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What to donate to the food bank?

Our office building collects donations for our local (Los Angeles) food bank.

Can anyone who works or volunteers at a food bank tell me what would be most appreciated? I would prefer to buy nutrious and unprocessed items that might not be available through larger corporate donations? Flats of canned fruit perhaps?

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  1. Hi Judi,

    I volunteer at our local foodbank and this time of year we're working on providing families with Christmas hampers filled with the basic non-perishables that we always offer but also Christmas dinner. Because foodbanks have good "buying power" they can usually turn a $10 donation into $40 worth of food which helps them buy perishable items like turkeys, or milk, or fresh produce for instance. Most foodbanks have websites that'll have "wish lists" posted so you can get an idea of things they are most in need of. If not, you can always give them a call.

    Tonight is my night to volunteer, and to give you an idea, we'll be packing upwards of 150-200 hampers with: juice, soup, beans, canned tuna, cereal, canned tomatoes, canned veggies/fruit, peanut butter, processed cheese spread, pasta and tomato sauce.

    There's also a baby hamper for clients with infants which includes formula(with iron) and jars of baby food.

    Hope that gives you some ideas - I know the foodbank will appreciate your efforts whether you donate food, money or time :)

    1. Baby food/diapers/etc. are always needed where I volunteer. Baking and cooking supplies, too--we receive little flour, sugar, oil, vanilla, seasonings, etc and people are always asking for it (I'd say things you find yourself using a lot are things that don't get donated often). Ethnic foods. Gift cards for grocery stores. Other than that, I'd call ahead to ask. It's feast or famine and there's no rhyme or reason to it sometimes. There have been times when I've had to throw out garbage bags of perfectly good bread because we had too many for our shelves (I called around different shelters and no one could use them--apparently many grocery stores over-ordered then) and other times when we're scrounging for bread. It's the same for different canned goods, pasta, etc. Oh, and cleaning supplies are always in demand.

      1. soup, canned tomatoes, noodles, pb, rice, baby food.

        please, for the love of god, anything but canned kidney beans--one house dh lived in had an entire cupboard of canned kidney beans, as about 10 people in the house got food bank boxes! even the vegans wouldn't touch them!

        1. When I volunteered at a food bank, they were always short of non-perishable proteins, such as tuna, peanut butter, even spam.

          I'll make the assumption that in LA you will have a large population of Hispanics using the food bank, so I'd second the recommendation of ethnic foods.

          I'd also see if they are collecting specifically for a Christmas themed delivery--stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, etc. if that's the case; and if they accept non-perishables or not.

          1. The current list at the local food bank is:

            Items most needed are:

            Canned Chicken
            Powdered Milk
            Canned Tuna
            Saltine Crackers
            White Rice
            Jarred or Canned Spaghetti Sauce
            Grape Jelly
            Canned Vegetables
            Breakfast Cereals
            Pork & Beans
            Peanut Butter
            Macaroni & Cheese

            1 Reply
            1. re: jfood

              There seems to be a generic list of what pantries always need--it doesn't matter where we move, it seems like those things always pop up.

              One thing I just thought of is juice or milk boxes. We rarely get those and often get requests for them. Also, things to pack in lunches for the kids--individually packed applesauce, granola bars, etc.

            2. I spent many years working for domestic violence agencies that housed food pantries. I can tell you that the products most in need were proteins. In particular, the following wer most popular:
              Peanut butter and jelly
              canned tuna
              canned chicken
              refried beans (I am in TX)

              and kid friendly convenience foods:
              pasta and sauce
              mac and cheese
              juice boxes
              cereal bars
              Not food, but we were also always in need of toilet paper. The food stamp program in TX does not cover toilet paper and it was always in need.

              You are kind to think of those less fortunate that yourself. In my experience, food pantries enjoy the support of many during this time of year, but are bare come summer. July was always a very tough month for our pantry and thus the families we served. May I suggest you spend 50% of what you were planning now and then make another donation mid-summer when people's minds are other places? I promise you'll be a hero.

              Have fun spreading holiday cheer!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Honey Bee

                That's so true and kids are home in the summer where many might have gotten subsidized breakfast and lunch during the year. July and August are the hardest times. Ironically, that's when people w/ gardens are desperately trying to get rid of their overabundance of zucchini, tomatoes, etc. There needs to be a way to match the two groups.

              2. I know this might not set well with some, but as a long time food bank donator as well as an animal rescue caretaker; I know that companion animals are in need as well as their owners. Often these animals are the only companion a shut-in or senior might have. And truth be told, they are often the "first fed" when that food hamper gets home, in the same way the child gets the best first.

                I always try to offer up shelf stable protein items; canned tuna, peanut butter, smaller potion sizes of items (a huge can of anything will go bad before a senior in need can use all of it). And since I personally drop off my items, locally, I always include pet food bank items. In a donation drive, you might want to check the website or info source of the receiving foodbank to see if they restrict this.

                1. Something that I've learned is hugely appreciated at food banks, and which I always make sure to include in my donations: you know those simple pre-filled salt and pepper shakers shrinkwrapped together, about a buck for the pair? No one ever thinks to donate salt and pepper, and as I've said, it's always been hugely appreciated when I've done so.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                    With regards to salt/pepper and other spices.... Get more for your money... A regular sized carton of salt, for instance, is 3/$1.00 at the local dollar store. Most other spices are about the same. ( 2 or 3 for $1.00). It pays to shop around and get the best deal. My husband and I keep track of sales from our local supermarket and grab what we can when the deal is good. We stock up on certain items throughout the month, from various stores in our area. Not making any special trips out of town, but incorporating our Food Pantry shopping with regular shopping trips for our own needs. We are from a small community (serving about 100 families) so we don't get donations by the truckloads like in the big cities. The monetary donations that the Food Pantry receives are spent at our local grocery store, which disappoints us because their prices are so high. We prefer to do our own shopping and get the MOST we can for our dollar. Plus it feels "good" to be a part of the process. If they were able to get more for the money, we would probably just donate cash, but that doesn't seem to be the case in our community. We have one grocery store and they don't give "deals" even for the Food Pantry.

                    When we find a good deal on an item, say cereal, we buy 10-20 boxes at a time. And we try to get the "family" size boxes rather than the smaller 12 oz size. Some generic brands are just as good as name brand, so go with the larger generic if you can. Our target price is $2.00/box (family size). That's pretty good considering most brand name cereals are up to almost $5/box !

                    We also load up on the pasta and potato casserole mixes in the box. We usually find them on sale for .88/each and every now and then a buy one get one free deal !

                    Our last shopping spree included :

                    Egg Noodles
                    baking soda
                    Quick Oats
                    microwave popcorn
                    Oyster crackers
                    peanut butter
                    canned vegies
                    Ramen Noodles
                    Augraten Potatoes
                    Pasta meals in a box
                    Pop Tarts

                    We are not "well-to-do" by any means...but my husband and I , as children, have benefited from the Food Pantry in our town. Our mothers were single working more than one job and barely making ends meet. So we have a pretty good idea what it's like to be "less fortunate". Ever have a cracker & mustard "sandwich" for lunch ? Saltines with sugar and milk for cereal ?

                    We're FORTUNATE to have what we have today.....and we feel even more fortunate to be able to share it with those who need it more.

                    1. re: Suzie Sunshine

                      What great insight! I can say that the food bank drive usually gets what I'm going to clean out of my pantry anyways. Thank you!

                    2. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                      Mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup and likewise "luxury" staples are always in want at my local food bank. While not nutritious, they do allow people to do something with the tuna, canned chicken, salmon, etcetera......
                      Fruit juices and shelf-stable milk are another highly-appreciated item, a/w/a peanut butter, jelly, mac n cheese (stuff for kids' lunches.)
                      Rice, beans, cornmeal, grits etc. are USDA provided here and are always available in huge quantity...and probably in most areas.....
                      Canned soups; hugely appreciated-also dried (Lipton's, cupasoup, etc.)
                      Thank you to everybody who donates and contributes: time, money, food. know about the relief on people's faces when they feel somewhat food-secure for a couple days.

                    3. It's admirable to want to buy unprocessed stuff, dried beans, stuff like that--but our local food pantry director says reality is many of the folks who receive food boxes don't have a clue what to do with anything that isn't a mix or a can that you heat up. She says dried beans are especially a problem. Folks don't seem to know how to cook them. (We're talking about some mentoring programs in the community and one thing I want to do is help teach folks how to cook economically without everything having to come out of a can or a box.)

                      Donate sweets if you can; everyone ought to have a little goodies now and then. At the emergency food program where I used to volunteer, they would get day-old bread, and cakes, cookies, pies, and donut holes from the grocery store bakery. Whenever someone would come in for a food box, we'd always make sure they got a sweetie.

                      And as someone else mentioned, you can't buy any non-food items with food stamps, so even if folks can get food (although remember that many families depending on food stamps need emergency food at the end of the month when the food stamps run out), they can't get soap, shampoo, feminine products, razors and shaving cream, laundry soap (our local lady says that's especially in demand), etc. We always had a need for diapers, and remember to get a variety of sizes.

                      1. The pantry I helped out at was located in the Mott Haven section of the south Bronx. I unloaded tractor trailers, stocked shelves, and bagged *specified* assortments of food for later distribution to local residents. What was most appreciated by those waiting in line was always any bottles of cooking oils, boxes of cold cereals, and frozen meats when we had them. By all means, when donating, remember the children. Most of what children eat, an adult will eat, but the same is not true vice versa. Put a smile on a child's face when their parent comes to the pantry (with them in tow) and watch as they are given a box of granola bars or healthy snacks that can be included in their lunch boxes. Many times donors forget we have to give parents the "essentials", but kids should get rewards. The children did nothing wrong to be in their predicament, and we should be mindful of that. So, if you truly would like to perform a good deed, treat the children (and some adults too I'm sure) to some healthy treats and snacks. We saw no corporate donations, so go ahead and take a proactive role here and become Quaker Oats, Planter's, Kellogg's or Unilever. It certainly won't go to waste.

                        1. Here's a thought...Why don't you call or contact the food bank your office is donating to and ask them what would be most appreciated or what is most needed. I'm sure they're the ones who could best tell you what would be most appreciated or needed.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: crt

                            A few times when I was really down on my luck, I resorted to a food pantry to feed my kids. As mentioned above, kid-friendly treats were really appreciated because we couldn't afford anything extra like that. Cake mixes and the like are great but if you're having a hard time buying food, then getting the vegetable oil or applesauce and even eggs is a chore to make those. I remember getting items like that which really were no help because I didn't have the additional ingredients to make them. Powdered milk was awesome because I could use it for cooking and only buy fresh milk for the kids to drink. Canned fruits were really good as were dried pastas, jarred pasta sauce or canned tomatoes,etc to make your own, tuna, salmon, chicken, any of those canned proteins, and canned veggies. Cereal or other breakfast foods were also well-received.

                          2. I needed to make use of the food bank for about a month. As a then-vegetarian there weren't many protein options, not even shelf stable tofu which isn't a high dollar item. I ended up eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches every day. I can't look at them now. Also items for people who are diabetic, or kosher stuff. Special diet, iow. When I got my first paycheck I donated everything I wished had been available. Props to the volunteer who includes pet food. I'd add litter.

                            1. When we volunteer at the food bank we always seem to notice that there is never enough cereal. I think as contributors we tend to find things for dinners and the breakfast items get forgotten.

                              1. crt had a great point about asking your local food bank what's in demand - it varies - regionally, culturally, seasonally, and more. But another thing to consider - easy preparation is often important for clients of food banks. A lack of raw materials may be matched by a lack of facilities and implements for food preparation.

                                1. I used to volunteer about 4 hours a week at a homeless shelter and now put in 1 1/2 hours a month sorting food at the food bank.

                                  Our food bank is fortunate to get large corporate donations of frozen food, rice, flour, dried beans, etc that we re-package in smaller bags for distribution.
                                  We have a large hispanic population that uses dried beans all the time, so they don't go to waste around here.

                                  Peanut butter, mac and cheese, chili, soups, canned vegetables.
                                  Baby food is a much needed donation.

                                  One thing that I found much in need at the shelter and never mentioned in lists, but most of us know the large cost of - sanitary supplies.

                                  Things that never got used at the shelter were the gallon jar of pimento olives and the 5 pounds of ground emu meat. That went under the category of they didn't know what to do with them.

                                  Oh, and please, please, please check expiration dates and packaging quality before donating!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: tracylee

                                    Hi, any opinions on whether it's better to donate (money, not food) to a national organization like Second Harvest, or a local foodbank? I realize that by targeting a local food bank, it helps the people directly in your area -- but am wondering whether $$ are more effectively spent at the local or national level (eg b/c of economies of scale of large organizations). Thanks!

                                    1. re: tracylee

                                      Hear, hear, tracylee. I think I've posted before about working at a food pantry and finding a box of rice where the coupon on the box had expired 15 YEARS prior!

                                    2. So glad to hear you're thinking about the nutrition going in to your donations, and giving the gift of health!! You may be interested to know about SuperFood Drive- a non-profit organization seeking to transform local food drives, national food banks and global humanitarian aid into providers of nutrient-dense non-perishable SuperFoods. By educating both the givers and receivers of non-perishable SuperFood items, we promote health and wellbeing to individuals and their communities. Check it out at www.superfooddrive.com. We have a virtual drive page set up there so you can donate some of the most needed nutrient-dense foods easily: www.superfooddrive.com/Virtual_Drive

                                      12 Replies
                                      1. re: SuperFood

                                        Shelf stable milk (as opposed to powdered) is always appreciated. And yes to cereal.

                                        1. re: hungry100

                                          and yes to baby formula, baby jarred food, baby cereal, packaged cookies, packaged shelf stable pudding.

                                          1. re: HillJ

                                            This suggestion baffles me. Formula/jarred baby food/baby cereal are all provided by WIC to families in need. The income requirement is much more generous than food stamps. I don't understand the interesection of so poor you are at a food bank and you don't qualify for WIC.

                                            1. re: JudiAU

                                              I don't make the rules, JudiAU. Not all families qualify for both forms of help. Income? State you live in? How many children in one family? How long do you qualify?

                                              Many of the items offered thru foodbanks can be bought with WIC checks.

                                              At our food bank, the donations I listed above all appear on the needed list.

                                              Soup kitchens, church pantries, Salvation Army, school collections and the like also contribute to the needs of families on assistance or in need of help.

                                              I focus on helping. I leave the criteria up to the rules for each source of support.

                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                I wasn't offering my comments as a criticism of either the families in need or the food banks. It just made me scratch my head.

                                                1. re: JudiAU

                                                  I didn't take it as a criticism JudiAU. Just a reply.

                                                  1. re: JudiAU

                                                    There are actually many people who don't qualify for government assistance but still need help with food. There are also folks who qualify for WIC but still need additional assistance.

                                                    1. re: debbiel

                                                      Exactly what I said, debbiel.

                                                      Food banks provide a detailed list of the items they need/welcome at their site. It's avail on their website in pdf form too, avail with collection bins, avail when you apply as a volunteer.

                                                      1. re: debbiel

                                                        It also takes time to apply (and rcv) government assistance. A food bank can provide short term or long term help immediately.

                                                  2. re: JudiAU

                                                    Many families survive pay check to pay check, barely. When an unexpected expense/illness arises, they're stuck. Think of the storms that hit many areas last week. With stores, day cares, etc. closing, people don't work, though they need the money. That's just one situation. It's eye opening to work at a pantry and see what brings families in.

                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                      Such an excellent point, chowser. Short term need is just as critical as long term assistance.

                                                      1. re: HillJ


                                                        I am really feeling secure in saying that people going to a food bank for baby food are not scalping it for $$$ .

                                                        Being food insecure (which I guess in the "now" PC term for hungry) in this day and age in this country is horrible. I cannot imagine the horror of hoping that this foodbank, can mean my baby can have food. Can many CH folks say they know that place, from the receiver point of view?

                                                        Food Bank: "Oh. you want baby food? You can get that with WIC. Next!"

                                            2. In this area, canned meat is always low. Familes are very grateful to get canned ham, tuna, chicken etc.

                                              Kid friendly foods are always popular - mac/cheese, Raveoli, Hamburger Helper mixes, Tuna Helper, Pizza Mixes, peanut butter.

                                              Also, items that are not food but eat into the food bill are needed. This would be things like toilet paper, shampoo, soap, fem products. They often get rolled into the grocery bill and do add up.

                                              1. While this is an old thread that was bumped up, it is certainly an important one. While I agree that local demands vary, my local food bank's website keeps an up to date list of what they need and currently it states the following (a list that doesn't change much):

                                                pasta sauce in jars
                                                salad dressings
                                                coffee and tea (including iced tea mix)
                                                toilet paper

                                                1. The best thing to do when you decide to donate to a food bank, or run a drive for one, is find out what it distributes. Food pantries are likely run by volunteers, and they are all different. One pantry might not have the room for frozen food, but another might, for instance. On the baby food, if the pantry says it needs baby food, then they must be giving it out. Our pantry also gives out personal care products and diapers. And it is very likely that a pantry will not be able to give out things that are past their expiration date. Or alcohol. Or opened boxes.

                                                  11 Replies
                                                  1. re: sueatmo


                                                    Ask the food bank getting the food what is needed. They KNOW!

                                                    Can you imagine having to go to a food bank to get baby food? Not if you are posting here. Sorry to be that direct.

                                                    Saying, in a comfortable place online...well XX and So show be paying for that...does not feed that baby.

                                                    Be grateful. Walk a mile in their shoes.

                                                    1. re: Quine

                                                      I know where you are coming from here. I do volunteer work. It is not always pretty. If someone sells food stamps etc, that is fraud. But, the baby is still hungry. If the food or the diapers get to the baby, then that is critical.

                                                      1. re: CyndiA

                                                        TY! I am glad that a diaper company is making a ad campaign to let people know, Not all folks have the means to buy a diaper!

                                                        I am a one person household. I buy toilet paper at Costco. It lives in my car trunk. I need to shorten that car-shelf space and donate some.

                                                        1. re: Quine

                                                          I am blessed.

                                                          I used cloth diapers to save money. I had a washing machine which is not the reality for many. I cooked from scratch a lot and for my boys when they were babies, but I had a garden and a stove and the power on. If you don't have a stove or it goes out (and you can't afford to get it fixed) or if you can't pay the power bill to turn on the stove or lights, then options are very limited.

                                                          Some people make bad decisons. Some people get stuck in bad circumstances. Some people play the system. That is all sad. But, it is even worse if anyone goes hungry in a country when so much food goes in the trash can every day.

                                                            1. re: CyndiA

                                                              I totally agree.

                                                              We are only responsible for our own actions. We can't manage other people's lives. but we are rich enough to feed out hungry, we really are.

                                                              And I have to say you would be amazed at how many people hold down 2 jobs, manage kids or elderly relatives, and drive cars that barely run. I've mentioned this before, but I'll do so again. Many, many of the underemployed and poorly paid work in food service.

                                                              1. re: sueatmo

                                                                Normally I would say "+1" but that seems it is not "PC". I can say I agree. You said it as well as I could.

                                                                1. re: Quine

                                                                  I don't care if it is PC or not. There are many reasons people go to bed hungry in the United States. Some of the reasons are not "pretty" as I mentioned. In other cases, it is underemployment and too many jobs to even get a meal out for the family. Regardless, if someone is hungry, I hope they get food. I would hope that even those who are dealing with other serious issues would be more likely to tackle and get a handle on those issues if dealing with life on a full stomach. That won't always tip the scales, but I hope it does in some cases.

                                                                  1. re: CyndiA

                                                                    I do So agree!!!

                                                                    I never fail to donate something in the canned food bin as I exit my local grocery.

                                                                    What can it cost? Pick a sales item, buy X for X...put one in the bin. It is food to someone else who needs it.

                                                                    1. re: Quine

                                                                      For anyone who likes the healthy food slant, you can also volunteer to cook at the shelters. Here, they had all kinds of foods to use. I signed up the Cub Scouts and worked on a meal that was balanced and was from scratch. I discussed the food pyramid with the Cubs and worked with that to get a solid meal that was also tasty. We had many coming back for seconds which was fine here in a smaller town. Low income families may opt for junk food due to costs and time involved on prep cooking (or things like not having a working stove), but they were very receptive to a scratch meal that was balanced.

                                                                      1. re: CyndiA

                                                                        Or you can volunteer to work at a food pantry, if there is no shelter in your area. And while I am happy some put an extra can or two or three in a food barrel, nothing replaces cash donations, or a call to the place to ask what they need. This need never goes away, unfortunately.

                                                    2. Last time I volunteered at a food bank they said coffee was a great item to donate -- it's in demand and they don't get that much of it.