Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Food banks


Recommended Posts

I normally write cheques instead of giving in kind, but I am going to a catered dinner party tomorrow night and the hostess has requested non perishable food donations instead of a hostess gift. Now, I used to donate imported Italian cookies and things like that, reasoning that food bank recipients deserve a little treat, but I recently read an article about urban hunger and now I am wondering if it isn't more appropriate to give nutritious food items instead.

In the article, interviewees described how many children go to school hungry, and how their lunch box will contain items like a can of soda pop and a doughnut, a 1$ pizza, things you pick up in convenience stores. There are poverty pockets where no single supermarket chain has deigned to open a store, and therefore many people don't have access to fruits and vegetables, and thus don't know how to cook those food items.

Anyway, when I look in my pantry, I see few canned foods, mostly pasta, tomato sauce, lentils, kidney beans and chickpeas, but it doesn't seem nice to give that sort of boring food (which I like), to someone who may not have the taste for it. I'll be going food shopping tomorrow.

I tried Googling food banks, but they are not specific in specifying their needs. What do you give? Things like canned soups and tuna?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The best choices have already been mentioned. Protein and vegetables are most important, and rice should be added to the suggestion for pasta, the latter something I like to give.

The thing is, it is hard to strike a balance between wanting to improve diets and being preachy about what you perceive as more healthful than the standard U.S. diet. So, for example, if you want to give rice, I would go with white vs. brown & a bag or box that has instructions for cooking. I have never given couscous or bulgur, although who knows, given shifts in demographics, there may be people grateful for the latter.

Dried legumes and canned tomatoes? The first might be welcome if they were simple to prepare and familiar, like lentils. Some folk might like rice and beans. Wouldn't it be nice to get some chili powder, dehydrated garlic, tomatoes, pinto beans and rice if one of the packages had a printed recipe for chili? However, large food banks tend to shelve like-items in large quantities before dividing them up for distribution to individual families.

It would be better to give beans cooked, especially prepared, as in baked beans, chilies and soups. Mary Kitchen corned beef hash.

There might be some decent canned vegetables, tomato or V-8 juice, or fruits packed in juice vs. heavy syrup. Especially good for children would be fruit juice high in vitamin C with no added sugar, corn syrup or fructose.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tuna, packed in oil. Nutritious, calorie dense, and absolutely no prep needed (though of course it can be stretched in all sorts of ways). The fact that pretty much everybody likes canned tuna is a bonus.

Can you pee in the ocean?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Most of the foods have already been listed, but...

Canned tuna, salmon, chicken, ham, beef stew, beef hash, corned beef, Spam.

Canned fruits and vegetables.

Canned pasta sauce.

Dry pasta, rice, cereals, crackers, instant ramen.

Peanut butter, jelly or jam.

Fruit juice in cans, shelf-stable bottles, or juice-packs.

Baby food.


"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ok, so I know that it's not very "efficient", but at Xmas I like to donate food that might not be available to people with lower incomes, or in the list of things people typically donate. Canned shrimp, cashews, olives, good mustard...

There can't be so many people giving these things that they can't find someone who will really enjoy it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ha, I was just going to mention that. Our local food banks set up outside our markets this weekend specifically to gather the turkeys & whatever else folks can give.

There was an article in a local paper today that our NJ food banks are desperately short of frozen turkeys & everything else. Compassion fatigue seems to have set in after Katrina & no one has donated much since.

I don't know if this is true nationwide but it's something to think about.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

Link to comment
Share on other sites

for many years the library where i was the director had a "fine free november" where people could donate canned goods in lieu of the fines for their library books OR pay the fine and the library would donate all cash fines contributed for purchase of nonperishable foods. we coordinated with food pantries on both sides of town and the other things we collected were those not covered by food stamps - soap, toothpaste, diapers, toilet paper and paper towels.

now whenever i drop a bag of items off at the food bank on my side of town i include those items as well as tuna, canned beans, toothbrushes and some "luxe" items like a few cookies and box puddings(milk is one thing you can get with food stamps so i figure it is both healthy and a treat) as well as bubble bath .

Nothing is better than frying in lard.

Nothing.  Do not quote me on this.


Linda Ellerbee

Take Big Bites

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Donate what you would like to eat and don't forget the babys. I help with the food bank at the church, stuff from other countries, strange products, come on, would you eat it?

Year round would be great. A light list every week, goes a long way to help the food bank. Its a year round thing and peanut butter, while useful, gets old even for hungry people. We wondered if our food bank would get off the ground. We let the local school district know, all grades, even in a high rent area we can't keep it full.

It is sadly stunning the number of hungry people their are.

We sponsor a family each year for each school in the district,the middle school and the high school. We are up to 6 families and counting and that doesn't even include our southern missions related to hurricane aid.

So much help is needed please, please do what you can.

Edited by handmc (log)


Ah, it's been way too long since I did a butt. - Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"


One summers evening drunk to hell, I sat there nearly lifeless…Warren

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Donate what you would like to eat

I like this topic and absolutely agree with handmc. I do not eat or cook with very many things that come out of a can and had never really given much thought to the types of things I donated to food banks until I became a regular contributor by virtue of having to keep a stock of provisions on hand. You may recall that DC residents got a warning a few years back to keep 3-5 days worth of provisions in the event of a bioterrorism event where you couldn't evacuate right away. My father, who consults in the area, insisted that I take this warning seriously and for the sake of not worrying my dad, I do.

The challenge was to come up with a selection of things that I could stand to eat straight out of the can in the event there was no electricity and you couldn't use "heat in a can" because you needed to conserve the air in your house or the gas grill because you couldn't go outside. I also wanted to be healthy and have a good variety of things suitable for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am also a southerner and extremely partial to and choosy about my vegetables.

After checking out the canned food selections at whole foods, giant foods and safeway, I was totally uninspired. And then I went to Harris Teaters and it changed my opinion about the quality of canned food entirely. They carry a brand called "Margaret Holmes" that ranges from southern staples like squash and onions to tomatoes, okra and corn. A brand called "Bush's Best" makes yummy field peas with snaps and then "Luck's" has crowder peas seasoned with fatback. "Mitchell's" also has "fancy whole kernel shoe peg white sweet corn." Harris Teater's also has canned fruits to die for but I don't remember the brand because I eat them all.

I don't particularly care for canned meat or fish, but I also buy canned salmon and chicken of the sea, and things like velveeta, peanut butter, crackers, nuts, powdered milk, cereal, cranberry juice cocktail, apple juice, canned artichokes, potato chips, etc.

The Starbuck's around the corner from my house has a canned food drive for a local food bank every year so I haul all of this over there along with things in my pantry I havent used like dried pasta, rice, campbell's soup, etc. and then go back to Harris Teater's and restock. I have made a point of trying everything I buy (learning the hard way what was truly not edible including an unknown brand with a mouthwatering picture of beef and vegetable stew that surely tasted like dog food.)

So, the point is, put yourself in the recipient's shoes and think about what it would take to make three meals a day that are relatively tasty and healthy using non perishable goods. If you live in an area of the country that is a potential terrorist target or if you live in an area prone to natural disasters, you need to have provisions on hand anyway and you need to rotate them out well before they expire so making giving to the foodbank part of your routine works well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I try not to donate stuff like cranberry sauce and creamed corn... it seems like these end up in the barrels at the food drives most often.

Most of the grocery stores around here offer a bag of staples that you can buy and set in the barrel on your way out for about $10. Generally includes peanut butter, dried pasta, canned meats, canned veggies, dried beans, cereal, etc.

Once a year I clean out my pantry and donate anything that has been in the cupboard for over 6 months (so long as it hasn't expired). As my oldest son has gained or outgrown allergies, I've also donated the stuff he could no longer use... once this included A LOT of gluten free stuff.

Each time I have had a new baby, I've also donated the formula samples I've received. I've also donated baby food in the past.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

A little detail I noticed last time they handed me a "wish list" for a food bank, was that they requested the peanutbutter in plastic jars, and I think this would hold true for any other jarred items as well. I assume that they want to be able to toss everything in a bin without worrying about breaking glass...

Do you suffer from Acute Culinary Syndrome? Maybe it's time to get help...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How about an envelope with a check to the food bank in it? I know the local food bank here can take a dollar and turn it into about 10 times that in food. They certainly have an inside look at what people really need. I have a friend who's company will double their employees donations to Second Harvest without limit for the rest of the year.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A little detail I noticed last time they handed me a "wish list" for a food bank, was that they requested the peanutbutter in plastic  jars, and I think this would hold true for any other jarred items as well.  I assume that they want to be able to toss everything in a bin without worrying about breaking glass...

A friend at The Chicago Food Depository told me it is more for weight and liability issues. People have sued over cuts as well as other things.

Living hard will take its toll...
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What you give really depends on where you live--not just the city, but the area in which the food bank is. If you're contributing to a food bank targeted at incomed families going through rough times, they might appreciate things like olives, good mustard and canned shrimp, but for the average food bank recipient, those things aren't going to be appreciated. (Anecdote--my mother used to work with disadvantaged youth. She offered one young man some cheese. He took some, she said, "It's old cheddar" and he spat it out and threw the rest in the trash. "Why would I want to eat old cheese?" he asked, offended that she would give him such a thing. Point being, the majority of food bank users aren't people who appreciate fine foods.)

In my city in Canada, most of the food banks are used by families also on welfare. Generally, these families are lifetime welfare recipients (from infancy to old age, and their children repeat the cycle). They don't know how to create three healthful meals a day, and many of them have probably never had three healthful meals a day. Things like canned green beans are usually wasted, and canned salmon is not appreciated, either (I'm from the prairies--seafood aside from tuna is not well-appreciated). They want things like boxed macaroni and cheese, baked beans, soups, etc. Cereal is a key item, but think about milk in tetra-paks to go along with it. A lot of families can't afford (or just don't buy) the milk. Baby food and formula, diapers, sundry items like toothpaste, shampoo, and soap are often in low supply, but high demand.

But really, money is the best donation a food bank can get. They know best what their users need, and they can often get more for their money than the average giver. But if you're giving food, think about giving food that will actually be eaten. Better to give not-so-healthful food people will eat, than to give "exotic" foods that will only be wasted.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The food bank in our area will tell you what is their most needed items for the current month, if you ask. I didn't see this on the earlier lists but canned evaporated milk is high on their list often-for casserole and desserts.

Our community has a monthly luncheon with a program where the 'price' of admission is $ or food items = to the cost of a decent lunch at an area restaurant.

It is from this that I learned that contributing the items that they most need that month, historically, is easier for the food bank 'staff'-volunteer or paid- as they don't have to go purchase the items.

Often in our area grocery stores they will have 'buy one get one' and we give the 'free item' to the food locker. This can give them a wealth of items including 10 lbs potatoes as well as pasta, 18 count eggs etc. If you have a coupon for a free item that you don't want/use this is a good item for the food bank also.

If you find a "super deal" like 4 loaves of bread for $1. because of a store promotion-buy it for the food bank--even if it is 'wonder type' bread you don't normally purchase. Maybe it is not your bread of choice but it makes good PB or cheese sandwiches for people who welcome it.

Contribute coupons for food discounts for practical items. If your food bank shops they can use them or they can give them to their 'customers'.

When we travel-which is a lot- I collect all all the room prepackaged coffee packets along with the sugar etc. packets- along with any soap and individual shampoo etc. containers prior to check out. We give these to the food bank for them to pass to the 'battered persons shelter' who can use them. These items are included in your room rate and if you don't use them-through choice- they can find a good home and use.

Hope this gives you all some ideas. kAY

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. I ended up buying a combination of starch, protein and veggies, i.e. pasta, tuna and a mushroom and tomato sauce. I do agree that the most efficient donation is probably a cheque. In my city, we have a central food bank which supplies many smaller ones, and this organisation is able to buy its food at better prices than retail.

People who survice on Kraft dinner and hot dogs really don't know how to cook nutritious meals for themselves. Actually, the same can be said of many luckier people who simply replace the Kraft dinner with gourmet take out. In any case, there is an organisation here that gives free cooking and nutrition classes to disadvantaged children, the idea being that the child educated thus will somehow influence parental behaviour, and hopefully learn to prepare nutritious meals in turn.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


  • Create New...