HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Help supply a food bank for Thanksgiving

We support our local food bank year 'round, but T'day is special.

I'd like to donate two complete meals this year. Hell, I'd like to donate 12, and will try hard to do more than two.

The food bank building has multiple refrigerators and freezers. We will buy at least two turkeys, using chain "spend $XX and get the turkey for '$x.'" [or for free. It happens here sometimes.] We figure we can also buy a couple of turkey breasts.

I hope that none of you ever have to do this, but if you were forced to use a food bank for this holiday meal, what would you want to be able to select?

I've got ideas, but would love to read what others think.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

    1 Reply
    1. re: blue room


      And dang it, I probably posted this in the wrong place. It will most likely get moved. Apologies. ...

    2. I'd want the protein and the pie.

      Mashed potatoes, green beans, even if I was in a tough place, I could handle that.

      But a turkey? A pumpkin or pecan pie? Those would make me very happy.

      I am lucky that I am employed (mostly!) a good cook in a big city, with great sales. If I can make the time, the world is mine. But many folks don't have that option.

      So go by Dickens - get the goose! Or turkey, as it may be. : )

      And God bless us all, every one.

      1. Here are some of the basics that came to me:

        Stuffing mix
        Bag of potatoes
        Frozen green beans
        cream of mushroom soup
        Durkee onions
        Canned cranberry sauce
        Sweet potatoes
        pumpkin or applie pie

        1. IMO giving a whole turkey is a bad idea, it is WAY TOO BIG and will lead to a lot of food loss at the end.

          If you really want to give a whole turkey, try to look for "Soup kitchen" where they will use the whole turkey to prepare food for homeless people (or low income elderly people).

          Never forget non-food stuff....

          Toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, "feminine hygiene" products, ...

          5 Replies
          1. re: Maximilien

            Maximilien, thanks. This food bank is for distribution only. Several local churches combine to 'do Thanksgiving' for those who wish to eat it at our community center.

            Non-food is such a good idea. We do that a couple of times a year. It's really important!

            1. re: Maximilien

              At the homeless shelter I volunteered at years ago, they'd have so many donated turkeys that they'd send them and other t-giving supplies to families who'd left the shelter but were still in transition, if they wanted them. Many of them had large families, and extended families or groups of friends that would come together to help cook, eat, and divvy out the leftovers.

              The shelter would keep as many as they had reasonable space for to use throughout the year, to supplement what was sent from local businesses and the food bank.

              1. re: Maximilien

                I love that idea Max.
                how smart is that.
                just think of a mommy finding a shimmer vanilla bean scented lotion in the bag or a marrow bone from the butcher for family dog or a small bag of household items that a family may need like crazy glue, scotch tape and a box of all purpose greeting cards or a supply of Kates Muesli portioned out for a quick breakfast idea for kids on the go. thanks for the idea ((smart cookie))

                1. re: Maximilien

                  We just finished a mega road trip, with waaaaay too many hotel stays. I always take the tiny shampoo/conditioner/moisturizer bottles 'cause I give 'em to our local shelter, who says they're much appreciated by their clients. When I give food, I remember my poor married student days, and along with brand name food (we bought the cheapest generic stuff we could find), also include some foil/plastic wrap/waxed paper. I also always buy a few boxes of cake mix and cans of frosting--not exactly the from-scratch that I make at home, but I remember longingly craving them when we were broke newlywed students.

                  1. re: Maximilien

                    My dad donates 10-20 turkeys to a church that helped his dad out and helps the elderly. All I know is they are THRILLED to have the whole turkeys. I highly doubt many of the old folks out there getting his donated turkeys are letting any part of that bird go to waste. Most of the old people I know will make a ton of meals out of that one turkey.

                  2. Ask the food bank what thier clients need/want. My local food bank almost always wants money over food. They can get $8 worth of food for every $1 donated, and would rather do the shopping themselves. One of the few exceptions is freebie food from grocery store. Most storesnhere give away Thanksgiving in a box with enough weekly purchases. The stores give the option to donate the food, and since you can't get cheaper than free, the food bank loves those donations.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: mpjmph

                      Full agreement. Money is best as the buying power of the food bank can really pay off. I understand that sometimes people don't think that they are doing anything if they don't go and select food to give but I believe if more people understood the buying power of these organizations that they would have a change of feelings.

                      If you want to give food to a family then you might want to check through organizations that allow you to "adopt" a family for Thanksgiving or Christmas. You can make up a box that goes directly to a family, complete with gifts. If you want to give to a food bank though I would say money only.

                      1. re: Astur

                        You both are correct, and a monetary donation is included.

                        1. re: Astur

                          When we did the Adopt a Family for Christmas one year, I asked and received the 1st names of each family member; along with the needed items they requested, I handmade personalized Christmas stockings, stuffed with un-needed but fun items. I think I had more fun than them, just visualizing them finding something truly personal.

                      2. Our hospital has a Turkey Drive every year for the food bank associated with the hospital. It is an excellent idea that I wanted to share with you all. It is held for two days in a drive thru style from 6am-9am only. These times cover when we are all either leaving work or starting work. I'm on a 7am-7pm shift. I get up a few minutes early and stop by my grocery store to buy a turkey and then drive thru the front entrance and drop my turkey off to volunteers. It's simple and the food bank collects literally hundreds of turkeys each November. Maybe this year I'll include a bag of potatoes. Nice thread, Nikki!

                          1. many years ago we as a young family were without money, in a huge home, hubby without a job after a year and me working a very part time job which paid me minimally. Thanksgiving was still coming whether we wanted it to or not and a big deal dinner certainly wasn't in the offing for us.
                            we'd found and frequented a lovely church and apparently they'd been made aware of our selling our business and finding nothing to replace it meaning a career or job for my husband.
                            the day before Thanksgiving there was a knock on our front door and as I answered the door about 5 people walked in all with big bags of groceries hugged the little ones and hubby and I and said Happy Thanksgiving. I'll never forget that.
                            It's such a nice helpful wonderful warming thing to do. we give either money or I buy groceries or take groceries to the local churches or SA's or wherever and know that we're feeding ones who may not have had a meal.

                            now to answer the what would you want to be able to select.
                            our church brought us every single thing for a perfect standard Thanksgiving meal.
                            my favorite thing to do is cook and bake so ingredients work best for me. others may be better off with frozen vegetables already made and a tub of potatoes and canned yams. there are all types out there so a variety [a little of everything] would probably work best.
                            potatoes for making mashed potatoes
                            jarred or canned gravy
                            bread for making stuffing, onions, celery, cans of chicken broth, poultry seasoning, butter
                            green beans, cream of whatever soups, fried onions
                            cranberry sauce
                            dinner rolls jam and/or butter
                            pumpkin pie, whipped cream

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: iL Divo

                              What a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing that.

                              1. re: iL Divo

                                Il Divo. Thank you. This is **exactly** why we do this.

                              2. I've got to agree with some of the folks above. Please call your food bank and ask what they need. Many are overwhelmed with food donations Thanksgiving and Xmas and the perishable items go bad. Many people in need have no idea how to cook a turkey. Please call your local food bank before buying anything.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mojoeater

                                  mojoeater, I understand, the bank 'put the call' out last week. They need it all, and it sadly [or happily] flies out the door as fast as folks bring it all in.

                                2. Answering myself, here's what I came up with the other night:

                                  2 turkeys, purchased after the 'turkey ads' break the week before the holiday.

                                  two five-pound bags of potatoes

                                  two bunches of carrots - the bank can keep them refrigerated

                                  4 pounds of green beans - still kind of torn about fresh or frozen, I'm still thinking about their refrigeration space, which is ample, but which will probably also be crowded.

                                  4 cans of pumpkin

                                  4 cans of evap milk - maybe two pies for each?

                                  I already have two small packages of p. pie spice from my fave Interwebz spice vendor

                                  2 packages of rolled pie crusts

                                  2 packages of stuffing mix, plus two packages of cornbread mix, just in case

                                  2 cans mushroom soup

                                  2 cans Durkee onions

                                  2 cans cranberry sauce

                                  2 bags whole cranberries, again, just in case

                                  2 cans yams, or two pounds yams from the produce department

                                  [pausing here. we've done all canned stuff in years past, but I like the peeling/slicing/cooking part and wonder if others may as well]

                                  2 pounds onions, just because. probably a couple of heads of garlic, too. Garlic is good.

                                  2 jars gravy

                                  2 packages frozen rolls [WISH we lived in the South, so we could get Sister Schubert.]

                                  Chiles. Yes, chiles. A most amazing dressing was described to us last year, at the bank - it included 2 boxes of Mrs. Cubbison's and two roasted and chopped poblanos - so at least one recipient will be happy.

                                  Butter and milk are terrific ideas, thank you. And now I'm thinking eggs as well. Good thing we don't need much from the stores in the next couple of weeks.

                                  Will certainly add Redi-Whip to the list!

                                  Is there anything else special/cool that someone can think of?

                                  Il Divo's post almost made me cry. This food bank helped us many years ago, and we were so grateful. So we try to give back as much as we can. We live in a affluent city, but there are so many people who are teetering on the edge, or who have just fallen over it. We just want to give back.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: nikkihwood

                                    Marvelous list,the only thing I would add is celery and onions.My brother and brother in law are very active in "donated" meals.One thing they ALWAYS try for,freezer space in distribution permitting is ICE CREAM.It really is a special treat that has been budgeted out,every where.

                                    1. re: nikkihwood

                                      I think your list sounds great and it's very generous of you to put so much effort into it. Would it be possible to include a list that has some basic suggestions/instructions for cooking the turkey, pies, whole cranberries, green beans, etc. and the best way to store the leftovers in case it goes to a family that doesn't have much experience cooking a turkey or access to the internet for recipes? (I get so used to just looking things up online, I forget that many people don't have that luxury.) I don't know the situation of the families your meals will go to, but if sugar, salt and pepper, etc. are needed for any of the recipes, Walmart or one of the dollar stores usually has them at a great price. A loaf of bread might also be an idea because they can use it for sandwiches with the leftovers the next day to maximize the turkey, plus leftovers are always the best part of all the cooking. The only other thing I could think of was a small bag of marshmallows for the yams because I have some family members that will only eat them with the marshmallows.

                                      Again, this is so kind of you to do this and I am sure the familes that recieve it will appreciate whatever you are able to give.

                                      1. re: Scooter8

                                        That is a terrific idea! As are S/P, bread, onions, celery and ice cream. Thank you all.

                                        We'll make sure to phone first to see if there is available room for all of this.

                                      2. re: nikkihwood

                                        great list...
                                        if you can handle it, a disposable sturdy foil turkey roasting tray for each bird.

                                        We give our food bank a check and 24 of the disposable roasting trays. Years ago when I volunteered at our locasl food bank, a distraught young mother explained that she appreciated the 18 lb bird, but had nothing to roast it in. Poor people who have limited budgets don't often own the cooking equipment needed to cook large items.

                                      3. First off - call your local food bank/pantry & ASK them what they need. Ours gets so very much canned green beans & corn year-round that they could pave a couple of streets with the stuff. In addition, around Thanksgiving, all the local supermarkets donate a ton of frozen turkeys, so additional turkeys may not be what they need at this time.

                                        While we do donate whole turkeys if our food pantry needs them, one thing I've found that they've REALLY appreciated have been frozen Rock Cornish Game Hens - either individual or the frequently seen 2-packs. These are GREAT for singles or couples who don't want or need a big turkey.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Bacardi1

                                          great idea Bacardi.
                                          what about turkey breasts though, think that may work.
                                          but you know stuff like stuffing in a box or bag, butter, poultry seasoning, whipped cream, candied pecans. there are things that folks won't buy because they can barely afford the crux of the meal.

                                          1. The prior replies cover the dinner quite well. Perhaps bread, mayo, pickles, chips for leftover sandwiches? Cider and mulling spices would be a nice "extra" too.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: meatn3

                                              Ah, leftovers. yes. Adding to the list. Thank you. !

                                            2. Your plans sound very nice and presumably are geared towards what the needs are in your community.

                                              The main food bank we support serves a fairly large homeless population as well as singles and families living in low cost motels w/o cooking facilities. They post a current list of needs. For thanksgiving, volunteers prepare food bags suitable for 1 to many people and is mostly comprised of canned goods and fresh items that can be easily consumed by the clientele. Another local food center serves hot meals onsite so their needs are completely different.

                                              For anyone heading down this road, find out what your local providers need and buy accordingly.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: tcamp

                                                Again agree. Definitely check out what your local food bank/pantry needs the most. Ours has a website where they post weekly needs throughout the year, but around holidays I do always try to call in case anything has changed since the website was updated.

                                                And you know what - & I do realize that this isn't nutritious or necessary - several people were surprisingly moved to tears when I donated over a dozen boxes of plain old peppermint candy canes to the food bank around Xmas time. One woman said she never would have spent the money she had on candy or treats, & it was just so nice to be able to bring some home to surprise her kids. So don't feel that a few packages of kid-friendly treats (candy, cookies) is out of line. The folks needing to take advantage of the food pantry deserve little treats too. :)

                                              2. Another thing to think about, if you decide to donate food instead of cash....
                                                Our food bank is not able to accept donations of foods without a complete list of ingredients. So things must come in their original packages from the store.

                                                Other food banks may have other restrictions, based on local or state regulations and available space/storage, such as a lack of refrigeration. So definitely call ahead and/or check online before donating.

                                                1. There are wonderful suggestions here. Having worked many years in a local food bank, I can only add to them by saying that the "extra and included" items are what will be sorely lacking, both in the bank and in the pantries of the recipients, e.g. things that you use to make other things. If you can't find canned pumpkin pie filling that just needs to be put into a crust, remember that eggs, sugar and evaporated milk can come very dear, and piecrust stix might be a good option too, along w/ whip n chill or another sort of boxed whipped topping that requires only the addition of water or milk, and if you do get milk, it should be shelf-stable. Powdered milk, they have in spades. Canned vegetables? They have plenty, believe me - it's the ingredients to make a casserole that will be an issue: the cream soup, the ff onions. Chicken broth and gravy packets are a good bet. Likely cranberry sauce will not be a problem as a lot of people will donate. Butter or margarine will be a good bet, as will nonperishables like: tinfoil and roasting pans, paper towels, napkins, dish soap. I don't see any issue w/ donating whole turkeys: everyone is glad for the leftovers, which is why I'm loving on the idea of "next-day" extras: the mayo and sandwich garnishes. Believe me, banks don't get a lot of mayo.Please no rice, no beans: the USDA has a ton to give out. Salad dressings are always welcome, and things like oil. The fresh veg. are a great idea, but check w/ your local bank about storage room for them. Bread? Not so much. Generally most communities that make a lot of use of the food bank have a free bread program - one thing our clients tell us is that they always, always have bread....just nothing to put on it.
                                                  Bless you for what you're doing.
                                                  G*d bless us all.
                                                  Happy Thanksgiving.

                                                  6 Replies
                                                  1. re: mamachef

                                                    Mamachef - you may not see an issue with donating "whole turkeys", but many food pantrys (ours included) are inundated with so many this time of year that they simply do not have the room to store them. AGAIN - CALL YOUR LOCAL FOOD PANTRY FIRST BEFORE BRINGING IN WHOLE TURKEYS.

                                                    And again "Mamachef" - your advice is geared towards your own experiences at your own food bank. It's not the norm around the country. Our food bank ALWAYS welcomes dried beans & rice. We have an extremely large Hispanic population here & those items are always gobbled up.

                                                    You can't generalize re: food banks/pantries - every single area/community is individual re: it's needs.

                                                    1. re: Bacardi1

                                                      Fair enough. Thank you for the hit of advice from your particular area. I can only speak to what I know from my own local experience. I think it's as relevant as anything else here.

                                                      1. re: Bacardi1

                                                        food banks where i grew up not only accepted whole turkeys, they *suggest/request* them...and my hometown is 3,000 miles away from mamachef's so it's not a regional thing. your local pantries may welcome rice & beans and not want turkeys, but i wouldn't assume your experience defines the "norm" around the country any more than mine or hers does.

                                                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                          Except Bacardi most certainly didn't assume anything, just repeated the reminder to CALL FIRST before dropping off things that your local food bank can't handle. Mine, for instance, doesn't have facilities to refrigerate and serve a mainly homeless population. Turkeys aren't wanted and would go to waste there but are welcome at other facilities in the area.

                                                          1. re: tcamp

                                                            Circumstances vary, obviously. Calling first, there's certainly a good thought. And if yours works like ours, there's a network. If a food bank receives unuseable supplies, they wouldn't go to waste nor be thrown away; they'd be donated to a soup kitchen for their use, or to a bank in the network that can store them.

                                                            1. re: tcamp

                                                              i was primarily responding the comment that MC's experience isn't the norm...and since ALL CAPS is akin to shouting, the overall tone read to me as if MC was being scolded for a perfectly reasonable suggestion. just my opinion.

                                                              the reminder to call first is a good one, the approach just struck me as unnecessarily forceful.

                                                      2. Years ago I tried to organize a 'soup kitchen'. Getting the local stores to donate was easy. They were willing donate anything I needed. Unfortunately the 'local bureaucracy' AKA some members of the chamber of commerce who happened to own restaurants made the kitchen impossible. The local church with 'an approved' kitchen would not let us use the kitchen without us having expensive liability insurance. The location where we could have offered the soup etc. required liability insurance. I worked on the project for almost a year and finally gave up. The 'red tape' was too overwhelming. Now I donate money to the local food bank. The whole experience sort of soured me at the time.

                                                        1. In both the small towns I live, I viounteer to cook at places thgat serve free turkey dinners for the aged and impoverished. KIds are grrown and live far away. I gives me great satisfaction to actually work to help those less fortunate than I, rather that just donate something that I can easily afford.

                                                          1. Added to "The List":

                                                            foil baking pans
                                                            chips and pickles
                                                            chicken broth
                                                            and a couple of boxes of foil, packages of napkins and boxes of ziploc bags.

                                                            Thank you pine time, a big bag of hotel/motel steals will be included. We're traveling again next spring, I can certainly donate all those lovely samples I've collected this year.

                                                            We just want to provide, to whoever wants it, the makings for at least two great Thanksgiving dinners. And some leftovers. And some love.

                                                            Thank you all so much for your comments and suggestions. ! And please, if you can, donate some food, or some money to your local food bank. Not just for the holidays, but throughout the year.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. I'd suggest Costco pumpkin pies rather than the ingredients to make one. Don't know this year's price but last year it was $6 for a 12-inch pie, which serves at least 12. That's probably cheaper than the ingredients would cost you, and Costco makes a very tasty pie (I have read on CH that it is their best-selling prepared food item, year-round.)

                                                              Canned evaporated milk is still a good idea, either way. If recipients don't bake pie, it can still be used in the mashed potatoes, gravy, and for non-holiday cooking. Though I would not use short-cut stuff like instant mashed potatoes and canned yams myself, if buying for a food pantry, I would choose these rather than fresh. Less volume to store, and sadly, today, there are many households in which little scratch cooking is done. Some of your recipients may not even own a vegetable peeler or a good chef's knife.

                                                              1. it warms my heart to see all the caring 'Hounds on this board! one year a soup kitchen in DC put out a call for whole turkeys. DH and I went to the grocery store, bought a variety of frozen birds of different sizes, put them in the trunk of my car and drove to the donation location. they had volunteers there carrying in all the donations, and a line of cars waiting to turn over food and cash. it was wonderful.
                                                                our grocery store does the spend $XX and get a free turkey deal. Since I order a fresh turkey from a local farm, I always leave my free turkey slips at the customer service desk where they are distributed to a local food bank. I will have to ask where they end up, so that I can donate some $$ this year as well.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: jujuthomas

                                                                  We donate our free turkey too!! Our local Martins supermarket gives away a free turkey in exchange for a certain number of "points" accrued, & since we've been buying free-range organic turkeys for 15 years now, we've donating that free turkey (along with others we purchase) to the food bank. BUT - we always call first, because some years they've been inundated with birds since all the local supermarkets donate to them as well. However, last year they told me one day they didn't have room for any more turkeys; the next day they told me every single turkey had been given out & they had room for more, so you never can tell.

                                                                  With regards to leaving the slips, in our case the slips for a turkey are only good for a bird until 11/24, so I always feel safer cashing in the slip myself & donating the turkey. Who knows whether or not those slips are redeemed in time if left with customer service.

                                                                  1. re: Bacardi1

                                                                    that's an excellent point Bacardi. I appreciate very much that the store is willing to take the slips and redeem them, since I don't usually have a lot of free time to take donations in. I'll have to look into the location of our local food bank and see what they prefer.

                                                                    I'm curious - our slips are good for a free frozen turkey, a turkey breast or a pan of frozen lasagna... is that just our Giant or does your Martins offer turkey alternatives as well?

                                                                    1. re: jujuthomas

                                                                      Same here! Certificates can be redeemed for one whole frozen turkey, a whole turkey breast, or a family-size tray of Stouffer's frozen lasagna.