When Nicole Schnitzler volunteers with a local Chicago food pantry, it’s the personal interactions she has that lend the most meaning. “I have the most wonderful conversations — all with strangers I’m meeting for the first time,” says Schnitzler, founder of Doors Open Dishes, a fundraising initiative that pairs chefs with adults living with developmental disabilities. “Food is the ultimate and universal connector. You can’t get that anywhere else.”
And those connections are necessary for far too many people: According to Feeding America, 40 million Americans, including 12 million children, struggle with hunger. Looking for ways to fulfill food pantry needs? Here’s how to make the most of your donations.
Have leftovers from a gathering? Consider bringing them to your closest food pantry: Most will happily accept fresh food, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, and eggs (in certain forms) that you prepared the day before. “The primary misconception has been that pantries cannot accept fresh food,” says Gary Oppenheimer, founder of AmpleHarvest.org, an award-winning nationwide nonprofit that educates and enables gardeners and other growers to donate directly to more than 8,400 pantries. “In many cases, food pantries are looking to increase the amount of fresh, nutritious food that they make available to families. Your holiday table can help feed hungry families the next day.”
Discover other community service opportunities in order to give back within your community.
Donate all year long
Food pantries see an influx of donations during the winter months, but their needs don’t subside the rest of the time, says Paul Morello, a spokesperson for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which serves 1 in 6 people in the city throughout the year.
Boost the nutrition of food donations
If you want to donate food, consider non-perishable items that pack in as much nutrition as possible. “Remember to bring items such as peanut butter, canned beans, canned chili, canned soup, canned fruit and vegetables, and canned fish,” Morello says.
Add non-food necessities to your food pantry donation
Many food pantries go far beyond just food help. Often, nonprofits provide everything from toothpaste and deodorant to toilet paper and laundry detergent. Others may also accept donations for young children, including diapers and wipes.
Consider a ‘virtual’ food drive
While bringing in cans during a food drive helps, tax-deductible donations via an online food drive have a different kind of impact. That cash can help the pantry purchase food in bulk at a reduced expense, which multiplies the donation effect. “For every dollar donated, we can buy three meals,” says Morello. “Don’t be afraid to get involved in different ways.”
Volunteering as a family can be a great way to instill a spirit of giving at a young age and make a difference together. Discover ways to generate volunteer opportunities for kids.