Holiday Food Donations – What You Should & Shouldn’t Donate

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What to donate to food banks


2017 UPDATE – Holiday Food Donations, what your food bank needs the most

The holidays are a popular time for donations to be made to food pantries. Before you start clearing out your pantry and freezer, however, it’s a good idea to see what food pantries really need.


The lists below offer some ideas for what makes a good donation and what doesn’t. Keep in mind that there is a difference between a food pantry (the place that gives families the food) and a food bank (the place that gives the pantries the food). While most food pantries will accept any kind of donations, food banks usually do not. If you have anything to donate that falls in the “shouldn’t” list below that doesn’t mean the item can’t be donated, just that you should call your local food pantry and make arrangements to drop it off.

One thing to remember: if you wouldn’t eat it happily, don’t donate it.

A special thanks to my Facebook friends for helping me out with the list!


What to donate to food banks, food pantries, and family shelters


Donations that are encouraged:

-Cash! You might be able to buy a can of tuna for $1, but a food bank’s buying power can buy THREE cans for $1.


-Spices Spices are one ofthose things that we all use and don’t think about much, until it comes time to replace them because spices are expensive! When you have only a little bit of money for food, you skip the expensive stuff like spices. Common spices such as cumin, basil, cinnamon…all are very welcome.


-Coffee along with powdered creamer and packets of sugar and sugar alternative.


-Condiments are always needed. Small, plastic containers or fast food-style packets are the most requested sizes. Mayonnaise and cooking oil are especially welcome.


-Shelf-stable protein such as canned meats, nut butters, and individually-wrapped protein bars. Donate cans that don’t need a can opener if possible.


-Whole meals in a can are poopular requests as well. Canned stew, chili, ready-to-eat soup, etc. While any brand is welcome, those with tab tops are most convenient.


-Shelf-stable microwaveable meals, often found in the soup or pasta aisle, are good donation options because they’re easy for people to take to work. Don’t forget about microwaveable oatmeal and rice cups!


-Canned fruit packed in water or juice. One thing though: NO PINEAPPLE. Apparently pineapple is one of the most frequently donated items, who knew? Cranberries are especially welcome in the fall and winter.


-Juice in pouches boxes, or plastic jugs. 100% juice is best but most food banks will accept any shelf-stable juice. Call the food bank ahead of time if you want to donate chilled or frozen juice.


-Canned vegetables, especially low sodium. Don’t forget about more “exotic” canned veggies like sauerkraut and diced tomatoes with peppers. Buy the canned veggies YOU like to eat.


-Food that tucks neatly into a lunch box. Raisins, fruit cups, shelf-stable pudding, shelf-stable single serve milk boxes. These items go a long way to help children feel normal, and that’s so important when they’re enduring a financial crisis.


-Shelf-stable milk and milk alternatives, both canned and boxed. Dairy alternative milks are especially needed.


-Items to make easy but filling and nutritious meals. Whole grain or vegetable pasta, canned pasta sauce, brown rice, corn taco shells, and canned beans are good starter ideas.



-Snack foods like microwave popcorn, granola bars, peanut butter cups with pretzels, and crackers are good options.


-Toiletries and feminine hygiene products are in MAJOR demand. The most frequently requested items are toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper, and standard heavy flow feminine pads.


-Pet food. Pets also suffer when a family goes through a hard time. Dog and cat food are in highest demand, but so is cat litter and other items pet needs every day.


-Breakfast foods, especially if they only need water for preparation. Oatmeal and breakfast bars are good options.


-Treats! Small packages of candy, cookies, & gum go a very long way to make a person feel better during a rough time. There is a misconception out there that “poor people” don’t deserve treats, that every dollar they have should only go towards cheap food like beans and rice. Wrong. We’re all human and deserve to feel like it.


-Holiday meal items like canned ham, canned pumpkin, canned yams, and boxed stuffing. Just because you need some help doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a nice holiday meal! Some food banks will accept frozen turkeys from stores and butchers during the season, but don’t plan on donating a turkey from your freezer because it probably won’t be accepted.


TIPS: If possible donate canned food with pop-top lids. Many schools prohibit peanut products so nut butter alternatives and nut-free snacks are always a good idea!


Things the food bank may not take but the local food pantry and family shelter probably will (call ahead!):

-anything turned down by the food bank

-Refrigerated or frozen items

-Food close to the expiration date

-Baby food and formula

-Baby items, especially diapers and wipes

-Baked goods

-Fresh fruits & veggies

-Pet food

-OTC medications and first aid supplies


Things you shouldn’t donate

-Canned pineapple
-Anything in glass
-Food that is past the sell by date (just throw it out!)
-Food that requires milk for preparation
-Open containers of spices (or anything else)
-Flour, sugar, baking supplies


And let’s not forget one of the most important things you can donate: YOUR TIME. Donating food is good, donating cash is excellent, but your time is gold.

Do you need some help providing food for your family? There is no shame in asking for help, I have been where you are and I know how it feels. First, hugs. Second, you can find help at these links:


Food Pantry Directory
Feeding America Food Banks
Find a Food Pantry

What to donate to food banks