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What food items should not be donated to a food pantry?

While a food pantry will (probably) never come out and say it, I'm sure there are things that they do not want as donations.

From the top of my head (aside from the obvious like perishables or damaged products), these are some things I think that probably should *not* be donated:

- alcohol
- products that require special equipment to make (e.g. Senseo coffee packets)
- products with labels in foreign languages (i.e., not English)
- items that have not been in production for at least 10 years (e.g., Cracker Jack cereal or Gremlins cereal)

What other things do you think belong on that list?

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  1. I'm sure I'll get jumped on, but I'd say things that are exceedingly "ethnic" for my area.

    Something tells me that the tin of natto isn't going to be any better received at your local food pantry than it would at your great-mother-in-laws - unless she's Japanese, of course.

    Frankly, I tend not to give away stuff that's gathering dust in my cabinet - if "I" haven't used it - and I am an experimental and "fun" cook - then why would I pass it on to anyone else who might not share my cooking style?

    I buy a case of pinto beans (I'm in TX, where even if you don't like pintos, you can make "something" out of them) to donate.

    1 Reply
    1. re: shanagain

      Hard to say....For example, our food pantries here serve mostly South American/Mexicans, a lot of them single guys, who prefer chickens rather than turkeys on holidays. Who would have known? They don't refuse the turkeys, but they aren't happy and also not sure what to do with them. They love cans of soup, Hormel chili, Chef Boy R D (how the heck is it spelled?) and things like that.

      Just ask your local pantry what goes good and they'll tell you. Really, what works best is money, then they can buy what they need in bulk and everyone gets the same bag, so much easier for them to pack out. You know what's useful, bags for them to pack the stuff in, toilet paper, pampers, items like that go really good too.

    2. in addition to damaged & highly perishable goods, food pantries won't accept packaged items that don't have an expiration date on them since there's no way to tell if they're still safe to eat.

      as far as items that are safe but that they probably would *prefer* you didn't donate, i'd say gourmet/specialty spices and condiments, and junk food or other foods that have little or no nutritional value.

      6 Replies
      1. re: goodhealthgourmet


        Do you really think the pantries don't want junk food (i.e. potato chips, candy, soda, etc.)?

        While I agree with you that junk food isn't what people (poor, rich or whatever) should be eating, from speaking with people that work at pantries my understanding is that parents often find the junk food items to be a nice treat for their kids.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          not that they'll turn it away, but i've also discussed it with people who work at these places, and while the *parents* may find it to be a nice treat for the kids, the *providers* would rather supply those in need with more nutritious items that can serve as part of a healthful meal for the entire family as opposed to a junk food snack/treat for the kids. i'm not saying they won't accept it, and the reality is that supplies these days are so low that they appreciate anything you're willing/able to give. they'd just *prefer* the majority of donations to be more nutritious.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            Do you really think the pantries don't want junk food (i.e. potato chips, candy, soda, etc.)?

            Maybe things have changed, but back in the day I used to partner with a guy who had access to Entenmann's Baked Goods and Drakes Cakes that were pulled off the shelves in stores with one week left on the date. We would take the items we had and sell them in Flea Markets. Whenever we did not sell out of the products on hand, we would drop them off at a local Soup Kitchen in Newark, NJ. Unfortunately, we could not guarantee what would be available at any given time. For three weekends straight, we dropped off what was left over.......on the fourth weekend, the director told us the people were getting tired of the Yodels and refused to take them.....but added, could we bring more of the Funny Bones and Ring Dings instead.......we left....never to return.

            1. re: fourunder

              wow... ok I have been dirt dog poor, and would have given my back teeth for a yodel as a child. How disgusting.

              1. re: fourunder

                They have not changed. Our local food bank lovingly accepts all manner of baked goods from our local Franz guy. Thank GOD for the Franz folks and the grocery stores.

                Bad ideas for food banks: Expired food, unlabeled food, opened food.

                Money always works, but often people who give, do not have spare cash, or feel like 5 dollars would seems stingy. Believe me, the food bank will take your fiver. They will also gladly take you fresh fruit and cleaned veggies.

                Make sure to call ahead so you know where to bring your goods and at what time. You do not want to go while needy folks are lining up to shop.

                1. re: Sal Vanilla

                  re: expired food. foodbanks know what stuff is "really" expired, and what isn't. That said, it's still probably better to ask them if it's still edible, eat it yourself, and give them the money you've saved.

          2. Honestly what food pantries really don't want to tell you, is that they would MUCH rather you give $$ than cans. Of course they appreciate the thought behind the donation, but it is much easier (and more efficient) for them to deal with money. I occasionally help out at our church's pantry. Pre-filling the bags before the clients arrive is a frenetic activity. The easiest thing is if we have a couple cases of vegetable X so we can take those over to the staging area along with the case of macaroni and the case of beans. Two of column A, one of column B, one of column C goes into the bag in an assembly line. Getting a can of some random thing just makes everything harder. And the most important thing is that food pantries can spend your $5 to buy far more than what you can via Food Patch or other methods. See this article recently:

            To Feed the Hungry, Keep the Can, Open a Wallet

            40 Replies
            1. re: DGresh

              and I was so distressed to read the comments on the article above, many of them accusing the pantries of wanting $ so they can siphon it off for nefarious activities. Having worked in one, that is a terribly hurtful thing to hear-- I know the selflessness of the folks who run ours.

              1. re: DGresh

                This is bordering on a peeve of mine. I don't know why people are averse to giving MONEY! As you say, it's make the organizing SO much easier and their buying power is so much greater. Give $5 or $10 instead of $20 worth of crap that they have no use for.

                1. re: c oliver

                  Our food banks (Calgary, Canada) can purchase $60 worth of food with a $20 donation. How, I don't know, but they appreciate money as a donation above all else.

                  1. re: John Manzo

                    I'm not sure how yours works but in my area, there is a very large food bank that gets donations, not just from the public but from large corporations. In turn, it sells to the smaller foodbanks at very low prices. I prefer to give directly to my little community action center that donates the food directly to the clients.

                2. re: DGresh

                  I feel... funny admitting this, but here I go anyway. My charitable donations have definitely gone down in the last two years (401k tanking plus Kid1 getting into his school of choice and Kid2 right behind him as a jrl. in hs have led to something close to panic).

                  I can easily grab a case of beans (or even ramen, I guess - just as "cheap" and "common") or a few bags of lentils to donate and still feel as if I'm doing something to help.

                  Honestly, though, donating the same $4 in cash? I wouldn't do it - it would be too embarrassingly small, yk? $10... the same. $20, maybe. But still, how "cheap." But for some reason when it's actual food, I am not at all embarrassed by the dollar amount of my donation.

                  1. re: shanagain

                    Perhaps if you consider that your $4 donation could generate $20 in food, then you'd see it differently. And really donating isn't about the giver but the receiver.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      "Could" is a very operative word here. Most of the country is lacking in big organizations like The New York City Coalition Against Hunger with the kind of resources to use donated funds so efficiently. And a lot of the big organizations have high enough overhead that even though they get food deals, your dollars are no more efficiently used. It all goes back to who is operating in your area, and what they're capable of doing. In my hometown, for example, the only year round food banks were in the public library and in the Catholic parish center. They lacked the kind of resources talked about in that NY Times article, but they also had zero overhead costs.
                      But yes, by all means, in an area where donating money is efficient, donate money. Even a quarter helps.

                      1. re: danieljdwyer

                        Is the NYC one you mention the one where the board members pay all the costs of operating it? I thought that was an amazing idea. Couldn't work everywhere perhaps but could probably work in some places.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          I am not sure if that's the one. It's the one in the NY Times article that's been linked to: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/12/nyr...
                          It's a fantastic idea, and, though I have reservations about large distribution networks, I think more places could use things like this.
                          Until I read the article I wasn't terribly familiar with things like this. Though I've been stuck living in cities for 9 of the last 10 years, I'm far from a city boy at heart, and the existence of such things always surprises me.

                      2. re: c oliver

                        Consider me properly chastised - of course it's not about me or my embarrassment, or shouldn't be. I guess I might be "nice" (referencing other thread) but also, what, prideful? there is a helluva lesson there for me, to be sure.

                        At any rate, this conversation has been eye-opening, and has prompted me to leave a message at my local FB asking what it is that they need the most. (I'm looking forward to hearing back.)

                        1. re: shanagain

                          Well, chastisement was certainly not part of my message. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure those things out. Why on earth would you be embarassed? You should be proud of yourself that you're donating, regardless of the amount. When I go to the library, they have a donation jar (Bucks for Books). I put in my pennies and nickels but not larger coins. I don't feel embarassed in the least.

                          I think it's excellent that you've contacted your FB. Excellent idea for all of us. Every community is different as to their needs.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            Thanks, the embarrassment... I guessing it's because I used to donate more.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Exactly, c oliver. I just called my local FP to ask if they would take donations during a time when they are serving clients (after work on a Wednesday night), as I work about a half hour away from them and cannot make it during their minimal daytime hours. They said absolutely.

                                I also asked what they needed, and the woman who answered the phone said things that aren't on food stamp lists - so when I went to BJ's Wholesale Club on Tuesday night, I made sure things like deodorant, toothpaste, and soap went into my cart, as well as the pasta and canned goods (tomato sauce, fruit cup, etc.) They were most grateful. (Note - diapers are ALWAYS needed!)

                                I usually do give money annually to national organizations, but I wanted to help out local-to-me, because...well, just because. What I am planning on doing is to make sure I put something in my cart for a regular quarterly donation whenever I go to the warehouse store vs. just remembering to donate around the holidays. That way, it's less of a "bite" on my budget, but I can still help out. Perhaps that would help shanagain as well.

                        2. re: c oliver

                          Another way to look at it, though, is that many people have perfectly good food in their cupboards that for one reason or another they aren't going to use. Donating that is "free" for the giver and certainly better (for the giver, the receiver and the environment) than waiting until it "expires" and then throwing it out. I think that was the original purpose behind canned food drives. But I agree it's a little silly to buy something with the specific purpose of donating it. Another thing to remember is that while most people make their donations around the holidays, people still need food in June (in fact, families with children enrolled in school lunch programs need more when the kids are out of school). Last year I set up a small monthly automatic donation to my local food bank: easy, painless, and it makes me feel good when the receipt pops into my inbox every month.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            I agree with all your post esp. the end. We've been supporting our local library, which closed for two years!, through an automatic, monthly deduction. It's a modest amount every month but more than we're likely to make in a single gift. And, yes, warm and fuzzies are a good feeling, aren't they?

                            1. re: c oliver

                              Yeah, $15/month doesn't seem like nearly as much as writing a single check for $180.

                            2. re: Ruth Lafler

                              But I agree it's a little silly to buy something with the specific purpose of donating it.
                              I'm curious as to why you feel that way, Ruth? I just made several purchases at CVS that resulted in $10 in Extra Bucks. I'll use those Extra Bucks to buy small tubes of toothpaste or something similar. When toothbrushes are on sale (as they were this week) I'll get a couple and hold on to them until I have a large enough donation of other items to donate to my local food pantry. My dentist gives me a toothbrush every time I go there (3x a year), so I really have absolutely *no* need for toothbrushes. But if they're BOGOF at CVS, why not get them for the food pantry donation?

                              If I'm buying pasta, and I *know* I won't go through the 8 boxes of spaghetti that are packaged together at BJ's Wholesale Club, why not buy it anyway and put half of them (or more) in a box that will eventually go to the food pantry? Or when Barilla or other pasta or sauce is on sale 5/$5.00, why not buy it for the food pantry? As long as the purchase is not made so far in advance before the donation that the expiration date is close at hand, buying something when you buy yourself something is an easy way to create that box of donations you intend to give.

                              1. re: LindaWhit

                                As I said, if it's stuff you already bought (or are are already going to buy) that's extra, or if you're getting essentially freebies, that's one thing. But as other people have pointed out, the food bank can get a lot more for your money than you can, so going out and paying cash for something to give to the food bank isn't going to get them as much as if you'd given them the same amount in cash, and they can use it to buy exactly what they need and not what people choose to give them.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Did you see this article in the Chron this morning?


                                  Wonderful approach to feeding people and a win-win for all.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    A recent study found that 40 percent of the food produced in the US is wasted.


                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Nice article. There's a huge demand for "runners" of all types at my community action center. We've talked about trying to set up a distribution where people would volunteer to go into neighborhoods and pick their gardens to bring to the pantry. How many people are desperate to get rid of zucchini when they overproduce? The hard thing is getting people to commit to the time.

                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      This is a good point. The local food pantry sends out a list of requested foods and I usually buy off the list, at places like the Commissary or Costco where I can get a good deal. But, if I donated the money directly to them, it would be most cost effective--save me time, save volunteers time from having to collect it and put it away--and they could use the money to get more food from the large food banks. It seems like a lazy way for me to donate, just write a check, no man power involved...but I guess since I volunteer there, that's woman power enough. In hindsight, it seems like a "duh, obviously" solution. Thanks.

                                      1. re: chowser

                                        I ran for eggs (45 dozen) at .99/dozen via Aldi's. I'm purchasing three dozen for the price the soup kitchen pays for one dozen (when they aren't using powdered egg.

                                        1. re: HillJ

                                          Yeah, it should be done on a case by case basis but I know our local center goes to the food bank and purchases bulk food (that has been donated to the larger food bank) at pennies per pound, far better than most deals I can get.

                                    3. re: LindaWhit

                                      Linda - if your food bank stops taking toiletries (like the toothbrushes/pastes and little soaps) - the women' s emergency shelter will gladly, happily, over joyingly take them.

                                      Something to consider for opened food or sometimes even cooked food - homeless shelters and places where they cook for for people will take it (depending on the state). Like if you bought one of those Costco flours and a white rice sack and have now decided white flour is out for the new year... I know someone who will take them! Those sorts of things might be bad candidates for a food pantry.

                                      1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                        aka soup kitchens. There's one in every Salvation Army, for starters.

                                2. re: shanagain

                                  Given the increased need for food this year, no one should feel badly for donating actual food instead of money. Shanagain, I commend you for giving, even though you've suffered quite a hit this year (and with college expenses to come, no less). I understand that some food banks can do wonderful things with money, but if they didn't want food to be donated, i'm sure they would say so. Also, sometimes food is the only choice you have wrt generosity and donations. The Post Office d4rives, for example, ask for FOOD donations (and they even supply the bags for it). We have boxes in offices around campus asking for food donations (they supply of list of the needed foods--e.g. canned stews, boxes of cereal, etc.--but do not even have an option for cash donations). We do what we can when we can.

                                  1. re: nofunlatte

                                    Thanks, we're still pretty damned comfortable in the grand scheme of things, and if my worst worry is finding funding for my kids' college - well, that's a pretty good problem to have.

                                    I'm really glad I opened up, though, because it opened my eyes, as well.

                                    1. re: shanagain

                                      Ain't it the truth??? The poorest of us are probably rich in comparison to a lot of the world.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        Well, it is my wish that everyone--including those of us participating in this thread--need never have to rely on a food bank. And may your holidays--Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's, Solstice, my sister's birthday (Dec. 27), WHATEVER--bring you much happiness and joy!

                                        1. re: nofunlatte

                                          From your lips to ___________'s ear.

                                    2. re: nofunlatte

                                      Nofunlatte, nicely said.

                                      You do what you can.

                                    3. re: shanagain

                                      if you're feeling embarrassed, put a bag on your head. (seriously, slip the money under the door). money's still there in the end, ain't it?

                                    4. re: DGresh

                                      Re the article:

                                      Gosh. Maybe they can sniff at cans in the big city, but let me tell you - small town America will gladly take them off their hands.

                                      A little stunning.

                                      1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                        No one is sniffing at cans. But the $.69 (or whatever) you spend on a can you buy and donate will go much further than the contents of the can. If your goal is to do the most good for the food pantry, give money. If your goal is to clean out your cabinets and have a "feel good" moment for yourself, give cans. That's what the article - and DGresh's post - makes clear.

                                        1. re: small h

                                          And with that check throw in a new handheld can opener!

                                          1. re: small h

                                            I was actually commenting about the NYT article.

                                            But those two goals you mentioned are often the same. Often people give in order to feel good or they want to give something in particular - something tangible because it feels better or they know exactly what is being contributed. It is not always just cleaning out the cabinets (not that there is one thing wrong with that). There is something about going out and buying something and giving it that is fulfilling. Others can get that feeling by having money taken from their account each month. There is no shame in wanting to feel good in the act of giving. And - news flash - sometimes that is all a person can afford, but they still want to give.

                                            1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                              What I got from your comment, upthread, was that you were shockedshockedshocked at the ingratitude of these fancy big city folks, turning up their noses at the canned goods. While my point was that there's nothing wrong with a charity specifying what will be most useful to them, even if donating that item - cash, perhaps - is not especially "fulfilling" for you. I'm all for people feeling good in the act of giving, but if you give, say, ham to someone who keeps Kosher, it may make *you* feel good, but it doesn't actually *do* much good.

                                              1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                                It's selfish and self-regarding. This isn't to say it's bad.
                                                But don't delude oneself into thinking it's a good thing for the people one purports to be helping.

                                                How much of your charitable dollars do you want to spend on yourself, anyway?

                                        2. The food bank I volunteer with has 2 things they absolutely will not except - alcohol and baby food in individual/loose jars.

                                          They also prefer food in plastic/metal containers, though they will accept food in glass containers if donated. They will accept and distribute dented cans as long as the dent isn't on or around the seal. They will accept damaged packages as long as the inner packaging is still sealed (i.e. ripped cereal box is OK if the plastic bag is intact).

                                          If they received food that is past expiration, recalled, or damaged beyond being safe, they send it to a local hog farm where it is dumped in a vat and boiled for sterilization. The hogs don't care and the food doesn't go to waste. This isn't ideal, and I wouldn't encourage people to knowingly send food that isn't fit for human consumption to the food bank, but if something slips through your pre-donation inspection it's OK.

                                          Most of all though, they would prefer a monetary donation to a bag of food. They can acquire and distribute $4 worth of food for every $1 donated. I know it is fulfilling to drop off a bag bursting with food, but I would encourage anyone who can to make a donation of the same dollar amount, then spend your time volunteering at the food bank rather than in the grocery store. They always need volunteers to sort through gleaned produce, organize donated goods by type, repackage bulk donations, and help with the every day tasks of running a non-profit community service.

                                          3 Replies
                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              Baby food is OK, it's just individual small jars of baby food aren't OK. I don't know the exact reason, but it is against health codes to distribute the individual jars. I've honestly never asked, but my guess is that they can't guarantee the integrity of the seal on jars. The risk is minimal enough that it's OK for adults, but not a risk worth taking for babies. I'm working there this weekend, and will try to remember to ask.

                                              They can accept multi-packs of baby food jars, formula, and other baby food products.

                                            2. re: mpjmph

                                              Baby food is worth checking out before people decide not to donate, At the food pantry where I volunteer, baby food, individually packed or whatever, is always in big demand. We never accept alcohol or soda (seems arbitrary because Hawaiian Punch is okay), nor anything home made. Junk food is fine and we make an effort to pack a bag of chips or some kind of treat.

                                            3. I am not sure about should not, but I will say that it's important to take into consideration where the food pantry is. Cities, suburbs, and rural areas all have food pantries, and the people in these areas can be lacking in very different things.
                                              As an example, for a number of years when I was a child, we were on food stamps, and received food from our church's food pantry. A lot of people, clearly well meaning and trying to donate healthy items, gave canned vegetables, green beans in particular. We never used them, because we, like the other people on the poorer side of town, grew our own vegetables, did our own canning and jarring, and kept a root cellar. Once we were back on our feet financially, we brought hundreds of cans of vegetables down to the nearest urban church. The people at this church didn't have yards, didn't have cars, and lived in an urban area with very limited public transportation. Canned vegetables were the only kind they were able to get, and they cost three times as much at the convenience store in their neighborhood as they do at a grocery store in the suburbs.
                                              Just keep in mind, these people have other sources of food, so what are they going to be lacking in? The best thing for us was, unfortunately, convenience food. People that are broke don't necessarily have time to cook. My parents worked more hours in those years than at any other point I can recall. Stuff that required preparation got shoved to the back of the pantry in favor of baked beans and macaroni and cheese.
                                              Also, just because they're broke doesn't mean they're going to eat crap. We would get things like SPAM (which I know some people love) and never use it. Having no meat was better than eating that. And things like canned spaghetti aren't great. For one, per serving, canned spaghetti costs more than even a decent box of spaghetti and jar of sauce.
                                              Aside from classic convenience foods like mac and cheese, baked beans, tuna helper, chicken noodle soup, rice a roni, cake or brownie mixes, and the like, the best items we got were: pasta, pasta sauce, rice, beans (dry or canned), cous cous, oatmeal, other grains, tuna, other canned fish, roasted peppers, chicken broth, spices or spice blends, canned corn, pickles, mustard, mayonnaise, canned fruit (especially peaches), canned pumpkin or squash, canned tomatoes (all kinds), salsa, jarred crushed garlic, jarred ginger puree, coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, peas, artichoke hearts, pesto, bread crumbs, olive oil or other oils, any kind of vinegar, sauerkraut, and just about any kind of sauce or salad dressing (or those good seasonings salad dressing packets).
                                              Also keep in mind that things like good toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, and other toiletries are always nice. When your parents are broke, they buy the crappy toothpaste and tooth brushes. When you're 8, that makes you a lot more likely to just skip brushing your teeth.

                                              11 Replies
                                              1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                Not all people who use food pantries have cooking facilities. Some may be living in motel rooms, so the canned spaghetti or canned beef stew, while clearly better heated up, is at least providing some sustenance (and yes, I've eaten things cold that should be heated).

                                                1. re: nofunlatte

                                                  Definitely. That's why it's important to keep in mind who the particular food pantry you are donating to is serving. You'd have had to travel several towns away from our home to find motels, or any living accommodations with no kitchen.
                                                  On the flip side, when I was teaching in inner city Boston, most of my students lived in tenements, many with shared kitchens. When the school held a food drive, people donated things they would have trouble using. It's all well and good to donate a can of pumpkin and a can of evaporated milk so they can have pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, but most of these families had no functioning oven, no counter to make pie dough on, nowhere to buy a premade pie crust, and no time to make a pie in the first place. On top of that, the school was over 90% Latino, and most people never bothered to donate any Goya products. The families that took home the rare jar of sofrito looked like they'd won the lottery.

                                                  1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                    Bingo--and your point about toiletry items is a good one.

                                                    1. re: nofunlatte

                                                      So are manual can openers and bottle openers. We (volunteers) never have enough of those items to pack with food stuffs delivery day.

                                                      1. re: HillJ

                                                        Good point. Also, when possible, getting the cans with those tabbed lids is a good idea instead of the ones that require a can opener. Kids in poor families often have to fend for themselves at meal times, and sharp can lid edges can be dangerous.

                                                        1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                          Yes! I've noticed more canned items rolling out with the tabbed lids now.
                                                          Helpful and safer.

                                                2. re: danieljdwyer

                                                  You make very good points about knowing the food pantry's "customer" base. All the more reason to donate money instead of food, that way the people who know the needs of the area best can stock the shelves appropriately.

                                                  Reading your post I thought of another advantage of donating money - my local food bank tries to provide fresh foods (produce, dairy, and meat) to their clients who do have access to cooking facilities. They often buy fresh foods at deep discounts from local farms, usually items that are perfectly good for consumption but aren't "pretty" enough for grocery stores. They can often buy fresh produce for less than you or I would pay for frozen/canned.

                                                  1. re: mpjmph

                                                    I agree that donating money has significant advantages. I'd add, though, that it's a good idea to make sure first that the place you're donating too has adequate workers to actually make use of the money. Not all do, and it's a shame to make a donation that doesn't have the intended effect due to a lack of labor.

                                                    1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                      Gift cards for grocery stores are also good. We pass out special dinner foods for Thanksgiving and Christmas, except the turkey and give them gift cards to get it.

                                                  2. re: danieljdwyer

                                                    daniel, that's a seriously good list. The "everyone has that!" items like mayo, mustard, and ketchup and the packets of salad dressing are probably not thought of as much as the canned veggies, pasta, and tomato sauce are.

                                                    1. Another thought (can you tell I'm big on food banks?)... Most of the grocery stores around here sell pre-packed Second Harvest donation boxes for $5. I don't know about other regions, but in this area (Central North Carolina) those boxes go to the large regional food bank warehouses where they are used as "emergency relief" for people who walk in off the streets (this particular food bank distributes to shelters/smaller pantries only and generally doesn't give directly to individuals). They also usually help walk-ins identify what public and/or private services they qualify for and walk them through the appropriate applications.

                                                      1. This is a good thread. I volunteer at a charity/food pantry. I don't give out food, but I am aware of what is donated. People love giving food. In our area it is not uncommon for scout troops or offices to do a food drive. The person doing the delivering gets to feel good about doing this, I think. The people donating also get to feel good, and it is not a big shot to the pocketbook. Our charity accepts food or money. We also accept toiletries and cleaners. We sometimes have pet food available.

                                                        A no-no is to donate things that have aged past their expiration dates. Non standard items such as wild-caught game, might not pass muster. But I have noticed that some items are put out for people to go over, if they are not the "normal" things. Our clients seem to love to look them over.

                                                        I recommend calling before choosing what to donate. This holiday season our charity needed gift cards--Walmart preferred. There might be another more pressing need you could contribute to. But making periodic donations of time, money and/or food throughout the year would be the best thing, IMHO.

                                                        1. Here's a link to an article in last weekend's NYT.
                                                          Food for thought:
                                                          This link was posted upthread. Just thought I'd emphasis, for those who missed it.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                            I find this article a little upsetting. I mean, what ever happened to "beggars can't be choosers?" There could definitely be uses for bloody mary mix beyond making bloody marys. I grew up on food stamps and welfare at different times, and when you're poor, you get really creative. I would have been thrilled to have virgin bloody mary mix to mix into canned soup to give us more meals, or to put on spaghetti instead of government cheese.

                                                            I participate in several canned food drives each year - at work, through my professional organizations, the postal service's drive, and there is no clear/available option to donate my $2.79 or whatever to someone. Not to mention which, if there WERE someone at my work collecting money AND canned goods, I guarantee you I would be the not so friendly topic of gossip if I gave them a quarter, or a dollar, or even $2.79. But I might want to do an overhaul of all the stuff in my pantry and realize that all the X, Y and Z I bought this year, I'm probably not going to use befoer it goes bad, and donate it. I might donate 50 cans a year, maybe even 100, but if I have to dole it out at a quarter here and there and look like an a-hole for such a piddling donation, I'm not going to donate at all.

                                                            I've volunteered twice for our local big foodbank, that supplies all the other smaller foodbanks in town, and they are awash in cans, that are well-used and distributed daily. Packers reach into giant bins of cans and try to pick a decent mix of products. And the food banks and churches they serve are grateful to receive what's donated.

                                                          2. old cans of escargots or pheasant pate. Hearts of palm.

                                                            1. Something that my family (and other families in my area have done) is donating turkeys or chickens. Each holiday, a local supermarket has a deal. For shoppers who collect enough points by shopping at the store (and it's not bad, we don't shop there that regularly, but manage to get enough points to do it) they can get a turkey with the collected points. So, every year, we donate that turkey to the food bank. I have gone with my dad to drop it off in years past, and have found that they love to receive them. There are many local families who just cannot afford the extra expense of a turkey that year, and this gives the food bank an opportunity to give those families a turkey.

                                                              But, what we have found is that they would prefer (this is for my local food bank only...but I am guessing it may be similar at others) a frozen bird to a fresh one, because it has a longer life.

                                                              1. I disagree with the "alcohol". I always give a bottle of wine. This is of course not adviseable if the clientele is street people who are likely to either have multiple addictions or be mentally ill and on medication, but the food bank in my neighbourhood mostly serves immigrant families - and of course they won't give the bottle of wine to a Muslim family. Why shouldn't poor people have a little Christmas cheer?

                                                                Money is important as my local food bank also gives a lot of vouchers - it has a multiethnic clientele and the Southeast Asians, for example, may well prefer fish and seafood to a turkey.

                                                                Of course the "not English" thing doesn't apply to me as I live in Montréal, though most labels across Canada are in both official languages.

                                                                I pretty much always give some tinned fish as well, because I buy tins of tuna, salmon etc when they are on sale.

                                                                Don't forget pet food!

                                                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                      We have some of those schemes here in Québec, such as "une rangée de plus" (an extra row) given to food banks, but more is still needed. It is so important for them to be able to supply healthy, fresh food. I've worked in community groups and in conjunction with food banks - a different group actually organizes the food bank - and they always have a hard time accessing healthy food, although we do get donations from Marché Jean-Talon (a large public market) and from supermarkets.

                                                                      The "immigrant family" group I spoke of above is very resourceful, though of course some may not be familiar with certain local produce and how to use it, but there are also single people with limited survival skills (these are found in all social classes: lots of young people never cook anything, hard as that is to fathom for foodies, and suddenly single men of an older generation may not know much about cooking either). This means "collective kitchens", at once soup kitchens but also places where people learn how to cook and take part in it together.

                                                                      Though people here certainly eat leeks and those wonderful vegetables wouldn't go bad!

                                                                      And I'd LOVE to be able to buy tiny ripe melons. There is an organic producer at the market in season who often sells one-serving melons.

                                                                    2. I generally hold myself to the rule "I won't donate anything I wouldn't eat myself."

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: adventuresinbaking

                                                                          Eh, not necessarily. I have pretty odd tastes in food -- I don't really like sweet stuff or most shelf-stable items, but that doesn't mean someone else won't enjoy them.

                                                                          I won't give anything I find objectionable, though -- no candy-coated cereal or drinks that come in unnatural colours.

                                                                        2. Having volunteered at a homeless shelter that received food from our local food bank, and at the local food bank itself.....

                                                                          Obscure foods shouldn't be donated - the gallon jar of pimiento olives, the ground ostrich meat.

                                                                          The food bank won't distribute items that are damaged, dented, or don't have the ingredients listed - for allergy considerations.

                                                                          I've found it amazing what people will donate. A case of chili can go a long way.

                                                                          I recently read in either the paper or a food bank newsletter that they get 85% of their food from cash donations and direct donations from corporations. They are able to negotiate deals with canneries and farmers to get bulk items at a reduced cost.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: tracylee

                                                                            Agree 100%. I know here in the Toronto area the food banks prefer monetary donations for that very reason, they can buy the food at wholesale, and more importantly they can use the money to fill in the gaps, i.e. not enough peanut butter donations, they can buy more right away from the supplier.

                                                                            To answer some of the older posts, the Toronto area food banks do publish lists in the media of what's needed most, but they'll take anything. I know baby formula/food, dry pasta and canned sauce (which I feel is a much better buy than boxed mac and cheese, which is a common donation), canned beans, and peanut butter are always on the list.

                                                                            Since certain groceries cost a lot more here than in the U.S. (something I post a lot about elsewhere on CH), my wife and I usually buy our food bank donations at Aldi and Sam's Club during our cross-border shopping trips, usually lots of canned vegetables as well as pasta and sauce. Groceries and tax and duty free for import so it just goes in with the rest of the food we're bringing over.

                                                                          2. I used to volunteer at a food pantry and neighboring towns were pretty affluent and the food donations were high end products, gourmet and organic. A lot of the gourmet products we would avoid putting in the food bags because more than likely it would go to waste or people wouldn't know what to do with it.
                                                                            We hated getting pumpkin mix because there was always SO SO much. Also, prepackaged foods that would need OTHER items were also difficult to juggle too. Like the mixes that needed to add meat, milk, butter, eggs etc would be difficult for some people to use.
                                                                            I actually wish at food pantries items like canned food (ravioli, chili, mac and cheese etc) were avoided because they're so unhealthy. and items like whole wheat pasta, whole grain bread, low sugar jelly were provided.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: amatuerfoodie

                                                                              Well, I know lots of struggling freelancers who experience bouts of hard times and who would certainly know what to do with gourmet and organic products! That food pantry needs a better hookup with potential clientele - there are a lot of highly-educated people experiencing hard times these days!

                                                                            2. This is an old post, but I thought it might be good to remind everyone that food pantries are feeding more people than ever. If you didn't make a donation this holiday season, it isn't too late to do so. You can take the expense off this year's taxes, next year! But the important thing to know is that food pantries continue to feed families after the holidays. If you know of a deserving food pantry, consider giving money or food.

                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                              1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                Esp. money. Ten dollars can make quite a difference. Probably mentioned above but our food bank is very strict about nothing beyond an expiration date so don't give it to them without checking.

                                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                                  Yes, food banks are able to buy items in bulk at prices that we usually can't get, so the equivalent amount of money that you would spend on food will go alot further.

                                                                                  I volunteered for a few years at a homeless shelter and the 5-gallon jar of pimento olives and the 5 lbs of ground emu went untouched. At the time, each family took turns cooking, so they cooked with what they were familiar with. After I moved away, they hired someone to do all of the cooking to reduce waste, so I'm not sure if that person found a way to use those or not.

                                                                                  Since then, I've done food sorting at the food bank, and anything that was open or damaged, or did not have a complete ingredient lable had to be discarded.

                                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                                    Especially expertise! plenty of things look good on those job applications.

                                                                                2. Good discussion! What I am taking away is that food pantries or food banks operate differently in different areas. It is best to find out what your area's charity needs and can use before dropping off stuff. Of course, they always need money. Not sure about the caveat about staffing and use of money is referring to. I work for a well-run and nicely staffed pantry, but I imagine that under staffing is the norm. If the charity is your community's charity, you should be able to know how well it does its job.

                                                                                  My point is mainly to go on record that food pantries are feeding more people than they did three years ago, or even 1 year ago, depending on your area's situation. Much of the food given out goes to families with children. If you can see your way clear to donate, I want to encourage you to do so. If you don't feel called to do so, then obviously you shouldn't.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                    I'm glad this thread got revived when it did. A good reminder as we start the new year.

                                                                                    I have a few things that I want to donate. Things that people left here when they visited. Not much. This thread got me to thinking that when I drop it off I'll give a little cash also.

                                                                                  2. Another random thought... If you're cleaning out the pantry and donating unopened cans and jars, check under the lids of any peanut butter your donating to make sure it really is unopened! We always check peanut butter jars at the food bank, and about 10% of the jars look new/unopened, but under the lid, the seal is gone and a spoonful is missing from the middle of the jar.

                                                                                    1. Depending on where they are located, and where they get funding, what food pantries can accept varies quite a bit. It's a real eye-opener to do a volunteer packing shift, and she what all has to be thrown out. In Houston, we tossed hundreds of fruit cups because they had been separated from the original packaging, and the individual cups did not have nutrition info printed on them . It was really discouraging to have to do that. Also, some items require a lot more work on the part of the food pantry (like opening boxes of cereal to make sure there are no bugs in the bottom after they've been in storage). The items that were most convenient were clearly labeled (dated), undamaged canned goods. I highly recommend some volunteer time for your local food bank!

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: arashall

                                                                                        Yeah, I haven't got much money to give but I work a few days a month at our area-wide food pantry and once a month distributing groceries at a food bank a few neighborhoods over and down. One thing that I've noticed is that grains and flours have been known to contain bugs when kept past a certain point, and cornmeal goes rancid. That being said, USDA usually donates things of this nature: beans, rice, grains, lentils, etc. and we generally actually have a surplus of these items.

                                                                                      2. Let me tag on one thing that I had the hardest time finding at the food pantry--food for someone who is homeless. Other than bread and pb, most food the pantry carries required refrigeration or can openers and stoves or something that someone w/out a home doesn't have.

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                                          You are so right. Whenever I deal with a homeless client, I have to specify nonperishables. Also we try to direct them to the appropriate agency for shelter, as well. Many of my clients are on disability, collecting food stamps and/or unemployment. Many are in poor health. Very few are in stable situations. Sometimes I wonder what will happen to them, how they will live. Other times clients are existing on part time work and lots of assistance from us and other agencies and perhaps family members. What is pertinent to us on this board, is that many, many of the people I assist work in food service. It is not unusual to give food to families headed by chefs or cooks, or to assist wait persons or kitchen employees.

                                                                                        2. In case it has not been mentioned, most will also take dog/cat food to help support the "family unit" so that beloved animals can stay with their families. I specifically called and asked about this and they want to keep families together as much as anyone. And we all know, our pets are very important members!

                                                                                          Edit: I didn't expand all, so I do see it has been mentioned. But - hey - great minds think alike!

                                                                                          1. This thread prompted me to fill a bag with nonperishables and take it by the food pantry. While there I talked with the volunteer coordinator about volunteer opportunities. We travel a good bit so can't really make the 'every Tuesday from 10-12' commitment. She had no problem with that. One that they're looking for right now is just a backup to the person who packs up the food for 40 or so homebound clients that need delivery. Picked up a couple of applications for us to fill out. Thanks for the nudge :)

                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                                                              Another thing that is needed are volunteers who will pick up food from grocery stores and deliver it. It's free food that the pantries can get, if they can get the manpower.

                                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                I think you will be glad you are doing this. God bless you.

                                                                                                1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                                  Kind of you to say.

                                                                                                  Yes, ipse, I checked their website and there are all sorts of things that can be done including a community garden. It seems like this would be GREAT work for a Chowhound, doesn't it?

                                                                                              2. I am a manager at the local food pantry and we have one huge company that donates to us three times a week. We do get those Senseo food packets along with boxes and boxes of creamer that needs to be stored in the cold section. But they work, just tear open the little package and you can fill your basket in your coffee maker. Also, we have a large donation bag just for the homeless so when they come in they get that can opener and are allowed to shop once a week.

                                                                                                1. I have a question for the fine folks here... rather timely that this older thread popped up since I'm about to do my annual donation.

                                                                                                  I have tons of individual Quaker instant oatmeal packets in a few flavors. They were purchased at Costco for SO's hunting trip but he didn't use most of them.. Can I donate the individual packets? Or no because they're not in the sealed box?

                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                    In our food pantry we accept individual anything. Your oatmeal packets are sealed so it doesn't matter. I think most would take them. Even when our pantry gets full sized packages of boxes that are individually wrapped like crackers ( 4 to a box) of saltines we take those out and we give a package to our clients.

                                                                                                    1. re: helpinghandsWI

                                                                                                      Great thank you. I also have things like individual snack packs of crackers so those will probably go too.

                                                                                                  2. By the way, I'd never heard the term "food pantry" - had to look it up. Here, they are all "banques alimentaires - food banks, large and small.

                                                                                                    1. par baked pies or anything that has to be baked.

                                                                                                      not every "kitchen" has an oven. my son goes to a very tony school where moms drive up in brand new range rovers and sheesh, if fur coats weren't so un PC they would wear them.most of them are also trustafarians so they have no idea what being poor means bc they've never struggled financially.

                                                                                                      we had a food drive and one mom brings in a bag of pies that need to be finished off. i felt like telling her not everyone is equipped with a viking oven but i just mentioned that they may not be able to bake them off. well, she just yelled at me and said the email wasn't clear. oh, well what can you do!