Why the holidays are the worst time to donate to food pantries

BDN | Brian Feulner

BDN | Brian Feulner

You’re probably feeling pretty generous right around this time of year and you want to load up a bag or two of food and head over to your local food pantry. Scoring some annual do-gooder points generally makes a person feel like they have an extra spring in their step. This is a great impulse that many people have, the problem is that it is temporary and often times leads to serious problems for the pantry.

Most food pantry’s struggle throughout the year to keep their shelves full in order to help local families. But during the holidays they quickly become so overwhelmed with donations from people with good intentions that they run out of storage space and ultimately have to turn donations and sometimes even volunteer inquiries away.

So what can you do to really help? Here are a few tips to think about before you act on your good will intentions.

Don’t use food donation as a reason to clean out your own pantry.

Many people don’t think about the kinds of food they are donating to a pantry and just assume that whatever they have on hand will be an acceptable donation. Foods that are unhealthy, have a short shelf life or has already expired, or food that is highly specialized are not great options for donations.

The best kinds of food that a pantry will want are canned fruits, beans, and vegetables, whole wheat pasta, winter storage garden harvest such as squash and onions, and basic condiments are all easy to store and provide healthy nutrients for the people that they will ultimately go to.

Donate money instead of food

If you really want to help during the holiday season when you have extra funds to give then try opting for gift cards to grocery stores or cash. This way, when the pantry becomes overwhelmed with food donations they will have your generous cash donation on hand to help when the generosity dries up and they are back to desperately trying to fill their empty shelves in the dead of winter.

Find out where your local food pantry is and call them

What do they really need? You can find your local Maine food pantry at sites like this. Give the pantry a call and ask them what they are lacking the most and offer to help. You might be surprised by what you find out.

Wanting to help in your community is a noble and generous impulse, and personally, I wish more people would act on this feeling. Being smart about how to give to your local food pantry will not only be greatly appreciated by their staffs but your community will be better for it.

Have a wonderful holiday season!