baked goods, breads, boxed cakes and brownies, candy, and more. While that stuff is great and we will eat it, I still need to spend our limited budget on actual food to feed my family. Asking at your local pantry is really the answer!!