What Food Banks Need During the Holidays

What does the food bank do in your community?

Sure, the food kitchen might be that run down building in an unsavory part of town that provides hot meals, but food banks provide food for people who need it in other ways as well.

While a soup kitchen is literally an organization that makes and hands out food directly, more often food banks act as wholesalers, who sell food at discounted prices or for food stamps – both directly to patrons or to the soup kitchens that prepare and distribute made meals.

Food banks, in the wholesale sense, receive products from donated sources, federal programs and due to stores with excess retail inventory. However, just last year, food banks reported that there was more need for food, and tragically, less donations from federal food bank programs.

This year more than ever, food banks are seeing drastic need and lower donated supplies at food banks. It makes sense that when the economy is at it’s lowest, the need for the food bank is at it’s highest.

In the past year, Feeding America, the nation's leading food donation organization, has seen a 15% to 20% greater need for food bank services. While Ross Fraser, a spokesman for Feeding America, claimed food shortages were the lowest that his organization had seen in 26 years. The less fortunate are in dire need, with food banks giving 41% more food in October 2008 than they did in October 2007.

How can you help?

With the holiday season approaching, how can you help those less fortunate—the elderly, parentless children and youth, the unemployed, the unable to work, the sick and the mentally unwell?

Two words—donate cash. The greatest need is monetary, so that the money can be placed in the most needed area. Think of it this way, you can donate a $1 can of baked beans you don’t know if anyone will like, or you can donate $1 so the money can be pooled with other donations and used for the greatest area of need. For example, food banks will get the most for your dollar by buying in bulk. And purchasing 10 to 15 pounds of food in bulk is cheaper than purchasing it all separately.

Sure, food banks use volunteer labor, but some of their more integral employees are actually paid. Some of your donation could contribute to those who make feeding the hungry their life’s work.

Though the large portion of cash donations go towards purchasing bulk-food for food bank users; the rest could benefit necessities—such as food delivery, gas, truck maintenance, building maintenance, kitchen supplies, storage supplies, and dishes and cutlery.

OK, but what if you can’t afford to give in the way of money, and you still want to help…

Two more words – give consciously.

That means, before you clean out the back remnants of your cupboard, think about it realistically. Don’t donate unpopular items. Think of it this way, if you have a 2 year old can of string beans in your cupboard because your kids won’t touch them, how popular do you think they’ll be at the food bank?

Instead, call your local food bank for a list of specific items of need. This can be of great need if you are hosting a food drive. Why? Because, yes food drives bring in a lot of cans, but are they desirable foods?

Food drives can provide a more-healthful variety of higher-quality foods than buying in bulk for the four major food groups, but what if you are located in a ethnically diverse neighborhood and don’t know the cuisine.

If you contact your food bank first, chances are they can provide you with a diversity list of foods that are the most sought after by that particular community. Food drives provide a direct connection between donors and the people who are in need of food.

If you plan to attend a food drive, here is our list of the typically most needed foods:

  • Protein rich foods – such as canned meats (tuna, chicken or fish), peanut butter, beans, peas and lentils, as these are the most expensive for food banks to buy large quantities. The biggest need in this category is shelved milk protein or powder or dehydrated milk, canned evaporated milk and instant breakfasts—especially for babies and small infants.
  • Soups, stews and prepared meals – These filling meals provide all the necessities—liquid for hydrating the body, proteins, grains and vegetables.
  • Rice, grains and pasta – are necessary staples to any meal as they are a good source of fiber and complex carbohydrates.
  • Cereal – in the form of breakfast cereals, oatmeal and granola bars are a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Canned vegetables and fruits – a good source of carbohydrates, natural sugars and valuable vitamins.

Remember, regardless of what you give, you are putting a hot meal in the belly of someone in need this holiday season.

Thank you for giving!

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