[Poverty & Hunger]

Clean Out Your Pantry for a Cause

By Christine Kent

Sometimes it happens because you’re preparing to make food for a crowd: You try to match your shopping list to the number of dinner guests and end up buying far more than you need. Sometimes it happens because the more we shop, the more pantry staples get pushed to the back of the cabinet until we forget what we have back there. In both cases you have more food than your family will likely consume before those items reach their expiration dates.

Those extra canned goods and pantry staples can go a long way toward alleviating others’ hunger. According to City Harvest, which collects excess food for those in need, more people in New York City visited soup kitchens and food pantries last year than attended NFL games across the entire country. And Feeding America, a national network of food banks, estimates that 40 million Americans struggle with hunger.

So, plan to clean out your pantry every few months (and definitely after a big holiday when you know you overbought). But keep in mind that not every can of corn or bag of pasta will make the cut. Here’s what to consider when putting together a box for your local food bank or soup kitchen.

Do’s and Don’ts: Condition

Do keep food in its package (and unopened). City Harvest advises keeping canned or boxed foods in their original packages with labels. That way food-bank volunteers don’t need to waste time figuring out what’s inside.

Don’t donate dented or bulging cans or damaged packaged goods. These are signs that the food inside may be spoiled. If you bring damaged goods to a food bank, volunteers will have to go through the trouble of throwing them away.

Do check expiration dates. You wouldn’t eat out-of-date food, so don’t assume the food bank will want it.

Do’s and Don’ts: Food Types

Do donate healthy proteins. Food banks want to give away food that offers the best nutritional impact – things like canned fish and chicken, as well as beans and peanut butter.

Do donate pantry staples. Grains and pastas can stretch a meal and be flavored in many ways, so they’re useful items for food bank patrons.

Don’t give sugary beverages or candy. That extra case of soda taking up room in your pantry will likely not be welcome at food banks – they’re trying to offer food with high nutritional value, not empty calories.

Some items might be problematic for food banks to accept, but their needs vary. Ask (or check the food bank’s website) before you bring the following goods – or be prepared to take them home if they’re not accepted:

Glass containers. They’re high-maintenance and may not withstand getting tossed around when boxes are prepared for donors.

Fresh produce and dairy. The food bank might not have a means to refrigerate perishable products, so best to check before bringing them. However, powdered and shelf-stable milk, which don’t need refrigeration, are usually eagerly accepted.

Bulk food products. It’s time-consuming for food bank volunteers to break down big bags of rice and flour into individual portions. It’s better to donate standard sizes.

Ready to clean out your pantry for a great cause? Check out ThatHelps’ latest Opportunity and join to help vetted organizations like Feeding American and Why Hunger.