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.
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.
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.
I’m a mom of 3, a veteran and military spouse. I’ve moved into 20+ homes all around the world. My passion is helping busy people make the space and time for what’s really important to them.