How to Support Food Banks and Food Pantries

Food is a human necessity. Unfortunately, too many of our neighbors go hungry far too often.

Needs may vary from region to region, but there are always food banks and food pantries looking for support to help end hunger. Whether you want to roll up your sleeves or make a financial contribution, your help is needed and goes a long way.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to support food banks.

Food Bank vs. Food Pantry: What’s the Difference, and Where Should You Donate?

You might be surprised to hear that food banks and food pantries aren’t exactly the same. But they both serve the same purpose — a commitment to end hunger in communities. Let’s set the record straight for both of them and how how to support food banks.

Food Bank

Essentially, a food bank is a nonprofit organization that safely stores and delivers high volumes of food to food programs. Food banks vary in size, but many are double the size of typical wholesale clubs. 

Food banks receive donations from grocery stores, retailers, restaurants and other local institutions, but storing food is only part of what they do. They also take on huge strategic undertakings to get food into hungry mouths. For example, food banks hire drivers to deliver shipments of food to food pantries for distribution. 

Food Pantry

Like food banks, food pantries are dedicated to ending hunger. However, food pantries serve as distribution centers where people in need can receive food.

Because communities differ, many types of food pantries handle distribution. Low-income schools often host food pantries so that students’ families have easy access to wholesome food staples and other goods. 

Some communities offer mobile pantries to get food to people who are unable to travel, like seniors or people with disabilities. 

Ways to Show Your Support

Although each community has its own challenges, your support lightens the load. Food banks and food pantries are always in need of donations. And how you choose to contribute is up to you!

Supporting local food banks often involves one of the following actions.

canned food, food banks
Picture of Donna Spearman in Unsplash

Volunteer

When you volunteer your time and effort, you help feed your neighbors in need. Whether working solo or as part of a group, you can find many volunteer opportunities. 

Volunteer projects differ depending on each bank’s and pantry’s needs. You may do multiple tasks:

  • Inspecting and sorting food
  • Repacking dry food into family-sized bags
  • Building home delivery kits for disaster-affected areas
  • Preparing and packaging hot meals for daily distribution
  • Physically distributing food to those in need

Contact your local food bank and pantry to learn what they need. If you’re looking for a group volunteer opportunity, let them know. Both food banks and pantries are perfect places for a variety of actions:

  • Completing community service hours
  • Participating in corporate volunteer events
  • Going on school and youth group field trips
  • Hosting family get-togethers

Practically everyone can find some way to volunteer!

Donate Money

Regardless of whether you can physically volunteer, financial contributions go a long way when it comes to feeding the hungry. 

Food banks and food pantries have campaigns that make donating incredibly easy. Plus, most financial donations are tax-deductible. Your options may include the following:

  • One-time donations
  • Monthly giving programs
  • Corporate giving (a portion of your paycheck being sent to the nonprofit)
  • Bequests to leave your legacy to good
  • Contributions from raffle sales of donated items at an event you hold

There are so many ways to donate. Contact your local food bank and pantry to talk about your fundraising idea!

Does your company match donations? Find out! And make sure to complete the correct paperwork so that each dollar can double its impact.

Donate Food

When people think about how to support food banks, donating food is often where they start.

Have you ever noticed a barrel full of canned goods at the grocery store? It’s a common means of helping people donate food quickly. Be on the lookout the next time you go grocery shopping.

Another way to donate food is by hosting a food drive. This is a great way to get your friends, family, business or organization involved with your community’s fight against hunger. 

Large-scale food donations from manufacturing, warehouse, agriculture and other food service industries provide tons of food daily. If you’re in the food industry, contact your local food bank to learn how you can help feed your community.

Food Pantry Items to Donate

“What food can I donate?” is a common question, and it’s a great one! 

Best Foods to Donate to a Food Pantry

Here are some of the most common items needed at food pantries:

  • Bottled water
  • Cereal
  • Canned ravioli with pull tops
  • Canned tuna with pull tops
  • Crackers
  • Toilet paper
  • Granola bars and other protein-packed snacks
  • Household cleaning supplies
  • Paper plates
  • Paper towels
  • Plastic cups and cutlery
  • Canned soup with pull tops

Note that canned foods with pull tops are preferable because our neighbors in need may not have working can openers. It’s better to keep donations simple and accessible to everyone.

What Can You Not Donate to a Food Bank?

Food banks do their best to make the most of every donation, but they simply can’t accept some items.

Here are some items you shouldn’t donate:

  • Foods with past expiration dates
  • Opened food packages
  • Homemade foods
  • Perishable foods
  • Baby food
  • Mattresses and furniture
  • Clothes

Food banks will have slightly different rules for what they can and can’t accept. It’s best to check a food bank’s website or call before donating.

How to Donate to a Food Pantry

The best way to donate to a food pantry is to either check its website or call. Then, follow its instructions to make sure you contribute correctly. 

After major natural disasters, food pantries may become overwhelmed with certain types of items. If they don’t have the room or refrigerators available for your donation, ask if they can recommend another food pantry that’s still in need. 

FAQs

Can I donate a home-cooked meal?

We love your enthusiasm and eagerness to feed your neighbors, but food banks and pantries can’t accept home-cooked meals. This is because of food safety regulations that, if broken, could limit how the food bank or pantry can legally operate in the community.

Can I donate fresh food to a food bank?

Although fresh produce is technically perishable, many food banks do accept fruits and vegetables — even home-grown ones. Most food banks ask that you protect the fruits and vegetables from contamination and bring them in without washing or cutting them.

Can you donate frozen food to a food bank?

Some food banks accept frozen food, and some do not. This largely depends on their freezer space — they wouldn’t want you to donate items only for them to go bad for lack of space in the freezer. Check with your local food bank before bringing in frozen food to be sure.

Can you donate wine to a food bank?

Food banks cannot distribute alcohol. As a result, they won’t be able to accept your donation of wine (or any other alcohol).

Can I donate expired food to a food bank?

Many food banks accept perishable items that are past their “sell by” date. However, you cannot donate perishable items past their “use by” date.

Can you donate eggs to a food bank?

Rules surrounding egg donations vary by state and individual food bank. Even if your local food bank does accept fresh eggs, they likely have specific restrictions for egg donations. Be sure to check before bringing any in.

Can you donate sweets to a food bank?

Many food banks do accept sweets, as long as they are not homemade. However, some food banks prefer nutritious donations so they can ensure their visitors are getting their nutritional needs met.

Can you donate toiletries to a food bank?

Food banks often accept toiletries — families in need are very happy to accept them. Consider donating toiletries such as:
Shampoo and conditioner
Soap
Toothbrushes and toothpaste
Deodorant
Shaving gel
Toilet paper
Feminine hygiene products

Can you donate money to a food bank?

Yes! Food banks are happy to accept monetary donations, which are essential to keep their operations running smoothly.

Is donating to a food bank tax-deductible?

Whether your donation will be tax-deductible depends on the food bank or pantry’s IRS status. If an organization is a 501(c)(3), then donations are likely tax-deductible. If this matters to you, check with the food bank or pantry beforehand.

How can I find out what my local food bank and pantry need the most?

Ask! Most food banks and pantries keep community members updated on what items they need. Check their websites and social media accounts. You can also give them a call. 

Why can’t I donate clothes, furniture or mattresses?

Food banks and pantries are set up to receive food and other small household items. Speak with your community’s food bank or pantry to see whether it can recommend another local organization that can put such items to use.

How do I know my financial donation is being spent wisely?

There are several ways to find out how an organization is using its monetary donations. You can check its status on IRS.gov, read its annual reports or simply ask. Although overhead is critical in keeping operations running, you can always make a note that you want the bank or pantry to spend your donation on food only. 

Help With Good Home Chef

At Good Home Chef, we’re here to help you and the whole community. 

We launched Good Home Chef during the COVID-19 pandemic with the mission of bringing you easy, delicious and fun recipes from around the world. Most people had to become their own chefs during quarantines, and we decided to lend a helping hand. If you know any other way on how to support food banks please let us know in the comment section below.

Keep up with Good Home Chef for our latest recipes and follow along as we serve our community!

Featured image via Pixabay