This time of year, food banks across the country are gearing up to feed thousands upon thousands of hungry Americans on Thanksgiving Day, and they desperately need your help. Many people don’t have the time during the busy holiday season to actually volunteer at a food pantry. But while we may not all be able to cook or serve hot meals at a shelter (thank you dearly if you are!), we can all help out simply by grocery shopping. Imagine how many families could be blessed with a delicious Thanksgiving dinner if everyone chipped in and bought a few items each time they went food shopping. According to Move for Hunger, nearly 13 million children in the United States are food insecure, making this a pressing need on Thanksgiving and year-round.
Most food banks organize non-perishable food drives during the holidays. They then put together bags or boxes containing all the traditional Thanksgiving trimmings, which are delivered to or picked up by families in need to take home and prepare.
So, the next time you go grocery shopping, take along this simple list and pick up as many of the following items as you can. Then, take them to your nearest food bank.
Thanksgiving Food Drive List
- Boxed stuffing mix (like Stovetop)
- Instant mashed potatoes in boxes or packets
- Jars of turkey gravy or dried gravy mix packets
- Dry macaroni
- Canned yams (just make sure any canned goods come with a pop-top lid or can opener)
- Canned cranberry sauce
- Canned veggies (green beans, corn, peas)
- Cornbread mix
- Canned pumpkin or fruit pie filling
- Pie crust mix
- Salt and pepper
Notice there isn’t a turkey on this list? Unless your local food bank explicitly asks for donations of frozen turkey, it’s probably best to leave the Butterball off your list. Because food banks have stringent safety protocols, many can’t accept frozen turkeys as they have no real way of knowing if the turkey has been stored at a safe temperature. Another issue? Frozen turkeys take up too much valuable real estate in a food pantry’s fridge/freezer.
- Fixings for green bean casserole — cream of mushroom soup, canned green beans, french fried onions
- Cake mix or brownie mix and can of frosting
- Vegetable oil
- Powdered drink mixes
- Can of instant coffee (Some families may not be able to afford coffee makers)
- Box of tea bags
- Can of dried coffee creamer
- Bag of sugar
- Bags of dried beans
- Jar of peanut butter
- Jar of jam
- Sandwich bread
- Jar of mayo
- Boxes of Jell-O or pudding mix
- Box of cereal
- Boxed milk
- Box of crackers with a can of spray cheese
- Box of graham crackers
- Foil baking pans
- Paper plates
- Plastic utensils
- Paper towels
- Dishwashing detergent
- Feminine hygiene products
How to Donate to a Food Bank
Don’t know where to go? Churches and schools almost always have food drives this month. Feeding America offers a search function that allows you to find community food banks in their network, which delivers 4.3 billion meals each year through food pantries and meal programs. A quick Google search using phrases like “local food banks,” “food bank near me,” or “community kitchen for families in need” can also help you find the closest participating meal program this holiday season.
Making the Most of Your Food Drive Donations
When shopping for charity, you want to be able to give as much as you can, so you need to get your money’s worth. Here’s what works for me:
- Cut coupons.
- Take advantage of grocery store “Buy One Get One Free” sales.
- Buy only store-brand items.
- Shop at the dollar stores. You wouldn’t believe the deals you can get on non-perishable foods and household supplies, and families in need aren’t going to be picky about brand names or fancy stores.
- Find inexpensive grocery stores that will honor sales, specials, and coupons from other stores — and load up. Many stores will even take double coupons. In my town, Wal-Mart usually has the lowest prices and will accept competitors’ deals and coupons, so I save a ton by shopping there armed with the weekly flyers from other grocery stores.
- Look for discontinued products and dented cans. Usually, stores have a designated area for these items and sell them at deep discounts.
- Speak with the store manager and explain what you’re doing. You may just receive some generous donations!
Most importantly, remember that people are hungry all year round, not just during the holidays. Donate whenever you can throughout the year and keep in mind that you don’t have to spend a lot of money or get every single item on the list. Do what you can. Every little bit counts.