Food and Nutrition

Where Can I Donate Food (and Other Items) To Help My Community?

Photo: Getty Images/Mixetto
While millions of people loaded up their shopping carts with toilet paper and all the canned goods they could find at the beginning of the pandemic, millions more could not access food at all. Currently, millions of people still don't have the option to buy foods in bulk (or very much food at all, for that matter). There are of course people in need year-round, but according to Lisa Davis, senior vice president of No Kid Hungry, there is an even greater need right now. Local food banks have been hit hard and need is rising.

Why should you donate to local food banks?

"Millions of vulnerable children are losing the healthy meals they depend on as the [COVID-19] closes schools nationwide," Davis said at the beginning of the pandemic. "As of [March 17, 2020], 39 states had closed schools entirely. When you add in the districts closed in other states it means 41.6 million kids, or 4 out of 5 kids, are out of school." Even in areas where the schools were still open, many businesses were closed, which meant hourly workers who may have already been struggling to make ends meet were hit hard.

Fortunately, as of July 2022, the health risks posed by the pandemic have lessened over time. However, Davis notes that the need and the financial impact has not abated. “Families still face ongoing challenges due to the strained supply chain, rising food and gas prices, and skyrocketing inflation,” she says. “Today, one in six kids face hunger in the U.S.”

According to a recent Feeding America food bank survey, 80 percent of food banks across the country reported an increase or steady demand for food. Food insecurity exists everywhere, says Zuani Villarreal, the senior director of communication for Feeding America. “It could be your classmate; it could be a co-worker; it could be your neighbor [or] a fellow church goer that needs help and I think the awareness of that issue should drive people to help,” she says. For this reason, donating to food banks is more important than ever.

Why donate to food banks specifically?

“Food banks generally are very efficient in their logistics processes, affording the food industry a one-stop place for donations that they can trust will be handled with best-in-class food safety considerations,” says Michael Guerra, chief development officer for the San Antonio Food Bank in Texas. “Food banks also work to equitably distribute donated food to local nonprofits that have food as a part of their mission—food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, etc.” And, he adds, food banks are often the primary organization in a community that aims at minimizing food insecurity among low-income households and under-resourced households in that community.

In addition to providing food, Guerra says most food banks also provide nutritional education and access to public safety programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

How do I donate to a local food bank?

The donation process will vary from food bank to food bank. To find your local food bank, Villarreal advises visiting FeedingAmerica.org and entering your zip code into the food bank locator. From there, she recommends connecting with that local food bank. Typically, they’ll have a most-needed list of items of things you can donate.

Financial donations are also welcome at most food banks as are volunteers. “Volunteerism is a huge need at all food banks,” Guerra says. “And the donation of the dollar goes a long way also. In fact, with the increase of fuel, most food banks need the dollar more than ever to keep food flowing into and across their local service region.”

Other local meal programs such as Meals on Wheels also rely on volunteers to deliver and prepare meals. “For many recipients, the trusted Meals on Wheels volunteer who shows up every day with a meal and a smile is the only person they see or speak with all day,” says Jenny Young, the vice president of communications for Meals on Wheels America.

And if you’re not in a position to donate food, money, or time, Davis says helping spread the word about available resources for families in need is one of the easiest ways to support. “No Kid Hungry has a texting line to help,” she says. “Families can text ‘FOOD’ or ‘COMIDA’ to 304-304 to find community meal sites for their kids.”

What food (or other) items can be donated?

As a rule of thumb, Villarreal says food banks are looking for food pantry staples that most people have in their kitchens such as grains, pastas, canned beans, cereal, and peanut butter. Guerra adds that low-sodium canned vegetables, rice, and canned fruit are also needed.

There are some items that food banks generally don’t take as donations such as homemade items, Guerra says. Villarreal advises not donating items in glass containers as they can shatter during transportation or anything that’s opened, damaged, or unlabeled.

Keep the expiration dates in mind as well. “Many nonperishable items have a shelf life well beyond their sell-by date,” Guerra says. So, Villarreal recommends using your best judgment. If the item is near its expiration date it should be fine to donate, but if it’s well past the date it’s best to toss it.

Depending on the food bank, some also accept other items as donations. Think of things that you’d find at your local grocery store such as feminine hygiene products, toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, diapers, pet food, and other household items.

5 Food Banks and Food Programs in Need of Donations Right Now

1. Feeding America

With 200 food banks (where goods are stored) and 60,000 food pantries (where goods can be picked up) across the country, there's a good chance that there's a Feeding America drop-off site near you. To receive donations, nothing is required and no questions are asked.

2. Food Rescue Us

Food Rescue US is great because it helps donate fresh food to those in need, including lots of healthy proteins and produce. If you work in the restaurant industry, instead of throwing out your extra food, consider donating it to Food Rescue US, which will repurpose it into delicious meals for those in need.

3. Meals On Wheels America

For those unable to physically go to food pantries, Meals On Wheels is an important resource, bringing food right to people in need. Because seniors are most at risk for COVID-19, Meals On Wheels is especially a valuable resource right now. You can donate money or volunteer your time in your city.

4. Feed the Children

Feed The Children has long provided food and resources working through the public school system and are of course continuing to do so now. While the organization doesn't accept food, you can donate monetarily through its site.

5. No Kid Hungry

You can help contribute to No Kid Hungry's efforts by fundraising, organizing donation drives through your workplace, and contacting elected officials. Visit its site for more information.

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