The Lesser Donated Items Your Local Food Bank Really Needs this Holiday Season

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and its economic effects, food pantries, soup kitchens, and other non-profit services are experiencing an even greater need this holiday season. During my research for this article, I exchanged emails with Tanci Paulson, the Outreach Coordinator at Denton Community Food Center (a food bank in my hometown of Denton, Texas). In describing the overwhelming circumstances at DCFC, Tanci explained how the  center’s influx recently escalated   from about 30 families a day to over 160 come  November.  I’ve also seen this rise in my own work for a non-profit that helps with the rent and utilities of those who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. If there was ever a time to lend a hand to your community, it is now.

While cans of corn and green beans are the most typical donation, there’s a lot more to most food banks than the usual food drive items. If you’re thinking of giving to a local food pantry before 2020 is over, here are some less common options to consider.

Holiday Meal Supplies

During the winter, many food pantries request special food items that are specific to the holidays, for example:

  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Stuffing kits
  • Canned cranberry sauce
  • Corn syrup
  • Canned pumpkin
  • Pie crust mix
  • Baking nuts
  • Applesauce
  • Apple cider

In addition to these holiday meal items, condiments and spices are an often overlooked item that can make a huge difference in a person’s meal. Consider adding some salt, pepper, garlic powder, or pre-mixed spice blends to your donation box.

Pads and Tampons

When making your next donation, remember the people with periods. Menstrual supplies are some of the most needed but least received items at food banks.

Grab and Go Items

In further research for this article, I also corresponded with Michael Polydoroff, Director of Marketing and Communications at Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB) in Ft. Worth, Texas. Michael informed me that these items are on TAFB’s “most wanted” food list:

  • Pop-top cans of ravioli, meats, soups, etc.
  • Cereal bars
  • Fruit cups
  • Juice
  • Individual cups of macaroni and cheese, oatmeal, cereal, etc.

These are all items that can be enjoyed by almost anyone with little to no preparation. These and other “on the go” snacks can also be a great option for children’s lunch bags

Pandemic Necessities

There is an obvious shortage of medical related supplies because of the pandemic. Food banks and soup kitchens are now often asking for:

  • Masks (disposable or reusable)
  • Face shields
  • Gloves
  • Sanitizing wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hand soap

These items can be useful for food bank clients and staff who need supplies to keep their operations running.

Your Favorite Non-Perishable Snacks

Think about the more unique staples of your diet that are non-perishable and pre-packaged –maybe you love almond butter, parmesan and herb flavored crackers, mixed nuts, the “extra toasty” version of Cheez-its, or cranberry orange Belvita breakfast cookies. Chances are there is someone who loves those snacks just as much and has been keeping an eye out for them at your local food pantry.

Can Openers

With most food being canned, your local food pantry may also need can openers to give to visitors. It seems obvious, but this item is often forgotten until it is needed.

Books (or Other Unexpected Items)

Tanci from DCFC informed me that their food center also gives out books, and that many clients look forward to picking them out. This food bank is in my hometown, but I had no idea they accepted book donations. Consider contacting the food bank in your area to see if they have a donation program for books, school supplies, or other less expected items.

Your Time

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased needs in almost all sectors of nonprofits, including volunteers. If you can do so safely, consider donating your time to a local soup kitchen or food pantry. Be sure to check out our article on volunteering during the holidays, coming soon!

Remember that different organizations have different guidelines about the types of donations they can accept. You may want to call, e-mail, or visit the website of your local food bank before donating. In addition, many non-profits now use social media to communicate lists of their most needed items in real time.

Call To Action

  • Get your friends, family, or community to help you gather items for your local food bank—look for no-touch collection stations around your city or at the food bank itself where you can donate while practicing social distancing
  • Find your local food bank on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and follow them to stay updated on their most urgent needs
  • Does your neighborhood have a little outdoor food pantry? Consider leaving some of the items on this list at a little food pantry near you, or making your own. Though these structures can’t replace food organizations and nonprofits, they can be a helpful supplement.

–Madeline Fink, Content Creator

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