What to Donate to a Food Pantry

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It’s the time of year that schools, churches and Boy Scouts & Girl Scouts conduct food drives for local food pantries.  I’ve always supported my local food pantry in all the different places we’ve lived and it’s a cause dear to my heart.   Having worked at a charitable food pantry for 3 years, I’ve learned some tips that I wish I’d known years ago and may help you when you choose what to donate to a food pantry.

Tips on What to Donate to a Food Bank I learned from 3 years of working in a food pantry. Food Drive #foodbank

All donations to a food pantry are appreciated, so please don’t think I’m saying anything other than that.  But after seeing the donations that were received at the food pantry where I volunteered, I’ve gained some insight into the items that are most needed.   The contrast between the needs of the recipients and donations received is heartbreaking when you are trying to meet the vast needs of a family from the limited items on the shelf in front of you. Volunteering at the food pantry taught me so much about what types of donations are desperately needed at most food pantries. 

What to Donate to a Food Pantry

Meat     Most food donated to a food pantry is vegetables, soups and cereals.  What is donated far less frequently is meat.  You can always donate canned meats, but check with your food pantry about donating refrigerated or frozen meats.  If they have the facilities to store them, refrigerated and frozen meats are greatly appreciated.

Other protein products   Donating canned or dried beans and peanut butter is a big help because few protein items are donated and protein tends to be more expensive.

Dairy   Again, these items are rarely donated.  Powdered milk and cheese that does not have to be stored in the refrigerator are greatly needed.  Also, check with your food pantry to see if they can accept refrigerated dairy product donations.

Canned Soups with Meat   Donations of soup that is a complete meal is needed.  Look for soup that contain meat or beans, vegetables and noodles, rice or barly.  These soups can serve as a complete meal.  While donations of any soup are appreciated, broths and cream soups don’t make a filling meal unless you add pasta or rice and meat or beans.  The food pantry may not have the additional items on their shelves to partner with a can of broth or cream soup.  Canned soup with meat helps the pantry meet the needs of recipients that have limited cooking facilities.  I remember a couple that cooked over an open fire because they didn’t have electricity or gas service to their house.  I also remember a man that was living out of his car.  He was able to eat the can of soup with meat cold and it filled him up.

Complete Meals    Food pantries often receive donations of a case (or multiple cases) of one items, for example pasta or peanut butter.  The food pantry then scrambles to combine other donated items to be able to give recipients a complete meal, for example, pasta and spaghetti sauce or peanut butter, jelly and bread.  It’s so frustrating to handout a gift of food that contains a jar of peanut butter and nothing to go with it.  If you donate a jar of jelly and loaf of bread for each jar of peanut butter you donate, you’ve just helped the food pantry and the recipient. 

Toilet Paper and Paper Towels   SNAP benefits (Food Stamps) do not cover paper items and food pantries do not receive  many donations of paper products.  These are necessary items.

Cleaning Supplies   These are not eligible to be covered by SNAP.  Stop and think for a moment of all the cleaning supplies you have in your home; dish soap, all-purpose cleaner, window and glass cleaner, toilet cleaner,  shower cleaner, disinfecting spray, disinfecting wipes, furniture polish, and so on.  Those cleaning supplies are necessary, especially in many of the living situations that food pantry recipients live.

Cleaning Tools   SNAP does not cover the cost of cleaning tools.  Items like brooms, mops, sponges, cleaning cloths and rubber gloves are greatly appreciated, but check with your food pantry to see if they have the space to store larger items.

Laundry Supplies   SANP does not cover these items.  Laundry detergent and stain treatment products can be expensive.  Many food pantry recipients will have to pay to do their laundry, so the added cost of laundry detergent is a challenge.

Personal Hygiene Items    These items are not eligible for SNAP benefits.  Take a minute to look in your bathroom at all the personal hygiene items your family uses; soap, shampoo, comb, hairbrush, toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, deodorant, razor, shaving cream, and those are just the basics.

Personal Care Items   SNAP benefits do not cover these items.  Things that are very nice to have;  hair  conditioner, moisturizer, lip balm, perfume and cologne.

Feminine Hygiene Items   These items are not covered by SNAP.  My female readers don’t need any explanation, but let me just say that these are critical items and are needed monthly.  If you have limited access to laundry facilities and no feminine hygiene products or laundry detergent, you have an impossible situation.

Adult Incontinence Items   SNAP does not cover these items.   Many food pantry recipeints are elderly and may have need of these products.  I will always remember the family that requested these items at our food pantry because they had an adult handicapped child at home.

Children’s Diapers  SNAP benefits do not cover the cost of diapers.   Even if you don’t have children, I think you know that diapers are critical and expensive for families.  

Tips on What to Donate to a Food Bank I learned from 3 years of working in a food pantry. Food Drive #foodbank

 Now that I’ve learned about  which items are eligible for SNAP benefits, the information guides my donation purchases. .  Please understand that all donations are appreciated, but some items are particularly appreciated by food pantries and recipients. I hope you find these tips helpful the next time you’re wondering what to donate to a food pantry. 

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  1. Hi Susan – These are great ideas! We just received our flyer that the scouts will be doing their pickup this weekend for the food drive for our local food pantry, and this will help me with what to donate. It’s always great to receive some behind the scenes insight as to what works and what doesn’t. Thanks for sharing. Hugs, Holly

  2. This is a great post – very accurate on what is needed out there. I would add one thing, though, JUNK FOOD! When a family has kids, and they go to the food pantry for groceries, those kids are just like your kids. They look in the bag when Mom, Dad, or Grandma comes home with the bag, and look to see if there is anything “Good” in there. It is emotionally very important for poor families to have a few luxuries like chips, candy, special drinks, and brownie mix. There is very little more depressing for a little kid who is already poor to look at the groceries for the week and see only beans, dry pasta & canned veggies. Little luxuries make a big emotional difference.

    1. Some food pantries request cake mix and frosting. Every parent wants to give their child a birthday cake. Donating vegetable oil is also good, since it’s rarely donated and is needed for cake mix (and brownies), not to mention other cooking. During the holidays our local food pantry does ask for dessert type items: cookies, pudding mix, jello, and even Little Debbie snack cakes

  3. Hi Susan, thanks for sharing all the information and making people aware of the types of things they can donate. I think most people mean good when they are donating but they don’t put much thought into it. They just think oh I’ll donate canned goods so you see lots of canned beans and pasta sauce in the donation bins.

    And Anna is so right. My kids always got excited when I brought in the groceries to see what “good” stuff I picked up. Good stuff can include granola bars, crackers and snack size bags of chips. Kids want these kinds of things packed in their lunch bags.

    Thanks again Susan. Love this post.

  4. Great post and you had so many great ideas. We have always given vegetables, full soups, powdered milk and canned fruit I never thought about some of the other foods. Thanks so mud for sharing this important list.

  5. Thank you for this article. Your unique experience working at a food pantry and knowing the items not covered by SNAP made this article very useful to me.

    Do food pantries also accept coupons that can be given out to help people stretch their money for these Non-SNAP eligible items?

    1. Victoria, that’s a great question. I’d call and ask your local food pantry. If they don’t take them, often there are churches that share coupons with the community so you could try asking around there.

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