What sort of food stuffs should I donate to the poor?

I grew up with a lot of people who relied on food banks.

The kindest thing you could do is donate things that you would use yourself. You’d be surprised at the bizarre and barely edible crap that people donate. If you wouldn’t buy it for yourself, don’t buy it for someone else.

Me, I always donate pineapple. Growing up with a single mother with an unpredictable schedule, we often relied on cans for our fruits and vegetable. I always longed for pineapple. But since it’s so much more expensive than, say, a can of fruit cocktail, I rarely got it. To this day, to have a can of pineapple…that’s luxury.

Stuff that kids like is good- oatmeal, peanut butter, etc. Poor kids are just as picky eaters as middle class kids, and it really helps parents if they have stuff their kids will eat without complaining.

I understand where you are coming from, and have had much the same thoughts, but I swear, nothing varies as much as what people consider normal foods. I worked at a grocery store for three weeks and was shocked to discover what people buy–things that I don’t even think of as food, not because they are gross, or anything, but because I was raised eating a certain set of things, and while I’ve added and subtracted from that mental list, I still skip over 75% of the stuff on the grocery shelves as “not the sort of thing I buy”. But grocery shelf space is precious: they know exactly what moves and what doesn’t, and anything you see on a grocery shelf is something that a significant number of people really do buy for themselves.

As someone who regularly volunteers at a food pantry, I will second this. The items that are always in short supply that we cannot easily get from other sources are canned meats (tuna, chicken, Spam, Chef Boyardee meals, etc) and canned soups. Next up on useful things would be canned fruits and veggies, juices, breakfast cereal, peanut butter, UHT or instant milk, and macaroni and cheese.

Component cooking and baking items such as oil, flour, salt, and sugar are not particularly popular. They are also relatively cheap and bulky, making them both easy for a person of limited means to purchase and hard for us to stock. Smaller items such as spice mixes, bouillon, instant soup, and nuts are preferred.

As other posters have noted (and will note) each food bank or pantry will have a different set of needs depending on how they get their food and who their clientele is. The pantry I work at gets regular bulk donations of expired items from various restaurants, food distributors, and grocery chains that keep them stocked with essentials, but it is often a feast or famine situation. The best thing to do is to call a particular food bank and ask what they need at the moment.

Forgot to add a couple of things…

One thing that my pantry does **not **need is sweets, snacks, or other junk food. It is not that people in need should not have these things, but that we already receive and abundance of these items from distributors. Chips, cookies, cakes and such are probably the number one type of stock-pull item that we get.

I also wanted to comment on the point even sven made about donating only stuff the *you *would want to eat. At my pantry, while commodity items are preferred, everything is useful. Got an old bottle of capers or some canned kimchi? Bring them in! Someone will want them. There is almost zero waste; 99+% of donations coming in will eventually be distributed to families. This is true even though our clients can choose whatever items they want–like a grocery store (with certain guidelines).

Of course, the most appreciated donation is always cash. Pantries need money to pay the rent and other expenses. However, if you want to be virtually guaranteed that 100% of your donation will go *directly *to helping those in need, please donate some canned goods.

My local food shelf loves everything they get and will tell you that they’ll take anything they are given. So when that cute little old lady donates the undated bottles of homemade jellies they smile nice and say thank you and put it in the staff area, because sure as hell they don’t want to be giving clients botulism.

What food shelves want are cold hard cash. This allows them to make bulk purchases of fresh foods like eggs and milk. They can buy into the many, many organizations that exist to sell bulk food at a low cost to many, many food shelves. Local grocery stores around here stuff crushed up old newspapers into paper bags, staple them closed, and sell empty bags for $5-$10-$20 because that makes the consumer/donater feel good, and instead of getting a box of rice-a-roni and a can of beans the foodshelf can instead pool the dough and buy a whole pallet of rice-a-roni and another pallet of beans.

By all means, keep donating whatever it is you want to donate, I don’t want to discourage you. I’m just sayin’ - a $20 check will go a lot, lot further than a bag of random items.

The Safeway I go to (and presumably the other Safeways up here) make deciding what to give easy. You can buy a prepackaged bag for (I think) $5 of stuff appropriate for donating to the foodbank and they will send it to the foodbank for you.

Yeah, the pantry I donate to can often buy food for cheaper than I can, so the dollars go further. Plus the rent or expenses can’t be paid with a can of beans.

I found that the little single-serve boxes of cereal are always hugely appreciated. My go to list: Baked beans, cans of chili, hearty soups, tuna + tuna helper, canned chicken, canned fruits and veg, ramen, raisins, nuts, granola bars, unrefrigerated pudding cups, toothpaste, diapers, tampons, pads, Tylenol, Tums, deodorants, tooth brushes, shampoo, hair brushes, razors. Lots more but I can’t think of them.

Thanks for posting this. I just realized I hadn’t sent in my Thanksgiving donation.

The one I generally go to just has little tags that say 5 or 10 or 20 or 50 dollars. They get scanned in like regular groceries, then the tags are velcroed back into place.

If you’re Marge Simpson, you’d donate lima beans and old pumpkin pie filling mix

Can I speak up as a person who has been poor twice and has occasionally used food pantries?

The suggestion to contact local pantries and food distribution charities is excellent, as needs change over time. These agencies will be familiar with local needs. If you go to them and say “What do you need most?” they will tell you. In addition to having been a recipient of aid, I also have this as my favorite form of charity when I am middle class and able to be generous. I have asked this and been told “money”, “canned protein”, and for three months at one point “50 lb sack of baking potatoes” (the latter was for a shelter specializing in homeless mentally ill women - definitely a needy sub-population. The staff asked the regulars what they most wanted and that’s what got the most votes.)

Yes, some of us poor folk can use bulk staples like flour, sugar, dried pasta, dried legumes, baking potatoes etc. I have a home and working stove/oven and all the tools and knowledge needed to cook and bake. But not everyone does. In addition to folks of low income or extended hardship, food pantries will also provide emergency aid to, say, families displaced by a house fire or tornado or flooding or other catastrophe, homeless shelters, battered women’s shelters, etc. These people may have little or no access to cooking appliances. In other words, BOTH sorts of donations will be used.

Obviously, non-perishable items are always welcome.

Food distribution charities do distribute fresh fruits and vegetables, but sometimes they’d rather buy them than have them donated due to concerns about storage and handling. Fruits like oranges, bananas, and apples that keep for awhile at room temperature much appreciated but ask before donating these as not all locations can store fresh foods.

When poor, buying starches is relatively easy but high protein foods not so much. Yes, beans are cheap, but not everyone can eat beans, not to mention it gets BORING. ANY sort of canned meat - ham, fish, corned beef, stews, hearty soups - will be welcomed.

Foods that can be “cooked”/reheated/prepared with just hot water are good - instant noodles, hot chocolate, powdered drinks, etc. These are useful not only to folks in hotel rooms and living under bridges but also useful for those who still have a home and kitchen but are probably spending a lot of time and energy struggling with one thing or another (looking for work, disability, whatever). Individual serving size might also be welcomed, particularly, again, for those without access to kitchens or refrigerators.

Condiments are frequently forgotten - salt, pepper, basic cooking spices, hot sauce, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, soy sauce, taco sauce… these are expensive when you’re on a very tight food budget or food stamps, but very welcome as cheap food is often bland food. Both soup kitchens that cook for quantities of people as well as those visiting food pantries for take-home supplies can use these (obviously, quantities used will differ).

Another forgotten group of items are things like paper towels, cleanser, scrubbing things, storage bags (ziplocks are so darn useful!), storage containers, plastic wrap, foil, etc. Ask before donating, but it’s yet another group of items that gets forgotten.

If a local charity or group of charities is doing one of those “buy $20 worth of groceries” things at local groceries that could be a good thing as the money is pooled so purchases can take advantage of economies of scale and also purchase quantities and varieties that will be utilized more efficiently than random donations.

Toiletries, cleaning supplies, and so forth may also be welcome at these charities. As much as possible buy non-scented, unisex, hypoallergenic products. As mentioned, toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, dental floss, toilet paper, facial tissues, deodorant, feminine sanitary products, incontinence products (disabled and elderly use these charities), shampoo, conditioner, hairbrushes/combs, hair ties, moisturizer, lip balm, etc. In some cases (shelters, for example) new socks, new underwear, gloves, hats, scarves, etc. would also be useful (The most recent food pantry I went to was also a “clothes pantry”, providing a wide variety of donated clothing to the needy as well as food).

Remember - if it isn’t of quality that you would use don’t donate it. Poor people deserve decent stuff, too.

By all means research ANY group you donate money to, whether local/national grocery chains, food banks, or churches. If they’re legit they’ll be more than happy to tell you how things are run/money spent/items distributed.

Finally - if you personally know a family in need, or a person in need, you can give them a gift card to a local grocery or a store like Meijer’s or Wal-Mart so they can purchase what they specifically need.

You can also ask churches/charities if any of their people have medical needs that aren’t being served. There are diabetics who have trouble buying their testing supplies, for example. I already mentioned incontinence supplies. Someone might need help with medication, either prescription OR over the counter (it sucks to have trouble buying things like allergy medicine, band aids, headache remedies, etc.) Someone might have prescription drug coverage, but no help for NON-prescription medical needs which can also be important. That’s a little more directed than simply dropping off cans, but it’s a real need that isn’t always fulfilled.

Just in case I haven’t covered anything - look around your own kitchen and bathroom. Anything you see there a poor person or family will also need and use.

Expired vitamins? :smiley: (I really need to clean out my bathroom cabinet!)

Well, that was before she considered how she could be a better Christian.

I’d eat the pumpkin pie filling mix!

No, silly - would you buy expired vitamins?

And yes, you need to clean out the cabinet. And use those vitamins as intended, not just use them as a small paperweight!

Consider my head hanging in shame. And I cleaned out my cabinet. :slight_smile:

Keep the vitamins in the KITCHEN, next to the food as you are supposed to take them at mealtimes anyway. Bathrooms are bad places for vitamins anyhow, between the humidity and varying temperatures.

After shopping yesterday, I think I have some decent items and some questionable items. I have the canned fruit (1 can fruit cocktail, 1 can pineapple) plus some canned corned beef. I was thinking about getting those canned vienna sausages, I love those, but like Spam I think most people hate them. I was going to load up on Spam until I remembered that a friend of mine said he’s rather eat nothing than Spam, so I got the corned beef instead (which is pretty much like Spam except with bits of potato? in it). I dunno, I like it, but most people dont I guess. Also, I have some sardines and a can of sweet creamed corn.

I shop at a Chinese supermarket so I was unsure of what kind of thing people would eat there. There was some fish paste thing that I love that I thought of getting, and canned eel. I also have lots of Ramen at home out of my own stash that I could give out, but those things are cheap. If the poor are buying anything, they’d probably already have tons of ramen, right? They’re like 10 cents a bag!

I read somewhere that the homeless need two things that are hardly ever donated: can openers and socks. They can’t wash their socks, used socks hardly ever end up at the Salvation Army, and when you are afoot and outdoors all day nice warm socks make a lot of difference.

Along with needed things listed above, what about things like crayons, drawing paper, and coloring books for kids? Or would that be too frivolous? I thought that maybe they’d just like to have something while they’re waiting at hotels, maybe?

Not a bad idea at all, really. Kids need toys, when parents are very poor it’s very difficult to provide toys. Shelters and emergency-oriented charities might be more open to it than food pantries but it can’t hurt to ask.

I never thought I’d like Spam until my in-laws fed me some - it’s not bad (in small doses, or mixed with other stuff). No matter what you buy someone isn’t going to like it - but someone WILL like it. Might as well fret about canned ham because Jews and Muslims won’t eat it… well, they won’t, but there are plenty of needy Gentiles who will.

And it’s corned beef hash that has potatoes. Plain old corned beef is just that, corned beef.

Food stamps allot $25 per person per week. That’s $3.57 a day for all food needs. Ever try to actually live on that budget? It’s not pretty. Ramen is a frequent occupant of food packages and I’ve yet to see the average poor person turn up their noses at it. Give me ten of them little packages and that’s a dollar I can spend on something else, like maybe fresh fruit or a $1 worth of ground beef or something. Or buy some sort of toiletry.