So, don’t feel bad if you’re strapped for cash yourself this holiday season. And you really can’t swing making donations to your local food pantry. I totally get it, and that’s okay. However, even if you have just a bit of cash to spare, it’s so worth it to make this effort. I have been doing this around the holiday season for a few years now. And even though it’s true, I should be doing it all damn year long. It’s better than not doing anything. And during the holiday season, when people are extra cold and hungry, it really does matter.
I am not a church-goer, and don’t belong to any church. However, churches almost always have food pantries for those in need. There are also tons of local organizations, not affiliated with any church, who offer these services. And for those who don’t know, a food pantry is basically a facility that provides groceries for free. Anyone can walk in and take what they need. And food pantries are typically entirely donation-based. So, they can’t function without our help!
WHEN IN DOUBT, GO LOCAL
I live in an incredibly affluent neighborhood. I am not wealthy, or well-off, or rich by any means. I live in a humble apartment building that just happens to be in a super fancy area. So, when I first decided to start making donations, I debated whether or not to go local. Does a local food pantry even exist in my area? Who around here would even use it? However, after a quick Google search, I discovered a local food pantry at a church just down the street. And believe me, if it exists, it’s because people need it.
People are always in need, no matter where you are in the world. And it can feel really overwhelming to try to decide where to donate. I thought about other towns in my area. But then I went down a rabbit hole of which town, this one or that one? And those kinds of overwhelming options can actually make a person just avoid dealing with it all together. So, when in doubt, just go local. Find a location in the closest proximity to your home and go there. Because if we all go local, then everyone is covered.
“As the only food pantry in Radnor Township, we have been serving 70+ families on a weekly basis since the pandemic began (which is twice as much as before!) We are thankful for the opportunity to serve our community and neighbors in need. YOU can help too!”-Posted on the website of my local church in Wayne, Pennsylvania
IN THIS CASE, QUANTITY OVER QUALITY
When I first started making donations, I kind of did it the wrong way. Although, there is really no right or wrong when it comes to this kind of thing. But, I would often spend a TON of money on organic, super-healthy, high-end foods. And I actually couldn’t afford to keep that up on a weekly basis. And since I try to donate every week during the months of November and December, it really became impossible to sustain.
If you think about it, for those who are hungry and in need, they are going to appreciate having food in their bellies. And they may not be very concerned about the garlicky nuance of flavor in the jarred marinara sauce. They also probably won’t care if the cereal was made with organic oats. What they will care about is the fact that they can feed their kids for five full days instead of two. And hopefully have enough for themselves as well.
Of course, it kills me that cheaper food is way less nutritional. And that also means that under-served populations struggle so much more with nutrition, diabetes, obesity, and other health problems. Because healthy food is ultimately high-end food. And it’s fucking expensive.
But in this case, it’s really better to just get as much as you can, in order to help as many people as you can. Grocery stores often have bulk deals, coupons, and tons of savings options. For instance, today, I purchased 18 cans of fruits and vegetables, 4 jars of marinara sauce, and 4 boxes of cereal. And I paid $36.70 (saving $17.32 with deals and coupons).
CALL AHEAD TO YOUR LOCAL FOOD PANTRY
This is so important, and I can’t stress this enough. So many times, we just run to the store and grab non-perishables that we are certain will be needed. However, the needs of any food pantry can vary from year to year, and even from week to week.
Last year, every week, I would email my local food pantry and ask what they really needed. BEFORE I went to the store. And it was never what I thought it would be. They needed TONS of jelly but NO peanut butter. She was practically begging me not to get any more peanut butter because they had too much. And this year, when I wrote to her again, she had completely different needs. They asked for spaghetti sauce, canned fruits and vegetables, and cereals.
So, always be sure to contact your local food pantry ahead of time and ask them what they really need.
MAKE SURE YOU GET THE GOOD STUFF
Okay, so I know I said quantity over quality. And I still mean it. But there’s also a fine line. And the ideal is to get lots of affordable food, to feed as many mouths as possible. But to also ensure that it’s food these families will enjoy. Just because they are in a tight spot financially, doesn’t mean they should be eating miserable food. And as a child that comes from a traumatized household (we always had food and enough money, but we had very little stability), I can imagine how kids might feel. In general, when family life sucks, kids want to just feel as normal as possible. And the smallest things, like a familiar bowl of Lucky Charms, can feel comforting in the moment. And a bowl of shitty shit they never had before, can remind them even more vividly of their painful circumstances.
When I was in the grocery store, looking for cereal to donate, I started grabbing things that I thought kids would like. Then I looked at the cart in front of me. It was a single mother with three kids, and her cart was loaded with kid-friendly food. I eyed the box of cereal she put in her cart and had a light bulb moment. And from there, I only put in my cart what appeared to be the most popular brands and flavors. Kids know what they like, and parents know what they’re kids like. So, I put back my box of Rice Krispies, which was getting zero love from the masses. And only pulled boxes that I had to reach back for. The popular ones that other parents were getting for their kids.
*If you go this route, obviously, only buy in moderation, leaving enough for everyone else as well.
HAPPY AND SAFE AND HEALTHY HOLIDAYS!
So, that about does it for this article. In general, do whatever you can, whenever you can. We’re all just trying to do our best, I know. But $40 worth of groceries can go a long way for families in need this holiday season. And if you can spare it, please do. I definitely know I’m not doing nearly enough. But I’m trying. And I want to continue to do more. I hope you feel inspired to do the same after reading this!
If you are in the holiday spirit now after reading this, you might also enjoy reading, “Reindeer Magic, Part I: Claire.” It’s my all-time, favorite blog article, ever!
THANK YOU FOR READING!
So, have you ever donated to your local food pantry before? What has been your experience? And can you afford to this year? Or maybe next year! Wishing you such a beautiful and happy holiday season! xo
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Featured photo by Ev on Unsplash
Food bank photo by Melanie Lim on Unsplash
Cereal aisle photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash