What NOT to Donate to the Food Bank

What not to donate to the food bank

When my son was little, we passed the time on car rides by playing little games. One of his favorites was called, “You can’t eat that!” We would take turns naming things that you cannot eat, and then we would giggle about the silly notion of eating things like crayons, cars, and zombies with flamethrowers. Obviously I have only myself to blame for the sarcastic funny man my son has become. We’re like mediocre improv comics, or really bad Family Feud contestants (except we’re doing it on purpose. Seriously, click HERE for a YouTube video of some of the worst Family Food answers ever. Fair warning, it’s PG-13, so preview before you decide about showing it to the kids.)

In that spirit, we bring you first the funny and then the real
What Not to Donate to the Food Bank:

A piñata full of canned goods (ouch…)
Little refill packets for your E-Z-Bake Oven
Canned giraffe meat from your cousin the poacher
Plastic toy groceries from the kids’ play kitchen
Lotto tickets (unless it’s a big winner. No one would turn that down…)
Neked Grandma (if you watched the link above, you’ll get it)

Random items that no one in their right mind knows what to do with: You’re feeding the hungry, not cleaning out your fridge. Most food shelves have a set assortment that they give to each person who comes to them (cereal, canned fruit/veggies, dinner mix, etc.). Your random jar of pickled pig’s feet gets tossed in a bin of extras they can pick through, and most likely ends up in the dumpster when it expires, unclaimed. I understand that giving away what you can’t or won’t use is better than throwing it out, and someone out there may like pickled pig’s feet and be grateful for them. I’m not saying you should only stick to the stuff on the MOST WANTED LIST, but there is something condescending about using the food shelf as your trash can, giving only the junk you don’t want. Loving the hungry is about being thoughtful and intentional, not about brushing off your crumbs on the “little people.”

Expired food items: Yes, canned goods are “non-perishable.” No, they’re not really eternal. Many canned foods have an expiration date and past that date their safety and flavor may be compromised. Food banks cannot hand out expired food, and furthermore they have to pay someone (if they don’t have volunteers on the job) to sort through donations, checking expiration dates, shelving the useful, and disposing of the expired or damaged items. The human resource is an expensive one, don’t waste it.

*Also, understand the difference between a sell by or best by date and an expiration date. Manufacturers put the sell by/best by date on goods for the stores’ inventory process (and as a bonus to their sales numbers, it tricks many of us into throwing away perfectly good items and then repurchasing them.). The expiration date is a safety issue. Botulism is a potentially life-threatening, tasteless, odorless toxin that can grow in canned goods and isn’t killed by cooking the food. It’s not something to mess around with.

Home canned goods: Food shelves don’t accept home canned goods for the same reason they don’t take expired items – they just don’t know about the quality and safety. Home canned items don’t have an expiration date, they’re not labeled for nutrition and ingredients (read: possible allergens), and they’re easily contaminated by preparation in the same kitchen where you cook with flour, soy, nuts, and other common allergens that, even in tiny amounts, cling to jars from the same kitchen. If you garden and can like I do, use your bounty to cut your own grocery bill, freeing up money you can donate to the food shelf. If you have a bumper crop, share the wealth with family, friends, and neighbors. Offer them a jar of your spectacular preserves in exchange for a non-perishable item for the food shelf.

*Likewise, food shelves can’t take items without their labels. They need to know what’s in that can and when it expires. They also cannot accept cans that are significantly damaged. A dent, sure, but open packaging and cans with busted seams have to be tossed.

Over-the-counter (or prescription) medications: Food shelves are simply not equipped to deal with this sort of thing. Plus, some over-the-counter meds are ingredients in meth, so having them around is an added security issue for the food bank (that’s why some things are locked up at the pharmacy or stored behind the counter). There are other non-food items that many food shelves will accept such as diapers, baby wipes, feminine hygiene products, and personal hygiene items like soap and deodorant.

I am thankful for each and every person who gives from their comfort or their poverty to help another. From a dented can of corn to a million dollar check, every single gift is precious in God’s eyes and important in the fight against hunger. The point of this post is not to put a damper on anyone’s giving, but just to give you information on what to expect and why some gifts have to be turned down. It’s not that they’re ungrateful; the food banks’ policies and procedures are in place to protect them and their clients. When in doubt, ask. Food shelves are happy to answer your questions about donations.

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