Food Banks: What to Donate

Alexandra Rosas

Some things are funny, some never are.

I know that humor is subjective, but when it comes in the form of dismissive unawareness to another’s plight, I can’t not say anything. Yesterday I was at our grocery store when I overheard someone pushing their cart in front of me say, “Oh, the Thanksgiving food barrels are out! You know what that means, I can clean out my cabinets of the turtle soup I never used!”

Oh, so funny, right? Nope. Nope, nope and again nope. I told her how I think if I were without food, that I’d appreciate food that was within its expiration date. (Maybe she’ll listen to me, maybe she won’t. You can’t tell with people.)

There are families who count on the food donations that fill food banks. It’s hard to think of families making the trip to a food bank to find items that so obviously scream ‘discard.’ I’ve heard jokes like this before. When I was working and around a lot more people than I am now, our company would hold food drives. There would be laughter when someone would say, “Good! Finally a place to dump the canned artichokes I’ve been hanging onto for ten years!”

To the people who think this way about food banks, can I ask you to please stop? When people go to the food bank, it’s because their families have to eat.

Before I decided to write this post, I called our area food banks and asked them about the best items to place in food donation barrels that are out for the month of November. I want to share this with you so that when you do pick up extra unexpired items at the store (as would be, you know, the loving thing to do), you’ll get these items, educate others about these items, and let your kids see and remember what items are best.

Happy food-drive-filling, and enjoy the warm fuzzies fluttering in your heart.

Items to donate to your local food bank:

1.) Mixes and cereals made with water. Many households are without eggs or milk, butter, so anything that only requires water is awesome. Think pancake mixes, cereals, oatmeals, Ramen, boxed noodles, instant rice. You get the picture.

2) Mac and cheese that comes with the cheese mix in a foil pouch. Nothing needed but boiling water for the noodles. Stovetop stuffing is perfect, too.

3.) Lots of canned protein. Turkey spam is really good and along with some boxed noodle mixes.  This combination provides the fixings for a complete dinner. Six-packs of tuna are awesome!

4.) Peanut butter. Oh, in all the sizes and packages. I pick up the peanut butter crackers in a 10-pack because I know they ‘ll be used to build a protein-packed lunch for a hungry child.

5.) Squeezable fruit sauces. These can be used for breakfasts, school lunch, after school snacks. We can help kids to get their fruits during times of  doing without. Small lunch-size cups of mandarins are great for Vitamin C. Target sells them in packs of 16. Also, fun-sized cartons of craisins, raisins, yummy yogurt raisins.

6.) Toothpaste and toothbrushes! Some cute toothbrushes will make a child’s day! I pick up five or so and toss them in, along with kid toothpastes and some floss.

7.) Something special for kids. Why not? They’re little and what fun to find bags of individual Oreos in the bags your parents bring home. Wouldn’t you like that if you were little? Say yes. Something that is unexpected and not a necessity, but a reminder of what makes you happy, that’s doing good right there.

8.) Remember canned and dried beans/lentils/chickpeas for vegetarians. Minute Rice makes a dehydrated pack/combo of rice and beans together — you add water to the fill line, they’re pretty good.

This list will be my guideline when I donate to food banks. I’ll vary it, but one steady item that I will always always, always include from now on is two boxes of instant baby cereal. It only needs water. It’s the first food many infants have, and what a relief for a mama to know that in her cabinets, her baby has something to eat.

You guys are the best. If you have it to spare, please share.

If you would like to find a local food bank, use one of these resources:

Feed America

food pantries

Ample Harvest



This is a great resource for the holiday season when people traditionally support their local food banks. Grab the cans from the back of the pantry? No thank you. Please grab these items.

This post was syndicated with expressed permission from Good Day, Regular People.

You can find Alexandra at Good Day, Regular People, as well as writing regular columns at Aiming Low, Mom Renewal Project, MilwaukeeMoms, Sprocket Ink, andTikiTikiblog. She was named a 2011 BlogHer Voice of the Year for humor, an honor which allowed her the the opportunity of reading her winning entry before the world’s largest conference for women in social media. In 2012, she was chosen to be part of The Moth’s National Live Story Tellers Tour, and presented alongside Molly Ringwald. Alexandra is also a co-producer/director for the Listen to Your Mother show in Milwaukee.