Please be mindful that dietary needs don’t disappear with poverty.
There should be no pressure in giving. Please keep giving food as you’ve been. These are not complaints; they are realities. I did a lot of thinking about what our large family full of dietary and allergy issues has gone through in food bank situations. So if you’d like to go the extra mile to help others after reading some food-pantry insider tips, that would be wonderful. I offer you some suggestions and welcome some more.
To Food Pantry Volunteers Thank you for your service and for your understanding. I write this from experience. It would help if each of you remembers that the people you are serving are there because they are in need. They are not just in need of food. A food pantry recipient is not likely to have money for a sitter, and no parent wants to bring their child to a food pantry when that child would rather be at a playground or an ice cream shop. Their children may be adjusting to a completely different lifestyle, and your compassion toward them will make them more comfortable. Thank you to those who understand this.
The Thing About Cranberry Sauce Separate can and box donations in your mind this way: Instead of thinking of cranberry sauce as a fruity side dish, think of it as mass amounts of fruit-flavored sugar which families receive in abundance. There is no shortage of jellied cranberry sauce. When returning from a food pantry, someone in our house usually asked, “How many cranberry sauces today?” More than once, we’ve accumulated over 20 cans in one month. We’ve built a sarcastic monument with them. We refused to re-stock our local pantries with them. Having various nutritional and dietary needs, many families may prefer to control the amount of sugar and salt in their food, just as you would. Please be mindful that dietary needs don’t disappear with poverty.
It blew my mind one year when we received a Thanksgiving basket that included rolls and mayonnaise. Someone truly thought about our dinner leftovers and how a traditional family might like to eat their turkey the next day. It isn’t necessary, but if you like to touch hearts when you feed stomachs, gestures like that can really make people feel good.
Realize That Choices Are Not Always a Given Perhaps the moment the idea to start writing about food came to mind was when a friend told me to “eat plenty of healthy food, drink plenty of water, and get plenty of sleep.” I don’t remember if she mentioned exercise. I had been struggling with a decision. She meant well, but I felt irritated. Of course I know I need those things! But not everyone has the freedom to make food choices, and I’m not sure how many financially okay people realize this. I recall one week when I had to eat all high sugar processed foods in order for the kids to have enough quality food. I eventually stopped eating and waited two days to get something fresh and new at the next pantry appointment.
It’s nearly impossible to concentrate and make good decisions after a week on sugar.
If You’re Able to Do Extra Try to also give healthier canned and packaged foods (along with the comfort foods), and give additives separately. There will be people who need high calorie comfort foods, and people who need low-cal. Remember that families in need have the same variety of dietary needs as other families. Never assume that a family has the food they need just because they picked up 5 bags of food pantry items. They might not be able to physically handle eating some of the items received. Here are some ideas in addition to what you already give…
• Canned fruit (no added sugar or syrup)
• Sugar, Syrup, Molasses, Honey
• Low sodium canned vegetables
• Salt, Onion Soup Mix, Vegetable Soup/Dip Mix, Bouillons, etc.
• Give away the foods you don’t want or that you have in abundance.
• Give foods that your family likes as well. If you like it, people having financial troubles like it.
• Give nuts and common allergy foods separately when you can. For example, give nut-free oat cereal and separately packed nuts.
• Give some gluten free treats when possible.
• Give dairy replacements (Ex. rice milk, coconut milk, almond milk, etc.).
• Give drinking water.
• White vinegar, Baking soda, Plain seltzer (These food items can be used for cleaning while money is scarce.)
• Variety of meats, fresh vegetables, canned and boxed foods, hot and cold cereals, fruits, whole grains, desserts, treats, prepared foods and mixes, ethnic foods, health foods
Consider Ingredients Think of how you give batteries when you give battery-operated toys. In the same way, if you give cake mix, see if you can give the rest of the ingredients. They may get them elsewhere, they may not.
Food Preparation Related Gift-Giving Donate or ask a family if they need items to better prepare and store foods. Your recipient will often get multiple fresh foods of the same kind and foods that will soon spoil. Three chickens may need to be prepared as soon as possible. Vegetables may need to be cooked right away in order to save them. Perhaps the recipient came home with an enormous amount of frozen foods. (Our family once returned with three frozen bowling ball sized turnips as our fresh vegetable. None of our guts can tolerate those, and we couldn’t give them away. But the squirrels enjoyed them when thawed. )
And, your recipient probably doesn’t stop on the way to work for lattes and breakfast sandwiches. They need to plan and take home-cooked breakfasts and lunches with them. Here are some high and low priced gift ideas that could help a family prepare well and eat well…
• small freezer chest
• food sealing system
• food processor/blender
• water cooler (or ceramic counter-top water dispenser)
• simple juicer
• cooler (for the trunk of car)
• lunch bags (with hot and cold storage options)
• food storage containers
• all sizes of food storage bags
• paper lunch bags
• sticky labels
• gift cards to stores that also offer vegan & vegetarian, ethnic, gluten-free, and health foods