We’ve all been there. It’s donation time and you want to give something to your local food pantry, but you’re not quite sure what. A bag of rice? Prepackaged, processed mac ‘n cheese? A can of corn that’s nearing its expiration date? Well…maybe not.

One of the goals of many food pantries to restore dignity to those they serve. This goal encompasses a wide variety of things, but one of the most important is to be able to provide quality food to those in need, that’s both delicious and healthy. Emily Moore, a public relations manager at the Frederick Rescue Mission, says, “I know sometimes people think they can clean out their pantry and donate cans of food that are old, and we appreciate the thought—really—but we probably wouldn’t use it if it’s not currently fresh.”

So, what does a food pantry really need?

How to Help Your Local Food Pantry

Find out what the food pantry needs. Twenty-five cans of corn are definitely not turned away, but you can be even more helpful by bringing the canned tomatoes they’re really in need of. Give the food pantry a call before dropping by with your donation so that you can make the biggest immediate impact to their needs!

Don’t use food donation as a means to clean out your pantry. They see it all the time: cans of veggies or boxes of pre-packaged food that are nearing expiration, or worse, already expired. Don’t donate food that you and your family wouldn’t eat yourselves.

The fresher the better! You can certainly donate canned goods, but don’t be afraid to connect a food pantry with a source to get fresh veggies too. Know of a farm that would be willing to donate fresh zucchini or lettuce? Use that as a way to help – those types of connections are very valuable!

Small amounts of fresh produce are also appreciated. Maybe you can’t connect a farm to your local food pantry, but you’re able to buy and donate a bushel of apples from a nearby orchard. This is still appreciated! Many food pantries and soup kitchens don’t always receive fruits and veggies, so when they do it’s quite a treat for those they serve – especially families with young children.

Consider donating your time. One of the things food pantries and soup kitchens are often desperately in need of is volunteers. Whether it’s helping to unpack donation boxes, or putting together letters to thank supporters, your hands can be a big help. It’s also a great way to get your kids involved and help them understand how they’re able to make a difference for those in need.

Looking for a Local Food Bank?

Maryland Residents, check out the list of area food pantries and soup kitchens maintained by the Maryland Food Bank. Not a Maryland Resident? Check out Feeding America to find a food bank/food pantry near you.

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