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May 9, 2008 06:44 AM

Best foods to donate to food pantries

This Saturday is the day the U.S Postal Service is collecting foods in our area. We set them near our mailbox and they collect and donate to the local food pantries.

Non-perishables are requested. So far I've got a bag of rice, peanut butter and assorted canned veggies. There must be something I'm overlooking.

What foods do you often contribute that give the most nourishment-bang for the buck?

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  1. I'm glad someone posted about the postal service food collection! I hear that many food pantries are at all-time low supplies.

    I plan on giving canned fruit, especially pineapple in natural juices too. Also those little cups of apple sauce. And various canned soups. Possibly some boxed items like couscous.

    I'm vacillating on giving things like salsa, mainly because it's in glass jars. I'll have to check their rules for donating again...

    1. I've always heard that baby foods are a good one. Boxed macaroni and cheese is also apparently popular.

      Our local radio station has a big drive every year and the food bank people always come on saying one thing they're always short on is women's sanitary products (if yours supplies those as well, it may be worth considering)

      2 Replies
      1. re: alexajord

        The P.O. has asked only for food products.

        I just thought of powdered milk (which when mixed with fluid milk and water can stretch it quite tastily).

        I'm trying to think of high-protein items as well as veggies and fruit, but in commonly-used foods.

        1. re: toodie jane

          what about canned tuna or salmon? lots of protein and good stuff in those...
          or canned stews and chilis? may not be too chow-ish, but probably just the ticket for those in need...

      2. To be honest, while those sorts of food collection drives are consciousness raising, the best way to get bang for your buck is to send the charity a cheque. If you buy food at retail, you're paying retail markups and taxes, then adding to their workload to figure out what you've sent them and sort it all out.

        Here's what Toronto's Daily Bread Foodbank says:
        Fund drives: Because Daily Bread buys food in bulk, we can purchase twice as much food with your dollar than you can in a grocery store. Not only that, but food gets to those who need it faster because it doesn’t have to be sorted.

        During food drives, the grocery stores here often have little pre-wrapped packages available to be purchased for donation -- they usually contain a few basic staples like pasta, pasta sauce, rice, cooking oil, canned fruits and vegetables. It seems likely that those were the things the food banks wanted, since they worked with the stores to coordinate the drives.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Jacquilynne

          yes, but this is about a pre-organized drive. I do agree that a check is a more efficient way for a given pantry to buy, but Saturday, millions of folks will be putting out food. Trying to get a conversation going about the best choices.

          Thanks for the reminder to donate $ as well.

          1. re: toodie jane

            We donate money to our local food bank as well as Second Harvest, but I also go through my pantry periodically, and any canned goods that I've had for a while that haven't reached their sell-by date go to the food bank, on the theory that I'm probably never going to eat them. Ditto for things I bought by accident and was too lazy to return. When my daughter developed a peanut allergy, several unopened jars of peanut butter went to a food drive. The point being that money is the most useful way to donate, but if you've got food that you're not going to eat, you might as well give it to someone who can use it.

            Most of what I give is the kind of thing that food banks typically ask for, e.g. canned beans, canned fish, peanut butter. But I also try to include one "luxury" item, like a jar of jam or a box of good tea bags, because man does not live by canned sardines alone!

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                I give instant oatmeal which is easy to make and nourishing, and Celestial Season teas because they are soothing. They must get sick of pasta, tuna, etc but I include that too. It's good to check what sort of cooking facilities they have.

              2. re: jlafler

                I always include so-called luxury items when I donate, too; when you're down and out they're more like necessities. I used to sort donations at a food pantry in Ohio and was amazed at the sort of crap we got: rusty cans, obviously back-of-the cupboard items, cleanouts, etc. with the general message that "well, I wouldn't eat it, but it's certainly fine for THEM!" Oh, please...

                Anyway, I support our local foodbank here in Maine and still forgot about the Post Office collection until I got home from work at 2am today. My bags were full of canned tuna and salmon, cans of soup and veggies, dry pasta, pasta sauce, a few "kits" like boxed pasta salad and nachos, tea bags...pretty much what was left from last week's grocery shopping. I also included boxed cookies, chocolate, drink mix, and some of my cats' surplus of treats and food. I forgot about sanitary napkins or I'd have grabbed some of those too.

                Excellent topic--glad to see so many responses. It's obscene that anyone goes hungry in America. Thanks to all of you for sharing what you've got! (and yes, foodbanks can buy food very cheaply, so send yours a check now and then. It'll make your chowdowns and everyone else's more enjoyable!)

                1. re: Kinnexa

                  My general rule of thumb is "If I wouldn't eat/use it, I don't give it."

                  At the food pantry where I volunteered years ago, we had a shelf up above the door from the kitchen down to the basement. it was called the "Shelf of Infamy," and was filled with all kinds of REALLY old packages of jello and just generally weird stuff. There was for the longest time a can of "cuttlefish in spicy sauce" up there. Then one afternoon a woman came in, and while we were packaging up her food box she was wandering around the house (we didn't normally allow folks in the kitchen area, mostly for safety reasons), and she saw that can of cuttlefish in spicy sauce and asked if she could have it. (I'm pretty sure she was on drugs...) We gave it to her; she survived it, evidently, because she was back about a week later for another food box--although we didn't have an more cuttlefish in spicy sauce to give her.

              3. re: toodie jane

                Are you an Arlingtonian? I ask because I got the notice then too the Postal Service works with the Arlington Food Bank at this same time, although maybe it is a national thing. If you want to donate more to they are critically low, there was an article in Washington Post and they have a list on their website of things they need:
                Plastic bags
                Canned tuna
                Cereal seems to be the big one there are more...


                But a lot of these places have websites with their needs.

                Anyway over now, but they are on four mile run and can arrange for times for you to drop off more if you wanted.

            1. I am so glad you posted this! I had forgotten about the pick up since I got the notice last week.
              So far I have a couple boxes of crackers, dried pasta, a couple jars of pasta sauce, a box of Bisquick mix, instant oatmeal, various canned veggies, canned beans, and canned tuna.

              3 Replies
              1. re: ArikaDawn

                Having been in a position where I had to visit a food bank a few times, I can offer a little advice. Foods that need other ingredients to prepare.....hamburger helper, things that use milk, butter, eggs, etc. aren't the best. Believe me, when I broke down and resorted to the food bank to feed my kids, I didn't have any cash at all to buy those extra ingredients. Things like the Kraft mac and cheese that needed milk were useless except to use the macaroni for something else. Canned tomatoes, meats, fruits, and vegetables were awesome! Pastas, oatmeal, and other items that required only the addition of water to cook were a big help as well. Pasta sauces, salsas, soups, etc. were really nice because you could create a meal out of bits of this and that using those or, in some cases, eat it alone or over pasta.

                1. re: alliedawn_98

                  I think you qualify for having the last word. Thank you for sharing. Most of us would not have figured out the need to give foods that do not need additional ingredients.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    I have seen boxed macaroni-and-cheese that has a cheese sauce packet that doesn't require additional ingredients. I think it was Kraft Deluxe or something like that...

              2. My local food bank makes a point of saying that they appreciate peanut butter but they NEVER have enough jelly. That really stuck with me because of course jelly isn't all that nutritious, I wouldn't think to give it, but if that's the only way kids will eat the peanut butter....

                2 Replies
                1. re: GretchenS

                  Good point on the jelly, but it's important to make sure it's not in a glass jar.

                  I always buy peanut butter in bulk at Sams club, it comes in a pack of two, so I keep one and donate the other. Other things I typically give are cans of soup, boxes of cereal, pasta, tuna, and rice.

                  I'm glad someone brought up the point that it's much more efficient to just give money. Your local food pantry is a great place to ask for donations to in lieu of gifts for birthdays, graduations, and any other gift-giving holidays that may arise.

                  1. re: GretchenS

                    Hunh, that's interesting -- so I guess my jam idea (above) may have been a better idea than I realized!