As soon as the holiday season rolls around, there is an increase in the number of food banks, food drives and donation-based fundraising that pop up, making this the perfect time to think about ways that you can give back to your community. Elementary and high schools alike hold yearly food drives that encourage students to donate in any way they can — regardless of what the actual item is.
However, it’s important to keep in mind the items that may be the most helpful to donate versus those items that may not serve as much of a purpose. To guide you in the right direction, here are a few helpful reminders — as relayed from feedback given to long-time homeless shelter volunteers in Leesburg, VA — as we give back this holiday season from the people who are receiving the items.
Items to avoid
- Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
Mac’n’cheese is one of those foods that people view as quick and easy to make, but it requires milk and butter, which are both commodities that are hard to come by at regular food banks.
- Hamburger Helper
Hamburger Helper cannot be used without ground beef, and meat is rarely donated to food banks. If you’re considering donating an item like Hamburger Helper, make sure you include the other necessary ingredients to make it into a meal.
Items to donate
- Boxed milk
Milk is a basic essential for people’s diets and is especially valuable for young children as it helps kids’ growth and bone health. It is full of calcium and protein and is a good source of nutrition. Milk also pairs well with cereal, a heavily donated item.
- Canola and olive oil
Oil is a luxury because of its price tag and for its functionality. It can be used in conjunction with many other donations, including Rice-a-Roni, which is another meal that food banks often receive. It is also crucial for cooking and provides some important nutrients–like vitamin E–and healthy fats.
Spices, including salt and pepper, can be hard to come by but can completely transform a meal from a bland dinner to something flavorful. Seasoned food tastes much better than unseasoned, and salt and pepper are simple additions to any dish — so consider donating seasonings and spices when you’re deciding what to give back this year.
Sugar is considered to be an indispensable delicacy because it can be used to make treats — like a kid’s birthday cake — and sweeten someone’s day. Generally, sugar is also a staple in baking and can be used to make foods more palatable and enjoyable.
Eggs are considered to be a commodity and are an excellent donation because they are so versatile. They can be enjoyed on their own or they can be used to make a more elaborate but still simple dish — for example, eggs can be a nutritious and easy addition of protein in a simple rice and vegetable bowl.
- Dishwashing and Laundry Detergent
Both dishwashing and laundry detergent are necessities to keep our clothes and dishes clean, but they can be pricey and oftentimes, people have to prioritize food over clean clothing or dishes. Having access to items like clean clothes and dishes can make a huge difference in someone’s life, so donating these more common household items is an excellent way to give back.
- Feminine hygiene products
Feminine hygiene products are a luxury item yet can provide an immense amount of relief. Many families struggle to afford personal care and household items, especially since they aren’t covered by other food assistance programs, like SNAP. Donating feminine hygiene products can completely change someone’s life.
Items to think about before you donate
- Canned vegetables and soup
While these items are both delicious and nutritious, they are unable to be enjoyed unless the items are donated with a can opener or the cans are pop tops.
- Expired food
When considering what items to donate, it is generally a good rule of thumb to only donate items that you would consume yourself or would serve to your family. It’s unlikely that you consume items that are expired, so make sure you check the expiration date on the items that you are donating.
- Food with packaging concerns
Foods with damaged packaging or packaging that has been opened often cannot be donated to food banks. Again, if you wouldn’t choose that can or box from the grocery store for yourself, you shouldn’t donate it.
- Home-baked goods
Although baked goods taste delicious and are lovely to receive because of the love and care you’ve put into the pastries, food banks can’t confirm how your goods were made and what ingredients were put in them — so they cannot be donated. However, food banks do sometimes have relationships with bakeries or local restaurants that can donate extra food that is properly labeled and handled.
The holiday season is a great time to spend with friends and family, but it’s also important to consider how you might be able to give back to your community and those who may be less fortunate than you. The Charlottesville VA Food Pantries website provides a comprehensive list of the food banks in Charlottesville that would love to receive some donations. Many of these food banks need both food donations, as well as volunteers to help out in these food banks.
Loaves & Fishes is one such food bank located on 2050 Lambs Road, next to Albemarle High School. They use volunteers to pre-bag dried and canned goods and frozen meat items, as well as to pack grocery cars and deliver to clients’ cars in the parking lot. They accept both food and monetary donations — food donations can be made by checking the list on their website of needed items and can be dropped off at their front door. For more information, check out their website to see what items are on their wish list this season and how else you can help out.
Students can also consider donating monetarily or contributing food and hygiene donations to the U.Va. Community Food Pantry. Located in the Student Activities Center at Newcomb Hall 144, this initiative seeks to help alleviate food insecurity on Grounds and has reopened to students and staff alike for the 2021-2022 school year.
There are so many ways that you can give back to your community — both through physical donations and through giving your time — but this holiday season, consider how you can give back in the most ethical and helpful way possible. All forms of giving are equally important and necessary, so consider how you can best serve your community.