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Best Foods to Donate to the Poor and Homeless

Updated on December 1, 2014

The holidays are a time we want to help the poor and homeless. But we get stuck in a rut of giving the same types of things over and over.

Yes, they need food and blankets. Yes, they need clothes. Yes, they need soap and deodorant. But what if you are ignoring other important needs? Would you be willing to change the way you donate foods?

When the poor and homeless go to food banks and feeding charities, they hand out a certain number of cans to each person. It doesn’t matter if the food is practical or not. Impractical food items include pie filling, gravy, salsa, croutons, capers, mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise and any other food that you would not be able to eat without adding another more substantial food.

And there are other foods besides pasta, rice, beans, tuna and peanut butter. Would you want to eat the same foods over and over again?


Variety is key

The best way to donate food is to think about the foods that you eat every day. If you like them, someone else probably does too. If you eat salmon, donate that instead of tuna. Also consider donating foods in pairs that are usually paired together, such as, pasta and canned spaghetti sauce, beans and rice, peanut butter and jelly, crackers and a can of spray cheese, cereal and canned milk, etc.

When buying food items, consider buying small sizes (instead of family or bulk sizes). Smaller sizes make it easier to give out a wider variety of foods to more people. If you shop at a club-store, like Costco or Sam’s Club, many of their items come in a large package but are individually wrapped.

Awesome foods

Here are some awesome foods to consider donating:
* Canned meats (roast beef, ham, salmon, tuna, sardines, chicken)
* Canned vegetables (carrots, peas, corn, green beans, asparagus, succotash, tomatoes, potatoes)
* Canned fruits (fruit cocktail, peaches, pears, oranges, cherries)
* Cereals (honey, nut, dried fruit type cereals that can be eaten without milk or out of the box)
* Powdered or canned evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed)
* Meat stews and shelf-stable meals (like the military-style MRE’s found at camping stores)
* Heavy bodied and chunky-style canned soups

Specialty items

Some of specialty items that are also needed include:
* Canned liquid meals, like Ensure
* Kool-Aid, lemonade mix, etc. (pre-sweetened)
* Coffee and tea (instant in small sizes)
* Spices (salt, pepper, butter-flavored dry spice, garlic, onion, oregano, cinnamon, etc.)
* Packaged crackers and cookies
* Candy (not chocolate, candy that doesn’t melt, like Lifesavers, Skittles, etc. in snack size bags)
* Chips (potato, corn, cheetos, doritos, etc. in snack size bags)
* Canned cheese (spray cans)
* Canned fruit juice and nectars
* Canned soft drinks
* Mayonnaise and salad dressing (small sizes – this is nice to have to make tuna or chicken salad)
* Baby formula (cans)
* Baby foods (meat, vegetables, fruits, oatmeal, cereal)
* Cheerios & Goldfish for babies (individual serving sizes)
* Baby teething crackers

Non-food items

They also need non-food items that make meal preparation and cleanup easier, such as:
 Plastic bags (sandwich and gallon sizes)
 Paper towels or paper napkins
 Toilet paper (individually wrapped rolls or 4-pack sizes)
 Dishwashing soap (small sizes)
 Diapers (particularly newborn size, but all sizes needed)
 Baby pacifer
 Plastic baby bottles (with liners, if applicable)
 Can opener
 Ice cube trays

Finally, be sure to read the preparation instructions on boxed mixes (cake mixes, pizza mixes, etc.) before donating them. Most mixes require extra ingredients, like milk, eggs or oil. Often the poor do not have these items. If the mix requires milk or eggs, you can donate canned milk and powdered eggs with the mix. Be sure to put any items that need to be together in a gallon-sized plastic bag so they stay together.

Now go shopping. Fill two or three bags full of food items. Take them to your local food-feeding charity or church. They will love you for it, and so will the people they serve.


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