This is the time of year when people most often feel like doing nice things for the less fortunate. Donating to the homeless shelter, giving your change to the Salvation Army bell ringers…whatever it is, it happens more often during the holidays. Have you ever thought of donating to a food bank?
Remember the episode of Seinfeld when Elaine has the brilliant idea for baking muffin tops? She doesn’t know what to do with the muffin stumps, so she donates them to the homeless shelter, which doesn’t sit well with them. Because homeless people deserve whole muffins, not just stumps.
A lot of times, folks donate whatever random canned junk they have on hand, because it’s been in the pantry for years and they have no plan to eat it. That’s the Elaine mentality. Take a little time and think about what you would want, if you had to get meals from a food bank.
Some items are in high demand at the food bank and you may not realize it. Because they aren’t essentials, the staff doesn’t publicly ask for them. A survey asked volunteers what items people would be most appreciative of and we’ve listed the top answers below. If you’re looking for an easy way to help out, pick some of these up while shopping and drop them off at one of our area food banks.
1. Spices and Condiments.
Think about it. People who rely on the food bank eat a lot of canned food, rice, oatmeal, white bread, etc. They love spices. Seasoned salt, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, oregano, basil and so on. Ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce and soy sauce are always good; they make any meal better!
2. Feminine Products.
Can you imagine being worried about affording these? Pads, tampons, panty liners, etc.
3. Sweet Treats.
People don’t need it, but think about being in their shoes and how nice it would be to be given a chocolate bar or brownie mix along with your essentials. Especially families with kids. A box of cookies goes a long way for a family, too. Imagine never getting dessert as a kid. I know, there’s a big issue with childhood obesity, but these people are having serious financial issues. Kids deserve a treat now and again.
4. Personal Care Items.
Grocery stores are great about donating surplus or unsold food, but they have no reason to donate toilet paper, tooth paste, soap, deodorant, detergent, shampoo, etc. Food stamps often don’t cover these.
5. Canned meats and jerky.
A lot of food banks struggle with having enough protein items to distribute. Canned tuna, chicken, chipped beef and corned beef hash are all great to give.
6. Crackers and tortillas.
They don’t spoil quickly and everybody likes them.
7. Baby toiletries.
Can you imagine struggling not only to keep yourself taken care of, but a small baby, as well? Babies are expensive, small as they are. Diapers, baby wipes, baby formula, baby shampoo, baby soap, baby food, and bottles are always good to donate.
8. Soup packets.
Sometimes you look at rice, beans, instant potatoes, and cans of vegetable and think, “What do I make with this?” Hearty soup is a complete meal.
From a former homeless person: “Socks mean the world to you. They keep you warm, make you feel like you have something new, and just comfort you.”
10. Canned fruit other than pineapple.
Food banks get a lot of pineapple donated. Their clients love it when other kinds of fruit are available. Fruit cocktail is always good; who doesn’t love that?
Food banks love cash donations because it allows them to buy whatever they need. A lot of them have an “in” with corporations, so your smaller donation will allow them to get a LOT of product. A buck will go further than you think. You can also simply ASK the local food bank what they need. In my research, I learned that plastic bags are often needed, since “customers” at the food bank need to carry their stuff home somehow.
KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Exotic foods that require multiple ingredients or elaborate preparation aren’t good. If you buy a boxed cake mix, for example, the one that requires you to “just add water” will be preferred over the one that needs oil, eggs, and other stuff. Instant coffee is better than ground. Items like Bisquick are awesome because you can make multiple dishes from it. If someone is homeless, he probably isn’t toting around a Keurig and a microwave, you know?
Also remember that the holidays aren’t the only time to donate. I eat all year, don’t you? The First United Methodist Church has a food pantry; for more information on how to donate, please call the church office at 918-341-4580.