I felt a real chill in the air today. I pulled my coat tighter around me and wrapped my scarf twice around my neck. Piles of leaves tempt children on street corners, and the trees are awash in my favorite colors- moss, goldenrod, persimmon. This weekend, Daylight Savings will set a new, early curfew.
Being poor is always difficult, but I wonder if it is especially so during the bitter cold season. For obvious reasons– landlords who fail to fix faulty boilers or even to turn them on in the first place– but also less obvious reasons– seasonal jobs end; adults and children at risk of contracting the flu. I imagine that this a fraught time for at-risk individuals and families.
For others of us, the winter sparkles with promises of large feasts, gifts, warm homes and hot chocolate. Thankfully, the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving also inaugurate the season of canned food drives for the chronically empty shelves of major food banks and local pantries.
If you are going to give in-kind this year (and you should!), please take a look at the following list of food items and sundries that aren’t often found on lists but are just as important (or more so) than the ubiquitous canned veggies, dried oatmeal and peanut butter.
Remember, if you have kids, take them shopping with you. Talk to them about food insecurity (being mindful of developmental appropriateness) and let them fill the basket. If they have an allowance, invite them to contribute to the cost of the goods. If they are older, take them with you to drop off your donations. Volunteer to stock the shelves.
Whatever you do, resist the temptation to clean out your own pantry of expired goods. If you haven’t eaten the food in over a year, don’t expect someone else to. (I spent many years sorting donated foods for a local pantry and wasted countless hours throwing away somebody else’s unwanted expired, gourmet foods).
Finally, challenge yourself to do this more than once a year. Hungry people are hungry 365 days a year.
10 Things Food Banks Need but Won’t Ask For
Some items are in high demand at the food bank and you may not realize it. Because they aren’t essentials, the staff doesn’t publicly ask for them. A survey on Reddit.com asked volunteers what items people would be most appreciative of and we’ve listed the top 10 below. If you’re looking for an easy way to help out, pick some of these up while shopping and drop them off at one of our area food banks.
Think about it. People who rely on the food bank eat a lot of canned food, rice, oatmeal, white bread, etc. They love spices. Seasoned salt, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, oregano, basil and so on.
2. Feminine Products.
Can you imagine being worried about affording these? Pads, tampons, panty liners, etc. Recommended: Buy in bulk at Costco for donating.
People don’t need it, but think about being in their shoes and how nice it would be to be given a chocolate bar or brownie mix along with your essentials.
Grocery stores are great about donating surplus or unsold food, but they have no reason to donate toilet paper, tooth paste, soap, deodorant, shampoo, etc. Food stamps often don’t cover these.
5. Canned meats and jerky.
This isn’t true of all food banks, but some struggle to give users enough protein.
6. Crackers and tortillas.
They don’t spoil and everybody likes them.
7. Baby toiletries.
Diapers, baby wipes, baby formula, baby shampoo, baby soap, baby food, bottles, etc.
8. Soup packets.
Sometimes you look at rice, beans, instant potatoes, and cans of vegetable and think, “What do I make with this?” Hearty soup is a complete meal.
From a former homeless person: “Socks mean the world to you. They keep you warm, make you feel like you have something new, and just comfort you.”
10. Canned fruit other than pineapple.
Food banks get a lot of pineapple donated. Their clients love it when other kinds of fruit are available.