What should I donate to my food pantry?

Food pantries need our food-safe donations all year round not just during the holidays.

From fall through the New Year I see countless food drives. Civic groups, churches, school organizations and more are doing their best to help stock local pantries. But what happens the other nine months of the year? I don’t see quite as much outpouring or promoting to help those in need. Perhaps we should think about making a commitment to add a bag of groceries to our shopping carts on a monthly basis and help out a local food pantry. Just imagine the impact we could make if each of us did this!

Many wonder what they should donate. Thinking, perhaps I should just clean out my cupboards and give away the funny canned fruit I accidentally bought in 2014, or maybe the expired cake mix from 2011. Donating to pantries is not an excuse to clean out your cupboards and discard food that you no longer want. If someone is going to a food pantry it is because they need to eat, would you eat what you have donated?

I have talked with my church pantry volunteer and asked her what is best to donate and here are some of her suggestions:

Tips for donating groceries to food pantries

  • Think of a meal kit. Pasta, sauce and maybe a canned protein. Add to that a canned vegetable and a fruit to create a dinner.
  • Cereals such as instant oatmeal. Pancake mix and muffin mixes that can be made with just water. Extra ingredients like eggs, milk or oil might require additional food dollars so keep it simple.
  • Stuffing or macaroni and cheese with the cheese sauce in a foil pouch, again simple to prepare.
  • Look at canned protein, tuna is usually an easily affordable item, but consider chicken or turkey as well.
  • Non-perishable fruit. Consider a variety of sizes, families might want cans for meals but perhaps pouches or smaller containers if they are packing lunches or snacks for their children.
  • Don’t forget something special for the kids. We always encourage healthy food, but a small box of animal crackers or character-shaped crackers can also be a treat.
  • Some requests at pantries might be for vegetarian food. Consider beans, vegetable broth, and rice as possibilities.
  • Consider adding a couple of personal hygiene items to your package such as soap, shampoo, diapers, baby wipes, deodorant, laundry soap etc. We all use these items and sometimes forget how expensive they can be.

Food safety is important for all of us, providing fresh food to everyone is something we should ensure when we make donations. Check canned goods to make sure they are not dented, rusted or leaking. Make sure dry goods are safely sealed. Everyone deserves good food and our pantries work hard to make sure that happens. Michigan State University Extension works with families to teach them how to stretch their food dollars, keep food safe and make healthy meals. We can help one another by being generous all year long, looking for safe, nutritious food to donate and make a difference.

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