Food pantry recipients give good advice to supporters

Susan EspirituOur Town Neighbors

As the holiday season approaches, we will see more requests to support food banks, food pantries or maybe specific families in need. Let’s learn not only a little background, but some valuable advice from the front-line recipients of these services.

The concept of food pantries can be traced back to ancient times but the modern food pantry system as we know it today originated in the United States in the 1960s.

When the concept of food banks emerged, they were warehouses that collected and stored surplus food from farmers, manufacturers and distributors. These food banks then distributed the food to local food pantries, soup kitchens and other charitable organizations that served individuals and families experiencing food insecurity.

Today, the word goes out to the local communities for donations and collection boxes to be filled in church halls, store fronts, school classrooms and local charity locations.

People who have been getting the food from the food bank are very grateful for the generosity of the community neighbors who are working to provide for them, but they also want to share some insight many of us may not realize.

There are a few items that we seem to always buy that we should consider replacing.

  • Boxed macaroni and cheese is a favorite donation for food boxes but is of little use for recipients as it requires difficult to get milk and butter in order to prepare.
  • Rice-a-Roni is another favorite donation, but it requires oil which is not usually parsed out at food banks.
  • Hamburger Helper, another high donation item, requires ground beef for preparation.
  • Pantries also get a lot of peanut butter and jelly but usually not sandwich bread.

So, what might we remember as we shop for the collection box items.

  • Everyone loves Stove Top Stuffing.
  • Boxed milk is a treasure and it can be used for kids’ cereal which is also donated regularly, not to mention for the preparation of the macaroni and cheese boxes.
  • If you are buying the awesome canned vegetables, look for pop tops, because unless a recipient has a can opener, they cannot eat the canned veggies.
  • Spices, salt, pepper, flour, sugar and oil would be a real treat as those are splurges when you are on a shoestring budget.
  • The same is true of tea bags and coffee, which will make an extra special gift during the holidays.
  • Non-perishable items like tuna and crackers make a good lunch and require no added extras to complete the meal.
  • If you are making a basket or the pantry has a refrigerator, including butter, margarine and eggs is always extra special.
  • Cake mixes and frosting make it possible to make a child’s birthday cake, and look for mixes that require the least amount of additional ingredients.
  • Dishwashing detergent and feminine hygiene products are very expensive and are always appreciated.

If you are helping a family this Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, maybe this will help you tailor it more, as it has done for me!

For a list of food pantries in Knoxville: Food Pantries.

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