10 Things Food Banks Really Need This Holiday Season
It's the giving time of year for country music fans, and food banks across America are happily finding themselves on the receiving end of millions of generous donations. Everyone knows to load up their cart with canned foods and soup mixes, but there are other items food distribution charities need much more -- items most people don't even consider when shopping for those in need.
This list comes from suggestions made on a thread at Reddit. All quotes come from Reddit users, while the list is an aggregate of the conversation had by hundreds who left comments. A few things to avoid donating to food banks include opened or half-used boxes of food, expired food and anything that you wouldn't eat or use yourself. A good rule to follow is if you wouldn't serve it, don't donate it.
A bag of dog or cat food will ease the mind of a family struggling to put food on their own table. Pet owners know how precious that bond can be. It's especially valuable when you're struggling, so giving up Fido or Whiskers often isn't an option. Kitty litter or dog bones are other luxury items many don't think to donate.
Most food banks will take fresh fruit -- a cherished item for those who live off of canned foods. Throw a bag of navel oranges into your cart next time you're at the store, or a bunch of green bananas or red apples. These foods provide the vitamins many homeless or struggling families skip on a daily basis.
A pair of clean socks is as good as gold for the homeless. One man remembers the comfort of having a fresh pair. "They get stolen fast when you sleep on the streets," Reddit user YakCat says. "Twice I was beaten up and they took my shoes and socks. It was so cold and embarrassing." Another recalls having just one pair for six months, so they can be very helpful.
Sugar, pepper, garlic, seasoning salt, chili powder, basil ... often, the food found at a food bank comes bland, so a dash of flavor is be appreciated. "Shop at ethnic specialties food places for super cheap spices," starvingPotato recommends. Spices also last a long time and are easy to store. Cumin, cinnamon, allspice and Italian seasoning are a few other choices.
"It's humiliating and degrading trying to open a can of soup without a can opener," getaklou recalls. "Decent ones are pretty cheap and make a big difference." The most popular items donated to food banks are canned vegetables, soups and fruit, and while some have pull tabs, just as many cans require a good can opener.
Gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free or nut-free items can be a lifesaver for families in need. These items can be expensive, which makes them even more essential for food banks. Try soy or rice milk instead of regular milk, and look for cereals that come gluten free. These are two great examples, but if you have an allergy, try donating products that are safe for you to eat.
Toilet paper, toilet paper, toilet paper! That's the big need at most food banks, but there are so many other items that the generous don't think to pick up. Often non-food items can't be purchased with food stamps, so those in need may skimp on toothpaste, deodorant, toothbrushes and feminine products. "People rarely starve to death in the US, but morbidity resulting from poor hygiene and sanitation is common," Lobotomus_Prime says. Another remembers helping two elderly women who asked for dish soap and body wash.
"Just think of things you use a lot and those will be what is needed," user idhavetocharge comments. That means diapers, baby wipes and formula, but also baby food, soap, bottles, sippy cups and ready-to-eat meals for toddlers.
Canned meat, like chicken and tuna, is expensive but packs a big nutritional punch. Because of the cost, people tend to overlook it, which is exactly why it's an essential item to donate. If you hunt, check to see if if your local food bank participates in Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry. You'll be able to donate excess meat you harvest during game season.
There's no doubt that this is the item food banks need most, simply because they can stretch a dollar further than any generous family by reaching out to corporate sponsors. Also, money doesn't cost anything to store or organize, and it doesn't expire. "It can also be used for things like perishable goods, vegetables and fruit and milk, that you can't always donate but are sorely needed," fludru explains. Food banks know their communities best, so having cash on hand will allow the staff to fill in the gaps with items needed by those in need.