Monday, February 15, 2010

How to donate to the food pantry.

In an economic downturn like the one we're in, it's important to remember that more people than ever are forced to turn to their local food pantry to keep them nourished. Most of these people don't want to be shopping there either, but we are in dire straights right now; don't wait for the mailman to offer to pick up groceries. While I'm saddened by the disaster in Haiti and all the other places we're saving right now, I believe that charity starts at home, so that's where my money goes. I give the pantry whatever I can as often as I can, and not just around holidays. How about right now, when people are paying the highest heating bills? Don't forget summertime, when parents are struggling because kids are out of school and are no longer able to be fed by the reduced lunch program.

Not too long ago, our town had a few food drives sponsored by the Boy Scouts and the Postal Workers. I noticed my neighbors all had some groceries to give—which is good—but to my surprise, they were all loaded with cans of tuna. While I applaud the effort, it's important to remember that some of these people buying at the food pantry are your neighbors, colleagues, church members, and parents of your kids' sports teams. Many of them are spending so much money on saving their houses, that they just don't have the means to supply food, too.

So put yourself in their shoes. You've finally made the decision to suck it up and visit the food pantry. You get there, and there's nothing but cans of tuna fish. These people are struggling, but they want to eat good, too. I'm all for starting in your own pantry, just remember to reach beyond the tuna. How about some rice, or pasta, or instant potatoes? Those items fill you up. Canned tomatoes can be turned into pasta sauce that can feed a family heartily. Peanut butter is full of vitamins and nutrients and can fill the tummy. Think of the items you like to cook, and imagine your next door neighbor is the one in need. Don't forget to look at items like vegetable oil, cake batters and icings, spices, parmesan cheese, things like this that the grocery store will even put on sale for $1.00 each. And who doesn't like to make brownies every now and then? Wouldn't this put a smile on your face?

While most flyers for food drives will ask for non-perishable items, call your food pantry and find out what you can do about perishables. Because let's face it, it's the fresh foods that are the most expensive. Our food pantry is open one night a week for a few hours. Perhaps you can buy a few gallons of milk and bring it right at the opening, this way families can have milk, bread, and even some fresh veggies. And if you happen to work for a grocery store, bagel shop, or some place that may have to throw out food at the end of the day (not eaten, obviously), see what you can do about helping out. Most people that I know don't mind day-old bagels, I'm pretty sure the needy wouldn't mind either. If you've got a garden, call the pantry and find out if you can donate a portion of the 900 zucchini and squash whose plants took over everything else. And if you've got nothing, go grocery shopping and hit up the sales—just keep your receipt for the tax write-off.

Because I must say it, be sure you're not giving canned foods that have expired (it does happen), and generally things you'd want to eat. There's a very slim market of people that enjoy canned beets, and these people have already been through enough. I'd be appalled if I had to visit the food pantry, and all I could come away with were lima beans, tuna, and other people's discards. Wouldn't you?

Lastly, if you're not into people, but want to save the animals, contact your local animal shelter or SPCA and see what they need. I once read a sign that the SPCA needed cat litter (the non-scoopable clay kind), and I went to WalMart and bought 200 lbs of litter. I spent very little money, because that is the cheap kind that's around $7 a bag. The lady at the front desk cried when I told her I needed to know where to back up the truck. Forgo the bird seed, but they always need used towels, newspapers, and food. I knew a lady that worked at the SPCA and I'd bought a 40lb bag of food that my dog wouldn't eat. Because I knew her, she took an open bag, but they don't normally. Always, call and ask. These are mostly volunteers, and they're overcrowded because too many people are struggling to feed their families, they can't also provide for their animals.

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