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What would *you* want from the food pantry?

My 5-year-old, bless him, wants to use his allowance to go shopping for the food drive at his school. I have a general practice of not donating anything we wouldn't eat—so, getting the whole-wheat pasta, the more wholesome cereals. Beyond that, what would you be pleased to get if you were on the receiving end of nonperishable food donations?

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  1. You have a GREAT kid there. Bless him, too.

    I'd assume most of those visiting a food pantry would have kids, so think along the lines of things that are healthy that your child will eat. Aside from what you mentioned above, my thought was peanut butter. Its a really good source of protein, and for folks who are in need, meat is probably the first thing in their diet to go, plus protein gives you that "full" feeling, so protein sources are important.

    Would your child be willing to eat any kinds of canned beans? Like baked beans? Beans are good too, but I'm not sure how many kids would willingly eat them.

    6 Replies
    1. re: ePressureCooker

      Exactly, e! 100 years of research shows poor communities have higher obesity and diabetes problems because of the high grain/ carb intake and lack of protein due to the cost of meats, etc.

      1. re: weezieduzzit

        to update your info:
        the newer research is showing a positive correlation with meat intake and diabetes. this would suggest that to decrease the incidence of diabetes, non-meat sources of protein should be consumed.

        as an example:
        http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/artic...

        1. re: westsidegal

          That is true, but as the abstract states, it is mostly red and processed meats: poultry and fish, as well as non-animal protein sources, are part of the "prudent" diet (though of course one doesn't have to eat any animal protein), and too much processed grain is bad too.

          1. re: lagatta

            now if the food science folks could come up with an acceptable shelf stable tofu like they did with milk.

            the 'why would they' is a different question altogether.

            1. re: hill food

              There is a very decent shelf-stable silken tofu in tetrapaks from Mori-Nu: http://www.morinu.com/ While not a luxury food, it is rather more expensive than non-shelf-stable tofu.

              Nothing to do with food science, just packaging.

      2. re: ePressureCooker

        Most people visiting our food pantry don't have kids.

        Good quality nut butters, good quality tuna and canned salmon, decent pasta, baked beans, tomato paste and sauce, coffee and tea, jam.

        These are the most popular itemsat the pantry where I have volunteered for 20 years.
        And apples!

      3. Peanut and other nut butters for sure. Coffee. Stewed tomatoes

        1. Healthy canned soups, or a bag of ingredients for soup - you, know, the ones with dried corn, beans, dried herbs, rice, etc. to "make your own soup", along with tetrapaks of chicken or beef broth. Canned chili, cans of tomato paste and tomato sauce.

          Peanut butter, certain canned veggies (low sodium), oatmeal (not instant), low-sugar cereals, such as Cheerios, small boxes of shelf-stable milk, fruit leather, Jiffy cornbread mix.

          But think about *non-food* items as well. Shampoo, toothpaste and travel toothbrushes, shaving cream, razors, hand soap, feminine hygiene products, etc. are always forgotten about. I have a store nearby called The Christmas Tree Shop where I can go get 10 or 12 "sample sizes" of things like I noted above and they're well received.

          ETA: a link for the bagged dried soup mixes I was referring to:

          http://www.bobsredmill.com/vegetable-...

          10 Replies
          1. re: LindaWhit

            Oh, those Bob's packs are a great idea. I was going to get toiletries too. Yes, my kid eats baked beans, not other beans, but I know several kids who like bean burritos.

            1. re: LindaWhit

              I don't want to sound dense but what is boxed shelf stable milk? I saw another post about cream that can be kept in a pantry?

              1. re: MamasCooking

                UHT, ultra high temperature. But I'd probably worry the box would get smashed and leak.

                1. re: jaykayen

                  Doesn't smash or leak, it's very reliable. Tomato sauce is sold this way as well. Square boxes take up less space than round and are easy to stack and store.

                  Shelf stable milk is sold in the same aisle as canned evaporated milk.

                  When we served tent city in south jersey the families were very happy to receive it.

                  1. re: HillJ

                    No more than can dents or glass breaks? Cardboard rips.

                    Our local food pantry sent me an email on Monday, I get a list each month.

                    This month the list contained:
                    market baskets, brown bags, canned pumpkin puree, dry bread cubes, shelf stable rice milk, spices, manual can openers, plastic ziplock bags, foil and canned green beans.

                  1. re: MamasCooking

                    Really ultra pasteurized milk. They use it at my kiddo's day care and as the grand daughter of dairy farmers, it scares the somethings out of me. Shelf stable until opened.

                    1. re: autumm

                      We spend time in Brazil every year and that's the only way milk is sold. What about it scares you?

                      1. re: c oliver

                        I don't really care for it, but BUT I stock up a bit at home for several reasons: power outages/shortfalls on fresh (where I live being either flooded-in or iced-in can happen at any time of year and the nearest 24/7 store is 40 minutes away) and (this is the one I love) being able to come home after a long vacation and there's no soured stinky milk in the fridge.

                2. Food pantries need high quality proteins, not simple carbs and starches like pasta and cereals- they already get lots of those (along with people on extremely tight budgets already buying those according to some studies.)

                  Peanut butter, canned tuna, salmon and chicken, shelf stable milks like LW mentioned, beans and legumes, broth and stock, etc. are all sought after donations.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: weezieduzzit

                    Agreed with this, the first thing I thought of when I read the thread title was "proteins".

                    Also Linda's comment about buying non-food items is a good one. Feminine hygiene products being at the top of the list. Maybe your 5 year old wouldn't be into buying those, but something to keep in mind :)

                    1. re: juliejulez

                      When I bought about $150 non-food items at TCTS last year, the person at the checkout asked "If you don't mind me asking, what is this for - soldiers?" I said not this time (I sent 4 boxes of toiletries and snacks to a Chowhound from Seattle stationed in Afghanistan a few years back)- and said it was for a food pantry. Someone else behind me heard it and said "what a great idea!" and stepped off the line with her cart and went to grab a lot of toiletries to donate herself.

                      1. re: LindaWhit

                        That's awesome, LW. :) Extra awesome that you inspired someone else to do the same,

                    2. re: weezieduzzit

                      The canned fish/meat is the first thing I thought of, too.

                    3. I suggest you contact the local food bank to ask them what they don't get enough of. I am a retired mail carrier who collected donated food from postal customers for many USPS food drives. Dry cereals, pasta, canned tomato products, and canned soups were the most commonly-donated items. Most of them are also inexpensive. I'll bet food banks don't get nearly as much canned tuna, hash, or chicken as they'd like. For obvious reasons, cans and plastic
                      jars are preferable to glass. Better Than Bouillon soup base, dried fruits, and dried legumes are also excellent. They are nutritious and don't take up a lot of shelf room either at the food bank or in the home.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: greygarious

                        I have volunteered here and there for food banks and I have to agree on the canned fish and meat. It's rare to see any donated meats other than in soup.

                        "I suggest you contact the local food bank to ask them what they don't get enough of."
                        Of course this is the best advice.

                      2. Jarred pasta sauce - TJs has some great organic versions
                        Seasoning mixes - taco, fajitas, etc.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                          Seasoning mixes are a great suggestion! The studies I've read that I was mentioning below talk about the lack of cooking facilities, skills and time that many food pantry recipients have so it's less likely they have a pantry full of spices or the experience to use them. Mixes are simple- I imagine they'd be very welcome!

                          1. re: weezieduzzit

                            That was my thought as well, spices are darn expensive especially when you want to mix them together and who wants to eat food seasoned the same way everyday? I thought of others after I replied - salad dressing seasonings would be great too and perhaps make salad something other than "lettuce with a side of ranch."

                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                              I saw a couponing deal on one of the sites that makes Ortega seasoning packets something like 12 cents and Kikkoman ones 24 cents- I'll have to see if those deals are still valid and will add them to my list. I can also get 16 cans of Swanson broth for free so those are on the list for donation items. We're trying to donate a ton this year.

                        2. A manual can opener
                          Dried soup mix
                          Shelf stable milk
                          Brown or White rice

                          1. They're not fancy, but many stores, including dollar stores, sell big jars of spices for a dollar. Cinnamon, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder - all good stuff to have in an arsenal.

                            Are there cake mixes that specify they can be made with just water or something similar? A cake mix to make a birthday cake for someone is nice but may be set aside for lack of eggs and oil.

                            Would it be tacky to sharpie in a note on the back of a box that it doesn't need eggs? Is that condescending? Hmm. I feel like it might be. So, never mind.

                            Just the cake mix then. Maybe powdered eggs?

                            27 Replies
                            1. re: Violatp

                              There are mixes for alot of things that say "Just add water" on the front, it would make a lot of sense to keep your eye open for those.

                              1. re: Violatp

                                I know the Betty Crocker muffin mixes only require water. My store frequently puts them on sale for $1.

                                  1. re: Violatp

                                    Muffins might be hard cause they require a muffin tin (many people don't have a tin but have a baking sheet), but I bet the cookie mixes are water only also.

                                    1. re: juliejulez

                                      I just did a bit of googling and they have those Betty Crocker microwavable things that come with a little bowl - they have brownies, cake, cookies.

                                      I mean, I know it's not healthy or anything but being able to offer some sort of cake on a special day is nice.

                                      I know you can make baked goods from scratch in a microwave but if you don't know how, then something like the Betty Crocker that's made for a microwave is nice.

                                      1. re: Violatp

                                        I agree with you. Whenever we donate to a food drive or adopt a family, we try to throw in a special treat for kids. Could be fruit leather or a package of cookies. I know it's not healthy but these families are having a hard time and maybe food money doesn't stretch enough get Oreos or brownies. Life doesn't always have to be so serious.

                                        1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                          Making things a little happier, especially for kids: Samuel Johnson had it right: What signifies, says some one, giving halfpence to beggars? they only lay it out in gin or tobacco. "And why should they be denied such sweeteners of their existence (says Johnson)?

                                          You and your son are really good people.

                                        2. re: Violatp

                                          And I think a little kid would enjoy giving that which is part of this also.

                                  2. re: Violatp

                                    A pantry near here asks specifically for cake mixes, frosting in tubs, and candles to give to parents who want to celebrate a child's birthday.

                                    1. re: Isolda

                                      I always buy a few cake mixes that are kid-friendly flavors, along with some tubs of neon-colored frostings, some candles and sprinkles. While nutritionally null, I hope some child will get a birthday cake.

                                      I also buy brand name stuff. When we were poor newly-weds, we had the store brand of what little we could afford, and I so wanted to "real" brands, as silly as that may seem.

                                      Also, when poor, I remember wanting to have aluminum foil, plastic wrap and waxed paper. Having all 3 (thanks, Mom) made me feel rich. So I always buy those, as well.

                                      Plus, as others wrote, canned tuna, even salmon, beans, etc.

                                      And, if there's an upcoming holiday, some themed candies. I have a wicked sweet tooth.

                                      Also, the toiletries from our many hotel stays, if the food bank accepts non-food items. Plus, the 10/$10 deals on full-size shampoos, toothpaste, etc., that our stores offer often.

                                      1. re: pine time

                                        Here's a tip about foil, if you have an Aldi nearby. The really long, heavy duty aluminum foil is considered a holiday, limited run item. Last year, in January or February, I found two rolls in Aldi's clearance bin for 99 cents each! I'm still using those and hope to score again after Christmas.

                                        Something to consider for food pantries, too. After every season or holiday, Aldi puts the leftovers in the clearance bin for super, super cheap. Think pink cake mix in the weeks after Valentine's Day. Maybe even ask the store's manager if there's something they can do.

                                        1. re: Violatp

                                          No Aldi's in SoCal, but that 99 cents for the extra wide foil is a great price. I just found the extra wide, heavy foil, and I'm embarrassed at how much I paid for it.

                                          I'm having fun reading that other people also see donating to the food banks as not only practical stuff (which is sorely needed), but also to include some fun stuff.

                                          1. re: pine time

                                            Ha, yes, wide, not long! :-)

                                            I've noticed that the Dollar Trees here (no 99 Cents Only stores, so sadly) the foil there that they *call* heavy duty is pretty much the same as regular Reynold's. It's 24 feet of foil for a dollar, which, considering the price of Reynold's (the first time I saw a roll of foil priced at over $10, I actually gasped in the aisle) is a pretty good price for the quantity.

                                            Also a good source for some other non-food stuff like the can openers and whatnot. Maybe the big aluminum roasters?

                                        2. re: pine time

                                          A party kit is a great idea and something a five year old would get into. Our local pantry tries to pack cake/frosting/candles and special treats for childrens' birthdays. How fun would it be for them to receive a birthday box full of things like that for a party.

                                      2. re: Violatp

                                        For anyone who has a Smart & Final (those in California and Arizona), they have lots of inexpensive spices for sale in bulk, where spice mixes could be made up for a fraction of the premixed spices.

                                        Also, both Vons/Safeway and Ralphs have a budget line of bulk spices they sell (just the basics); brand name is "Delish". They obviously don't put them with the regular small jars of herbs and spices, because then people would buy the inexpensive stuff instead. In one store, they are in the international foods section, in another they are between frozen foods and the aisle with packaged gravy and stuffing mixes, in a third, on the aisle with Asian noodles, wild rice and other grains, so you have to look to find them, they're never consistently in one place from store to store.

                                        1. re: ePressureCooker

                                          I love the Delish lines--good quality at good prices.

                                          1. re: pine time

                                            Yeah, I haven't tried all their spices yet, but so far, no complaints on the quality score.

                                            And believe it or not, you can often score a really good deal on bulk spices on Amazon, of all places (through third party sellers).

                                        2. re: Violatp

                                          I too like the idea of canned protein and including some whimsy. I only give stuff I'd want to eat while choosing I imagine I only have barely more than the facilities of a campsite (ya never know).

                                          I cringe when I peek in the donation bin and it's got a ton of pumpkin pie filling and olives.

                                          if I were to add cake mix, I'd rubber band a disposable (or nicer) aluminum pan to it. can't expect to shovel pure gruel or ketchup sandwiches at kids every night.

                                            1. re: ohmyyum

                                              omy - you never heard of those? or mustard sandwiches? I was fortunate that I was never at that point but have heard from others who were. they got that or nothing.

                                              1. re: hill food

                                                We did eat mayo sandwiches, but not mustard or ketchup.

                                                1. re: pine time

                                                  I remember mayo (or miracle whip) and iceberg lettuce sandwiches.

                                              2. re: ohmyyum

                                                My mom, a daughter of the depression, would eat ketchup and onion sandwich on white bread occasionally. They were her comfort food from childhood when that's all they had.

                                                1. re: gaffk

                                                  I still like a toasted onion sandwich, but that was my choice after reading about them in an E.L. Konigsburg short story once.

                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                    She wrote one of my favorite childhood books: "From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler." Loved it so much I bought it again as an adult. :-)

                                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                                      HA! don't you love when the kids are eating carefully at the automat and bathing in the museum's fountain? about the same time (a few years) she had a quartet of shorts, where I got the onion sandwich idea. an excellent writer wasn't she?

                                                      1. re: hill food

                                                        Yay, loved that book!!! I have to buy another copy. Well, two. One for myself and one for my ten year old niece!

                                          1. That's sweet of him. I'd contact the food pantry to see what they need. In my area, there's a shortage of ethnic food donations and it's in big demand. Your area probably has needs like that. Ours always needs baby/toddler products.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: chowser

                                              If the food pantry takes glass (some don't, i believe) baby food would probably be a great donation. Also the Gerber Graduates stuff

                                              props to the OP's son!

                                            2. http://www.brafb.org/GetInvolved/Host...

                                              Here's a list from our local bank of the things they need most. And the toiletries mentioned above are great, too.

                                              Your son sounds like a doll. What a sweetheart.

                                              1. I volunteer at a food pantry. As many have already mentioned, the things most needed are high quality sources of protein. Peanut butter, canned tuna and salmon, canned chicken. Reduced sodium versions are ideal.

                                                Here's a list of best foods to donate provided by one of the food banks on my area: http://www.hungernwnc.org/get-involve...

                                                2 Replies
                                                  1. re: LindaWhit

                                                    Thanks Linda. I edited my post.

                                                    Sweetpotater, when I was googling for the correct link, I noticed that MANY local food banks provide lists of most needed/desired items. Local needs may vary so check out your local organization's web page! I think you are raising a great kid!

                                                1. I can speak to this from some personal experience, and pretty much echo what's been written above.

                                                  --Peanut butter
                                                  --crackers
                                                  --pasta
                                                  --instant mashed potatoes
                                                  --mac & cheese
                                                  --cereals
                                                  --soup mixes
                                                  --beans
                                                  --rice
                                                  --Bisquik or something like it
                                                  --corn bread mix

                                                  Canned:
                                                  --meat/fish
                                                  --veggies
                                                  --beef stew
                                                  --chile
                                                  --beans (plain and baked beans)
                                                  --fruit (but NOT fruit cocktail...never liked it!)
                                                  --beef and chicken stock

                                                  1. Until recently I did all the ordering for my pantry and when the Food Bank had special donations up for grabs I can add a few items that flew off the inventory in the non perishables: sliced bread, gatorade (kids need this for sports participation in many schools), paper towels, dish soap, ketchup to name a few.

                                                    1. This is a great question! One thing I know food pantries appreciate is recognizable brands. People who shop at food pantries may be less familiar with store brands from expensive stores like Whole Foods, so I try to go with brands that most people are likely to know. (ex., Libby's pumpkin vs 365 brand organic pumpkin)

                                                      The pantries I shop for always ask for canned meat meals, such as beef stew and soups that contain meat, as well as canned beans and other sources of protein. Canned tuna and chicken are also in demand. Refried beans are good because many kids will eat these and they can be spread on crackers or bread for a healthy snack.

                                                      Other requests are canned fruit not in syrup and canned veggies. One thing the church pantry near me requests that people NOT bring is "weird items from food baskets" so no sherry banana chutney.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Isolda

                                                        "no sherry banana chutney."

                                                        ungrateful peasants. (smirk)

                                                        me: "but that's artisanal fish sauce from a small town near Phuket!"

                                                        1. re: hill food

                                                          Well, Southeast Asian families might like that one. I'm not SE Asian, but I certainly would!

                                                      2. I'm a bean freak. I'd get beans in both cans and dried. I'd get pasta and rice too.

                                                        1. I always buy the healthy stuff, but I also include cookies, chips, something not-so-healthy, but good for the spirit.

                                                          (I had to go to a food pantry 27+ years ago... and the junk food made me feel like a real person, not a lowlife).

                                                          1. On our last food drive, I did Campbell Chunky Soups. Processed and salty, I know, but they also have meat and veggies and are easy to prepare as per prior posts - heat and serve.

                                                            Then I added a big chocolate bar - probably an Oh Henry.

                                                            Our OPP are starting their Christmas "Stuff the Cruiser" Christmas Drive. I think I'll do a box of Chocolates.

                                                            These are purgatorial offences.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: DockPotato

                                                              no no you're right, there has to be SOME joy in life. when I lived in cities with high homeless numbers, sometimes I'd give food and sometimes I would just give whatever change I had knowing full well it was probably going for something non-healthful. I figure just because you're poor doesn't mean you don't deserve a moment or two of ease. and if that's a beer or a shared blunt with a pal, I'm not going to judge. (what you DIDN'T use it for organic kelp squares?)

                                                              of course after I came to that conclusion, I encountered a woman I always assumed was a crackhead buying drugs, (but ...wait for it...) at the pharmacy for her husband's life-saving prescriptions, counting out the pennies she'd collected all day. (head-smack-heartbreak) in hindsight she was bone-skinny and a little weird because she wasn't eating to save money for him.

                                                            2. My last food drive bag contained:
                                                              -Barilla whole wheat pasta
                                                              -Hunts canned spaghetti sauce with meat-my local place doesn't accept glass jars, so these cans were a revelation
                                                              -Progresso soup (the ones with lots of beans and/or meat)
                                                              -Goya beans

                                                              In the past I've also given quick bread mixes, Suddenly Salad (surprisingly good and requires only oil and water), canned tomatoes and cake mix/frosting.

                                                              As others have noted, I give name-brand goods; I want the folks on the receiving end to recognize what they're getting.

                                                              Reading this thread though, I realize I've been missing some stunningly obvious choices. So the next bag will have peanut butter, tuna fish, sardines, canned salmon or crab. And I see a trip to the local dollar store for the travel-size toiletries.

                                                              The local pantry as well as other area food banks are pretty active, so I expect 2-3 more drives before the end of the year. I also make cash donations as I know the local place uses the cash for meats and produce to supplement these goods.

                                                              ETA: Your son sounds adorable. I remember years ago when I asked my youngest nephew what he wanted for Christmas. His response: give the money to charity, "I have a roof over my head, plenty of food and lots of things I don't even need." I took him at his word and made a donation in his name. My sister said his favorite gift that year was the thank you card he got from the charity. Yeah, 10 years later that tradition lives on.

                                                              1. I try to buy stuff that doesn't require a lot of other ingredients to turn into food, and that goes on the healthy/protein side of things. Starches tend to be the cheapest part of the diet.

                                                                As others have said - canned chicken, tuna, baked beans, chili, meaty soups, sardines, peanut butter. Maybe mixed nuts - around Christmas that could be a treat, as well.

                                                                If homeless people are getting something from a food bank, they often need something that can be eaten as is, rather than ingredients.

                                                                For spices - something like Italian seasoning, chili powder, or curry powder can be good as a general purpose seasoning.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                                  It's a good point about the population of the food pantry, too. We rarely see homeless people where I volunteer (suburban location) but it is a struggle when we do to find food that works. Popped top things like sardine/vienna fingers are good.

                                                                2. Chocolate bars. Canned meat/fish.

                                                                  Canned beans and peanut butter, while good sources of protein, I imagine food pantries get a lot of those already.

                                                                  1. I want to mention that calling your local food pantry, soup kitchen or mission center and asking them what they need or for a emailed list of the most requested items is the best way to approach this concept.

                                                                    It's about what people need and the practical side of rec'ing foodstuffs. Not everyone has their own kitchen, or kitchen use each day.

                                                                    Especially this time of year, call and find out how to help.

                                                                    1. another advantage of asking the pantry what they need is that you will probably end up with a printed list from an email or website.

                                                                      I think that having a list would make it easier to work with your son to figure out what to buy, to fit the planned purchases into your son's budget, and how to get the most bang for his buck. All good lessons, and more fun, too, I think. He deserves to extend his participation in donating.

                                                                      I believe that one area we so often fail to provide learning opportunity for is how to plan, do trade-offs, budget, and then execute. We often include our kids only in the execute phase.

                                                                      1. Really important is olive oil or other high quality cooking oil.
                                                                        It's essential and pricey.

                                                                        If you give peanut butter, make sure it's the healthy, no sugar kind with just peanuts and maybe salt in it.

                                                                        Nuts are good. Protein for vegetarians is in short supply in those places.

                                                                        Sardines are a nice offering. They're healthy and people can eat them even if they don't have a kitchen.

                                                                        1. For anyone looking to purchase refried beans for their food pantry, I can recommend Food 4 Less for the best prices, especially if you live near one that serves a Latino / Hispanic population. They have periodic sales where you can buy those large cans (28 ounce?) of refried beans, including the vegetarian version, for about a $1 each.

                                                                          Before I got my pressure cooker, I used to go in and buy a year's supply at a time for very little money...

                                                                          1. Some allergen friendly stuff - soy or sunflower seed butters, non-wheat pasta, things with simple ingredients.

                                                                            Thankfully, we have never had to use this type of resource, but if we had to eat from the food pantry, I would probably not be eating much at all.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: jw615

                                                                              Also soya milk and related products. Yes, there are soya allergies too, but they can be a godsend for people allergic to cow's milk.

                                                                            2. Ready-to-eat foods. Shelf-stable heat-and-eat dinners, tetrapak soups, etc. A lot of really poor people don't have access to a full kitchen that they can cook raw ingredients in, although they might have a microwave or toaster oven. I have destitute acquaintances who bring me food to cook for them (one year I cooked two Thanksgiving turkeys for them, in addition to one with my family). Those expired legs of lamb from the Trader Joe's dumpster are pretty good, too. ;-)

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                What a sweet kid you have - no doubt with parents to match! There are lots of good suggestions, and it's terrific that he'll get to choose food to be shared with other families. As for us older folk - it's a great idea to call your local food bank and ask what they need. Then, when you're in Costco or such or when you spot a smokin' deal, buy a case or two of the item(s) they suggest. Also, food banks often purchase some of the food they distribute and cash donations are very welcome (and may even be deductible, if that's a factor).

                                                                              2. when my mom first put my sister and me in the car and drove away from biofather we had nothing nothing but the clothes on our backs and what was on the car. I know it was hard for her to go to the food bankthe first time. We didnt go very many times I was little and thought it was just a tiny general store. Anyway mom always got canned tuna and made delicious tuna cakes. She got canned mandierin oranges which I loved. She also looked for rice pudding cups which she would heat up on the stove, and the oatmeal cups

                                                                                I think that is one of the reasons I do so much work with our local food bank and back pack for kids program now
                                                                                and get bit brizzley when people on hear call me entitled

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. You are raising and Awesome son!

                                                                                  I don't tolerated heavily scented products, so the bottles of Bath and Bodyworks type scented stuff always gets donated. I would rather have someone enjoy it than it gather dust and waste cabinet space around here.

                                                                                  Cooking spray and spices are also things I would want to find and frequently donate. A little goes a long way to making stuff taste and cook better. When my mom finally was done with menopause, all of her fem hygiene stuff went to "someone who can use it"

                                                                                  1. I used to volunteer with my local food bank, one thing I know for sure is that they get a grant called TEFAP every month for certain food that they buy from the government to dispense over & above any donations they receive.

                                                                                    Those foods almost always include peanut butter, white rice, canned fruit, dried mashed potato flakes, cheap no name soups and sometimes dried beans. If I were to donate, I'd provide items that are not part of this group. Very rarely do the food bank here hand out dairy items like eggs, butter or margarine, or cheese; cooking oils, spices or seasonings, sugar or flour or similar items needed to prepare a meal.

                                                                                    Even though clients appreciate whatever they receive, many foods sometimes don't get utilized because items to complete a dish is lacking and people can't afford to go & buy it. For some who come to the food bank, this is the only food they get for a certain time period. For example, what's the use of dried cornbread mix if you can't afford to buy the milk, eggs or oil to make it? If you're going to donate cornbread mix, make it a complete mix where all that is needed is water. On the other side of the coin, while canned meats are needed, donations of canned stew contain mostly gravy and about 30% meat/veg. A better choice would be canned tuna/salmon or other meat items.

                                                                                    Personal items are also very much appreciated as well as detergent, soap, and toilet tissue.

                                                                                    1. this in from my mom..your sweet little philanropist might think about donating somthing that last longer than food... Mom has a student ( she works with a lot of low income kids who cant read) who allllllways wants her old cooking magazines well at a parent conference the mom thanked mom for the magazines and said she really wished they could cook more but they eat out a lot of fast food places because no matter now hard she trys to keep her house clean the neighboor are not and she just cant keep the roaches out of boxes...

                                                                                      annnnnnyyyy way my mom and went to Tuesday morning and bought some canister sets and Ikea and bought some plastic storage boxes etc.. for her class holiday store( kids buy things with their money they earn in class). And some to donate to the food pantry with the boxes of ceral and rice and other boxes of food.

                                                                                      1. Instant Oatmeal, Pasta, Pasta Sauce, Canned Veggies, Canned Fruits, Canned Milk, anything canned. Soup, Healthy snacks, Cereal, can opener, toilet paper, diapers, cleaning supplies, baby food. rice all flavors, all grains,

                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: helpinghandsWI

                                                                                          yes hhWI - non food items are indeed of need. shampoo, toothpaste/brushes, dish soap, sponges, it's endless and open to imagination and interpretation.

                                                                                          and dry dog/cat food! (sorry I've been volunteering at a low-cost clinic lately) although over the years I've noticed homeless dogs eat first, their folks eat last. their cups for change would be empty, but often there'd be small bags of pet kibble dropped off.

                                                                                          1. re: hill food

                                                                                            On the toiletries: save those unused shampoos/creams from hotel stays and donate them. One food bank didn't officially accept non-food items, but did have an agreement with a abused women's shelter that desperately needed those items. They'd make little kits of items to give women who were just beginning a new life, and loved getting toiletries. I also load up on those small items (travel size) at Target, for donations.

                                                                                            1. re: pine time

                                                                                              I have HOARDS of hotel toiletries. SO travels for work and every week brings the unused toiletries home. I already have a full size grocery bag full in our camper, another bag full, and a drawer full. I told him to stop bringing them but he keeps doing it! I will include these in my donation this year.

                                                                                        2. I recently read a blog entry that said people often just go through their kitchens at the last minute and donate stuff they aren't going to eat to food pantries. The same blog entry said that Oreos are an overpriced treat that seem to never be available at food pantries. I am not saying that Oreos should be the staple of anyone's diet, but after that I made a point of buying Oreos for my next food pantry donation.

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                                                                                          1. re: Allieroseww

                                                                                            Everything is helpful to food pantries whether it's good for one or not. If you are hungry you will eat it. We get an overabundance of junk food at ours but we make up for it with other nutritious food so it balances it out.

                                                                                          2. I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for this thread, it was very helpful for me. I had the comments in mind when I did my shopping for my food bank donation this year. I did the usual stuff (canned soups/stews, peanut butter, pasta, sauce etc) but also included a cake mix and frosting and a bottle of vegetable oil, instant mashed potatoes, a carton of Almond milk, some shelf stable Barilla microwaveable meals, peanuts, and some seasonings.

                                                                                              1. Cans of stocks and consomme.

                                                                                                1. I volunteer at the food pantry. Any hygiene item is valued along with dish or laundry soap. Paper towels are a good thing too. Shampoo was always a good thing but always in short supply. And don't forget diapers. New moms really need those along with any baby shampoo.

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                                                                                                  1. re: Augieang

                                                                                                    And feminine hygiene products. Sorry if TMI, but especially ones you would actually use yourself.

                                                                                                    I was a runaway in my teens, lived on the street for 2+ years and frequented drop in centers, shelters, church feedings, Salvation Army showers, etc.

                                                                                                    I can't tell you how hard it was for the young women to get our hands on tampons (again, TMI maybe, sorry men).

                                                                                                    Also conditioner. Might sound really stupid, but we were always given shampoo for showers but never once did I condition my hair in those years... The importance not being having awesomely soft hair, but rather for girls like me with long hair, you'd leave the shower with matted knots.

                                                                                                    We also weren't given hairbrushes, so you could only "brush" your hair with your fingers. At the end of 2 years, I had to chop off a ton of my hair because it had dreadlocked in back.

                                                                                                    As for foods we regularly ate/enjoyed: Canned pasta/meats (back then this was just Spaghettio's or other Chef Boyardee meals), tuna/crackers, fruit (apples, bananas, oranges), CANNED PINEAPPLE, chips (because the homeless/poor like to snack on Doritos too), etc.

                                                                                                    At the feedings, the dishes to go first were always any kind of pasta with red sauce (with or without meat), green salads with Italian dressing, and fresh dinner rolls.

                                                                                                    Any baked or sweet thing will be cherished. A candy bar was a huge treat.

                                                                                                    For my 19th birthday, the homeless shelter gifted me a whole case of canned pineapple, which was my favorite thing in the world. Though much appreciated, for someone with no home, a case of pineapple was quite difficult to manage.

                                                                                                    For my 18th birthday, I was gifted a huge bag of candy and a plate of nachos, which made me so grateful I cried while eating it.

                                                                                                    1. re: nothingswrong

                                                                                                      Thanks for giving us first hand examples. And regarding possible TMI, I think most men including the ones on CH realize that women have periods and as such vaginas :)

                                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                        yup not TMI for me, but I have to say I would have no idea which to choose. when a gal-pal has asked, I have picked up a box/pack of choice (some guys get squicked by that - why? beats the hell outta me) but only with detailed info as to brand/shape etc. (hey, I have no idea, my junk in need of hygiene is external) if that is the product intended, the shelter/pantry may want to post a list of preferred types. not so hard in this internet age. (a nearby family got burned out of their house last week and the kids clothing sizes are being posted)

                                                                                                        oh and re hair tangles? I found once on an ill-prepared road trip that a dinner fork makes a good but tedious comb/pick

                                                                                                        1. re: hill food

                                                                                                          Like many things in life, just effing ask :)

                                                                                                          1. re: hill food

                                                                                                            I would think for a food pantry, the choice of feminine hygiene products would be less "which brand/shape" but more "thankful that someone thought of us needing these items" - doesn't matter the size or name brand vs. generic.

                                                                                                            For those of us lucky enough to not be in that situation, we can afford to choose which brand, unlike those in a shelter who are grateful for the item just being available.

                                                                                                            1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                                              Yes, until you're stuck wearing these 24/7

                                                                                                              I know beggers can't be choosers, but just thought I'd share from personal experience what I really wanted back then.

                                                                                                              Tampons.

                                                                                                               
                                                                                                              1. re: nothingswrong

                                                                                                                I certainly understand. I have an even worse confession. That was the only thing I ever shoplifted, when I was destitute. I'm not a dishonest person, and never stole stuff for a thrill as a teen.

                                                                                                                Fortunately, the centre for women in crisis I give to (Le Chaînon), often seems to have some conditioner on their shelves for customers, so I assume the women at their shelters have enough, as they come first. They have enlisted the help of two major pharmacy chains here. Oh, I'm sure it is a tax write-off for the former (perfectly good items are discarded even if the packaging changes) but at least the help arrives.

                                                                                                                1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                  Wow! I stole tampons when I was 14 or so. I felt horrendously guilty but my mother wouldn't talk to me about the subject and I felt I "had no choice." Never forgot about that.

                                                                                                                  That's nice you give to a women's crisis center and that they get help from local pharmacies.

                                                                                                                  There are so many countless shelters here in Los Angeles. I used to volunteer at many of them, and have been wanting to do so again. I'd especially love to drop off homemade baked goods at least once a week. I think I will get on it after the holidays, when many people stop pitching in as much.

                                                                                                                2. re: nothingswrong

                                                                                                                  Yeah, those humongous pads are definitely not what I personally would donate. I'm thinking lightweight pantiliners and Super and Regular sized tampons.

                                                                                                                  1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                                                    I managed the 'personal hygiene' table at our feeding program and for awhile we had a vast supply of feminine hygiene products (some kind person cleaned out their cupboards and gave us a bazillion of them!) It wasn't something I'd have though we needed because most of our clients are male, but they all went in the end, but the more modern designs are far better than the old-fashioned 'surfboards'. If you want to donate that kind of thing, buy the 'ultra-thin' kind - it's individually packaged and much easier for a woman to discreetly carry around.
                                                                                                                    My rule-of-thumb for donations is unless a specific product has been asked for, give them something that you'd be willing to eat/use yourself.

                                                                                                      2. Any shelf stable meat except for beani weinies and Vienna sausages.

                                                                                                        Instant coffee

                                                                                                        Instant creamer

                                                                                                        I donated over a 100 P-38 can openers to our sharing center. (Spent way too much time in the boonies.) They acted as if I were giving solid gold.

                                                                                                        Kraft Mac n Cheese. The quality is appreciated.

                                                                                                        Sweetened condensed milk.

                                                                                                        Dried beans in 2 lb. bags.

                                                                                                        Here in Florida during this time of year, citrus is a glut on the market. May be different in your area. Call and check.

                                                                                                        Have fun!

                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                                                          P-38s are an excellent idea and much cheaper than buying regular can openers. They're also good because they're portable and can be kept on a keychain.

                                                                                                          Instant coffee/creamer is a good call.

                                                                                                          Kraft=awesome, so long as they have the means to make it.

                                                                                                          A note on Vienna Sausages--I think they are the most vile thing in the world and would literally rather starve to death than eat them, but I've seen many a homeless man devour them with glee. I have a feeling they may have a cult following, particularly if eaten with a cold beer.

                                                                                                          On that note, beef jerky. For us it was a commodity.

                                                                                                          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                                                            "I donated over a 100 P-38 can openers to our sharing center. (Spent way too much time in the boonies.) They acted as if I were giving solid gold."

                                                                                                            I can imagine. Good for you.

                                                                                                          2. What a great kid and some terrific suggestions. I just want to slip this in :) For about a year now, we've been having a small donation automatically taken from our bank account and sent to our local food bank. Just in case anyone's interested.

                                                                                                            1. What a sweet little boy you have!
                                                                                                              I guess the money would be the best to donate, but it probably does not provide the sense the immediate involvement.

                                                                                                              P.S. Thank you for starting this topic, it prompted me to go and donate some money to my local food bank.

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                                                                                                              1. re: Marusik

                                                                                                                I agree that the best gift is money but we want to encourage our children to give so we should make it fun to begin with :)

                                                                                                              2. Wow, all these great comments. My boy loved filling the cart and I'm happy to report back what he bought, part my influence, part his, and part yours:

                                                                                                                Tuna, salmon, mac and cheese, cake mix and frosting (he loved this idea), mixed-bean packs for soups, shelf-stable milk, baked beans, peanut butter, Better Than Bouillon, pasta, toothbrushes (including fun kid ones), toothpaste, deodorant, and razors. I supplemented his financial contribution a bit :)

                                                                                                                As for those who suggested donating money, in addition to our own preferred charities, each year we allow our son to choose one too, and a big chunk of our donations go there. Last year he wanted to "build houses for poor people"; this year he has asked that we give to a place "so nobody else gets what Papa got." So, brain tumor research.

                                                                                                                Thanks so much again for your thoughtful ideas, several of which I never would have thought of.

                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: sweetpotater

                                                                                                                  Glad to help out. Terribly sorry to hear about the brain tumour. :-(

                                                                                                                  Was the "houses" charity "Habitat for Humanity"?

                                                                                                                  1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                    No, YouthBuild USA, which gives at-risk young adults skills and GED while building houses for the needy.

                                                                                                                  2. Zataran's red bean and rice mix. So smoky and tasty. Steel cut oats, grits, Glory brand green beans, pasta and a basic jarred sauce, Kraft Deluxe Mac and cheese, peanut butter, healthy cereals, a good pancake mix and syrup, quinoa, brown rice, ramen noodles I could soup up with veggies, baked beans, dried black beans or black eyed peas, canned salmon, canned white chicken, egg noodles, shelf stable almond or rice milk, jams or preserves, hot sauce, coffee, canned chili, good canned soup, broth, nuts, dried fruit, corn bread mix, spices, canned pumpkin for oatmeal, brown sugar, canned milk, any kind of canned tomato product, mayo, mustard, and cooking oil..