No more soup for you!!!
November 29, 2005 9:16 AM   Subscribe

What kind of food items do foodbanks really want or need?

It's the time of year where I'm being asked to bring food bank items to gatherings in lieu of gifts. I can find non-perishable things in the store, but I'd like to know if there are certain items that food banks are in need of more than others. Last year I donated some of those "just add boiling water" meals (like Lipton Sidekicks) but maybe everyone does that and they actually need something that nobody donates. I tend to think canned items like soup are very popular, but maybe they are popular because that is exactly what they need. Does anyone have any insider foodbank info, or know where I can find what kind of items people give vs what's wanted?
posted by easternblot to Food & Drink (19 answers total)
Here you go.
posted by duck at 9:19 AM on November 29, 2005

though this isn't food, diapers comes to mind. The food pantry that I volunteered at a long long time ago couldn't keep them on the shelves.

jars of peanut butter and beans will be good picks. Try to find things that combine well with lots of things. The odd can of mandarin orange slices can be quite a treat, but won't be terribly useful for every day subsistence type cooking.

cake mixes and frostings, and candles are much appreciated, it's a hell of a bummer to see a kid with no birthday cake.
posted by bilabial at 9:30 AM on November 29, 2005

Can they give away things like cough medicine? Because it's winter and cough medicine is really expensive for people who can't afford canned soup and maccaroni & cheese.
posted by leapingsheep at 9:34 AM on November 29, 2005

I read an article in a local paper about how one of the food banks here always runs out of baby food fastest, maybe that would be a good bet?
posted by ITheCosmos at 9:38 AM on November 29, 2005

Our local foodbank has a most wanted list. It includes (in no particular order):

powdered milk
litre boxes of juice
jars of peanut butter
cans of soup
cans of meat and fish or stew
pork and beans
rice or other grains
mac & cheese
pasta products (both the pasta and the cans of sauce)
baby food & baby formula (Enfalac, Similac, Isomil)

Googling "food bank" and "most wanted" I got similar lists from several different food banks. Any thing on that list would be appreciated. (It looks like few food banks have spent any of their tiny budgets on a web presence.) Some also want hygene products like deodorant, diapers, and tampons. Some don't ask for formula.

Your best bet is probably to call your local food bank and ask if they have any urgent needs at the moment.
posted by raedyn at 9:38 AM on November 29, 2005

Our local food bank practically begs you to give money not food, since they get great deals from the local retailers, and can turn your 10$ into 15$ worth of food -- and, it is the food they need. So consider that, perhaps.
posted by Rumple at 9:41 AM on November 29, 2005

If you live in an area with a large ethnic population, consider giving foods specific to that ethnicity. For example, in Minneapolis/St. Paul there is a large Hmong population and some food shelves request fish sauce for them. Local hispanics prefer dried beans to canned beans. If in doubt, I'd recommend calling the shelter you give to and asking them.
posted by Coffeemate at 10:09 AM on November 29, 2005

I like the baby food suggestion. I think I'll do that. Or peanut butter.
As for which food bank, duck linked the one we're probably donating too, and that list looks like all the other lists people posted, so it seems to be a general issue.
posted by easternblot at 10:46 AM on November 29, 2005

I worked for a food bank. We were always in need of the items listed under "most wanted" above. However, we also needed items that were useful for general cooking purposes (people donated caviar, but we weren't going to use up a food unit by giving them that). Standard food items, as opposed to candy, highly processed food, and other junk foods are important. I'm sure the other MeFites' points are good here.

But what we really needed was food that reflected our population. Many of our people lived on the street, in single rooms, in unstable environments, etc. They didn't have cutlery, can openers, plates, cooking appliances, refrigerators, etc. Foods that didn't need to be cooked or prepared were invaluable. Canned beans with pop-tops are a good example.

Foods for diabetics, native people (in my corner of Canada), babies, children, ethnic groups -- people have diverse needs. Iron-fortified baby cereal. Baby food for 8+ months. Iron-fortified toddler cereal (like Nu-trios).

Can openers, utensils and food prep equipment are often welcome.

But, if you really want to help, consider a cash donation. The food bank I worked with specialized in reclaiming food from grocery stores and restaurants. For every $1 donated, they could fund trucks, staff, equipment, refrigerators, warehouse space, food processing equipment and admin, resulting in the delivery of $11 worth of food. Even food banks that don't reclaim food can usually negotiate bulk food buys, resulting in $3 worth of food.

Food banks run holiday food drives mostly to gain publicity, generare awareness and stimulate cash donations. Small donations of food are welcome, but resource-intensive. Even if someone delivers the food to the food bank, the staff/volunteers have to sort and store it. In comparison, if you donate money, they can divert it where it's needed most. This is highly efficient.

Moreover, when you buy food bank items at the grocery store, that store is making a profit off your goodwill. It's a little disgusting for retailers to be making money off donations to the food bank, even if they provide a donation bin. So you're better off donating directly to the food bank, so that they can buy what they need, get a discount, and do far more than you could with the money.
posted by acoutu at 11:29 AM on November 29, 2005

I'm going to second the notion of donating money instead of food. Your $1.39 name-brand mac-and-cheese can be replaced by a pallet of unknown mac-and-cheese for a relatively small amount. I'd write a check and explain why.
posted by MrZero at 11:31 AM on November 29, 2005

I used to go out and buy groceries specifically for food banks, until a friend who volunteered at one ran me through the same information that acoutu just did. Now I opt for straight cash donations unless I'm going to one of those 'bring a can of food for admission' type of events.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:55 AM on November 29, 2005

Or: donate your time. Volunteer. Organize a group of people from your family / office / church / whatever and volunteer.
posted by raedyn at 1:23 PM on November 29, 2005

This goes without saying, but if you wouldn't eat it, please please please don't donate it. Also, beans are gross and at least where I lived, food banks got a ton of them. Canned salmon is also gross. Dry milk, honey, and peanut butter combine to make delicious (if kind of nasty looking) snacks, so any of those three would be nice for the holiday season, yet generally useful as well. If you are going to donate a single item, make it something of quality - what's $2 for a canned item instead of $1? As for the suggestions having to do with donating money, that's probably the best option of all. Food banks where I lived obviously got a LOT of help from grocers and bakers, so I can believe that money to grease the process along may be the most helpful thing you can donate.
posted by lorrer at 3:33 PM on November 29, 2005

This goes without saying, but if you wouldn't eat it, please please please don't donate it. Also, beans are gross and at least where I lived, food banks got a ton of them. Canned salmon is also gross.

I hate beans too, and I wouldn't touch canned salmon. But this is dumb. Other things I wouldn't eat: Tomato soup, mushroom soup, any sort of chowder, salsa, ramen, anything cream based or creamy (so creamy soups, creamy pasta sauces, risoto), cheese, whipped cream, cheesecake, anything with cilantro, anything with green peppers, anything with large onion bits, smoked salmon, smoked nuts, and in truth anything smokey, any cereal with marshamallows, any cereal with freeze dried bananas, anything peach flavoured (except peaches), eggs, the overhwhelmong majority of salad dressings, especially the creamy ones, canned tuna, stews, casseroles, those lipton side dishes, lobster, chocolate chunk cookies, coffee, carbonated drinks, wine, and beer. In addition, I avoid white rice and white bread, non-whole grain cereals, nutra-sweet, splenda, and the crappy french-fries served in "nice" restaurants. Finally, I prefer crunchy peanut-butter, but I only buy smooth.

I guess since I won't eat those things thare are worthless to the world and nobody at the food bank could possibly want them.

Stop and think for a moment. Different people like different things. The manufacturers make these things because somebody likes them enough to buy them. That someone is not me, but that doesn't mean the someone doesn't exist. Nobody sends food recipients out the door with a box of eat it and suck it up, food. They go in, they choose however much food from each category they're entitled to, and presumably if they think beans are gross, they won't choose beans.

If you have something in your pantry that you won't eat, absolutely donate it. If you're out buying food, buy what they ask for, even if you wouldn't eat it. Who cares what you would eat?
posted by duck at 3:51 PM on November 29, 2005

"Something in your pantry that you wouldn't eat" doesn't just mean "I really prefer corn to beans, thanks." When I volunteered at my church's food bank, over a period of probably ten years, we got more absolute shit than we knew what to do with. In this case, "stuff you wouldn't eat" refers to fifteen-year-old boxes of cereal and pasta -- and more junk too disgusting to name. Too many people decide to donate whatever they've cleaned out of their cabinets, and this is a horrible move. Also, it probably won't earn you too many stars in your crown.

You would do best to ask the food banks in question, if you know which they are. Some food banks will absolutely love you if you donate, say, a turkey. Other food banks don't have the resources to distribute food right away, so they only want nonperishables.

Canned goods are always popular as admission things at parties, and lots of food banks have tons of canned goods as a result. I know my food bank always placed a huge premium on protein, whether it was something like peanut butter or canned tuna or something more esoteric, because common canned goods are usually vegetables, and ramen/pasta is relatively cheap (and food banks tend to have lots of quick-use-me-before-I-get-infested pasta). So protein in any nonperishable form is what I would recommend the most.
posted by booksandlibretti at 8:24 PM on November 29, 2005

You would do best to ask the food banks in question

Strong second of that emotion. Different banks in different regions will have different needs at different times, regardless of what they've posted generally to the Web. Please be sure to call the food bank in question when you're thinking about donating, to make sure you actually give them what they most need at that moment (hint: it may not be baby food or peanut butter).
posted by mediareport at 9:38 PM on November 29, 2005

Canned salmon is gross? At the food bank where I worked, it was a most requested item.

Again, that's why donating cash (or your time) is the best answer.
posted by acoutu at 11:14 PM on November 29, 2005

Please be sure to call the food bank in question when you're thinking about donating

Well, but that doesn't work if I'm going somewhere where I'm supposed to bring a food bank item. (I don't know exactly where they'll be bringing it)

The money donation that people suggested is also very good, but again, I guess I should bring an item when an item is requested...
posted by easternblot at 5:50 PM on November 30, 2005

I know, easternblot; that's why I said "if you know which they are." That's also the reason for the rest of my comment.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:16 PM on November 30, 2005

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