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ideas for buying for food pantry


Noreen Claire
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Our local public elementary school has it's own food bank. They provide backpacks full of nonperishable food for families that ask for help. Every few weeks I try to cut our own grocery budget by about $20-25 and buy some items for the food pantry instead.

 

In the past, I have donated:

bags of brown rice & cans black beans

box of pasta & can of pasta sauce (no glass jars allowed)

cans of tuna (no mayo - it's expensive!)

jars of peanut butter (there was a great sale w/coupons)

boxes of mac n' cheese

packages of cheese crackers

boxes of instant oatmeal packs

granola bars

 

What else can I buy that is a combination of nutrient dense, filling, yummy, useful, relatively easy to cook, and not so expensive that I can't buy at least 5 at a time? I don't want to just buy random things that may or may not go together, and I don't want to just buy snack and/or convenience foods. Any ideas?

 

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Cans of chicken 

canned veggies

Salt and pepper packets ( very hot item in some of our local food pantries)

Not the best thing but when they are on sale- fruit chews/snacks.  Great treat for the kids and they can go in backpacks for snacks.  

 

Anytime some gluten free items/ allergy friendly foods are on sale, I try to pick up a few.  The food pantries don't really get those much and are very happy to have those items.  

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Thank you for doing this! Don't forget to use coupons - I've found some great deals on donation items with coupons, especially if you have a place that will triple. 

 

Canned soups and stews with meat (Campbell's Chunky, Chicken 'n Dumplings, chili)

breakfast cereals (store or name brand such as Cheerios, not sugared ones, you're looking for cereal that will appeal to a variety of ages)

canned meats (add chicken & beef to your rotation)

canned broth - adds flavor to a lot of things and serves as a base for soups & stews

Shelf stable milk 

refried beans

canned vegetables (include some tomato sauce, too) 

dried fruit - raisins, etc. 

nuts

dried beans

canned fruit (not in syrup)

Hamburger Helper mixes (these can be high in sodium, but they stretched many a meal when I was growing up)

Stuffing Mixes (Stove Top Stuffing, for example)

 

See if this particular pantry also does hygiene and or paper items (many do), if so, then you can add: 

diapers/wipes

tampons/pads

shaving cream

soap

toothpaste

toothbrushes

dental floss

toilet paper 

paper towel

 

ETA: check to see if infant formula is needed, then sign up for coupons with manufacturers; also, coupons.com is an excellent source for printable coupons. 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by TechWife
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We've been volunteering at a food pantry recently and I've noticed a lot of people ask for basics: oil and sugar are the two main ones. I wouldn't have thought of those before working there. The one we go to is in a location with a lot of Hispanic families and one of the most popular things is Masa Harina for making tortillas. For the kids I've also noticed that the small things of applesauce and boxed milks for lunches are popular. Also oatmeal. Another thing everyone gets excited about when we have it is coffee and tea. 

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Good ideas so far.

I would add jars of herbs and spices.  Especially cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, cinnamon, oregano, basil, sage, dried minced onions. 

Also Better Than Bouillon jars--those can be used to just make broth or as an ingredient.

 

Cans of chili.

 

Cans of hominy, especially if you're in an area with Hispanic recipients.

 

Soy sauce.

 

Food bank food is basically pretty boring, and being able to spice it up a bit is really nice.  It was a great day when our local food bank had the remains of the "Thanksgiving Specials" spices--tons of pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  Those were very popular!

 

I'm a fan of fruit cup.  I know it's loaded with syrup, but it does give kids something 'normal' for their lunch boxes.  Don't forget plastic spoons to go along with it.

 

Ditto those snack pack bags of gold fish crackers.

 

And little bags of beef jerky.

 

Something we haven't tried is teabags, but that strikes me as a good idea.  Hmmm.

 

If I see someone homeless on the street and want to make up a bag of food, I try for a vitamin C and A thing, a protein, a carb and a fruit.  Filling stuff.  So, like, a banana, a can of cheese spread, a box of good crackers, and an Odwalla to drink.  Maybe a little box of cherry tomatoes if they are in a clamshell rather than a basket--A AND C.  Or pop top canned chili or those little tiny cocktail sausages instead of the cheese.  So I think that you giving, say, Odwalla fruit gummies with extra vitamins in them is a good and valid thing to do, even if junkyish.  Or dried apricots.  Or a bag of cashews (protein!  Filling!). 

 

Edited by Carol in Cal.
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Buying for the school's program has been a real change in mindset. When I shop for my family, I try to buy in bulk and/or get the best unit price. For the food program, I'm trying to buy so that multiple families can benefit and, more importantly, they have to be small enough packages so that kids can carry the backpacks home. I'm not sue I can do oil & sugar, but I can do salt & pepper, small seasoning blends, cans of stock, etc. I hadn't thought of shelf-stable milks to go with cereal and applesauce/fruit cups. I'll keep my eye out for sales. Thanks!

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"tasty bite madras lentils"--they microwave in 1 minute, and go well over rice or are yummy eating right out of the pack. Each pack serves 2.  I mention them because while they are $20 for a 4pack on amazon, the 4 packs go on sale regularly at Costco for $8ish. They are vegetarian, gluten free, and they seem to be something that my latina and indian and american friends like....broad appeal.  An individual pack is compact, flexible, and light weight.

 

 

 

Edited by kbeal
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from when we were poor (although we didn't use food pantries), staples were the most efficient.  Oil, sugar, flour, baking powder, yeast, bags of beans, popcorn kernels.

 

If you're wanting to do something that is easier (but has less calories and therefore is less efficient!), maybe banana bread muffin mix?  

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Cornbread mix and canned chili

Cans of tuna or chicken and Tuna/Chicken Helper plus a canned fruit or vegetable

Box of baking mix and canned/shelf-stable ingredients to make one of the recipes on the box

Canned soups, stews, and pastas (handy for those without cooking facilities)

Baked beans

Applesauce

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I remember an acquaintance getting cans of salmon through WIC, and not eating them because she had no clue what to do with them.  I wonder, if you are including things like canned chicken, etc, if you could print up a little recipe card to go with it?  

With that in mind, there are some websites that feature budget recipes - perhaps you could take a look at those to get some ideas for healthy, inexpensive meals and use that to guide your purchases and also as a source for recipes to include?

 

My pantry basics would include canned beans (black beans, small white beans, non-fat refried beans), brown rice, whole wheat pasta, canned diced tomatoes, peanut butter, canola oil, unflavored oatmeal (more versatile than flavored) and single-serve applesauce.  Canned chicken and canned fish (tuna) are other options.  Soup could be good if you choose wisely.  I like the idea of shelf-stable milk.

 

Can you do perishables?  Apples are sturdy, and can be paired with single-serve peanut butter cups for lunch boxes (get the big box at BJ's or Costco).  Onions, garlic, and potatoes are also sturdy, and can be used in many different ways.  Peppers are slightly less sturdy, but brighten up a meal and go nicely with the others.  Root vegetables like carrots, turnips, etc. are nice in the winter.  

 

Personally, I would avoid anything with added sweeteners, and would try to go protein rather than carbs. 

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I also think of the extra treats for the kids.   Items like individual one-serving peaches,applesauce, raisins, and granola are sure to make a kid smile.   Although it is not cost effective as buying bulk items or meals, every one deserves a treat now and then. 

 

Myra

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For the teen girls, I highly recommend some tampons or pads. That is a rough, rough thing to go without but a lot of girls living in poverty do not have what they need.

 

I am a big fan of the canned chicken because it can be made into so many things.

 

Also, baby dills are not a bad snack for kids. You can get some small jars so they wouldn't be too heavy for the backpacks.

 

Nutella might be an option, and those snack packs with nutella plus the dipping sticks. It is another source of protein and iron, good fats so it offsets the simple carbs.

 

Dehydrated fruit like apple chips. A lot of kids will eat apple chips and because fruit is dehyrated with ascorbic acid to help preseve color, it is like a vitamin c tablet. Scruvy is making a comeback in some areas, so another easy way to supplement with something tasty and nutritious.

 

Canned refried beans. A lot of families won't know what to do with dry beans, and as a whole do not eat much for beans even though they are filling and healthy. But they will eat refried beans on nachos and tacos.

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Is this the program for kids to supplement over the weekends or during the summer? Or is this different?

If it is the food backpack program I am familiar with, I would go low prep/ready to eat as a lot of the kids I knew on the program were making their own meals in the evening/on weekends while the parent worked. So not the super healthy, but protein sources (those tuna salad pouches often go on sale for $1, that plus tortilla or WW crackers) and easy to prep would be my go to. Single serving sizes are good. 

In this area, I would not assume parents have access to oven/fridge. Probably microwave or stovetop is your best bet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Edit b/c how did I delete a whole sentence without noticing???)

Edited by Um_2_4
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Does this food pantry also get food from your local food bank? That changes things up a lot tbh. 

 

If it doesn't, then I second most of what everyone else said. 

 

If it does, that's a whole different thing. Common food bank foods are pasta, canned tuna, canned beans, rice, dry beans, peanut butter, jelly, mac & cheese, cereal and canned veggies. And maybe soup. I'd avoid those at ALL costs if they also get food from the local food bank - they will get tons from there so they aren't likely to need more. Speaking as someone who has used food pantries, you get so tired of getting the same things over and over and over. I personally get excited for things like mashed potatoes {don't commonly get except around the holidays}, baking mixes {muffin mixes that are just add water/milk}, jello, chips, cream of whatever soup {normally they only get chicken noodle and tomato}, dried fruit, oil, sugar, flour, and SPICES - especially salt and pepper. 

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Is this the program for kids to supplement over the weekends or during the summer? Or is this different?

 

 

All I know is that, if a parent sends in a note that they need help, the kids bring home a backpack with food in it. I'm not sure if it is over the weekend or during the week. It is not over the summer. I don't think that parents can request certain items over others, they just get whatever gets sent home by the PTO volunteer that runs the school's foodbank.

 

Does this food pantry also get food from your local food bank? That changes things up a lot tbh. 

 

If it doesn't, then I second most of what everyone else said. 

 

If it does, that's a whole different thing. Common food bank foods are pasta, canned tuna, canned beans, rice, dry beans, peanut butter, jelly, mac & cheese, cereal and canned veggies. And maybe soup. I'd avoid those at ALL costs if they also get food from the local food bank - they will get tons from there so they aren't likely to need more. Speaking as someone who has used food pantries, you get so tired of getting the same things over and over and over. I personally get excited for things like mashed potatoes {don't commonly get except around the holidays}, baking mixes {muffin mixes that are just add water/milk}, jello, chips, cream of whatever soup {normally they only get chicken noodle and tomato}, dried fruit, oil, sugar, flour, and SPICES - especially salt and pepper. 

 

This school's food bank only gets whatever is donated by students/staff. I will add instant mashed potatoes to my list, thanks!

 

I did buy several salt & pepper sets and small jars of cinnamon (with coupons, they were half-price). Also, corn bread mixes, individual packs of chocolate pudding cups (and plastic spoons) for kids to bring for lunches, and large cans of baked beans.

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Normally, I'd suggest you stop buying food and start donating cash. Using bulk buying, programs like this can get a lot more with $25 than you can - like, 3 - 5 times as much. So when you buy $25 worth of stuff, they might have been able to buy $75, $100, or even $125 worth of stuff.

 

If you're absolutely certain that this food bank doesn't have its own budget, then I'd ask the school directly what sort of foods are most popular or most useful. They know their students better than we do, and can tell you things like "One of our families has a child with celiac, so we'd really appreciate some gluten-free soups" or "We have a lot of Hispanic and Asian families, so rice is always appreciated" or "Many of our students are Muslim, so nothing with pork" or even "Lots of our kids are homeless, and they could use things that don't require a stove".

 

And, yes, non-food items are always a good idea. Food stamps and WIC will provide food, but they don't provide diapers, menstrual products, soap, toothpaste, dishwashing or laundry detergent....

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I agree with the person who said possibly donate the cash instead so they can get the maximum buying power.

 

I would send small packages of nuts because they're filling but expensive, but they're good snacks for kids. And for vegetarians, they are protein without meat. Also for vegetarians, chickpeas, black beans. Aldi's fat free refried beans do not contain lard.

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I like to stock the Blessing Boxes (community pantries).  I usually hit the Dollar Tree and buy peanut butter, jelly, Pasta sides, canned chicken, beans, rice mixes, shelf stable milk (they have dairy and soy), Ramen (disgusting I know but tell my teens that, they love them), oatmeal, pancake mix and syrup, biscuit mixes with gravy packets.......

 

At Aldi I like to pick up soups, tuna, canned ham, pasta and sauces, cereal, and crackers (peanut butter, cheese, etc).

 

 

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Normally, I'd suggest you stop buying food and start donating cash. Using bulk buying, programs like this can get a lot more with $25 than you can - like, 3 - 5 times as much. So when you buy $25 worth of stuff, they might have been able to buy $75, $100, or even $125 worth of stuff.

 

If you're absolutely certain that this food bank doesn't have its own budget, then I'd ask the school directly what sort of foods are most popular or most useful. They know their students better than we do, and can tell you things like "One of our families has a child with celiac, so we'd really appreciate some gluten-free soups" or "We have a lot of Hispanic and Asian families, so rice is always appreciated" or "Many of our students are Muslim, so nothing with pork" or even "Lots of our kids are homeless, and they could use things that don't require a stove".

 

And, yes, non-food items are always a good idea. Food stamps and WIC will provide food, but they don't provide diapers, menstrual products, soap, toothpaste, dishwashing or laundry detergent....

 

They don't buy food for this school program - it runs entirely on donations. (I donate cash to other food pantries/kitchens for the reasons you mentioned.)

 

They have a small list of items that they request, and I always include those (mac n'cheese boxes, oatmeal packets, granola bars, etc). I have had two students attend this school in the past, so I am familiar with its demographics. I am trying to send things that are gluten- and nut-free (we have allergies here, I know how hard that can be). This program send kids home with bags of whatever they have on-hand, so diapers, formula, and menstrual products are not useful in this program, because they may go to families that don't need them. I will keep an eye out for small soaps, toothpastes, etc. Thanks.

Edited by Noreen Claire
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If the food pantry is open to it, Walmart has packs of 5 toothbrushes for $1. I buy these to have in hand for emergency foster care placements, sending to camps, friends overnight etc. They are decent toothbrushes. Add in tubes of basic toothpaste that you can get for $1-2.

 

Is there any way the families can come in to pick out their own food? Depending on the area transportation or job schedules might make this impossible....Or maybe a checklist where they can check items they would like and then cross off some they know they don't like/won't eat/don't fit dietary requirements, etc. That might save a lot of waste. They could even add a spot for shampoo, toothpaste/brushes, female products, etc. Just trying to figure out a way to reduce waste and give families what they need.

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