A Holiday Guide for Donating to Food Banks

This time each year, pretty much every office, church and school in America holds a food drive. As someone who has worked with multiple food banks, I'd like to share a few thoughts on the best things to donate.

Little boy carrying trash away after classroom breakfast


  1. Cash is always best. Food pantries know what they need and have purchasing power. However, people dislike donating cash, so read on!

  2. If your local food bank allows diaper donations, consider donating those. Diapers are not WIC/SNAP eligible, and most daycares don't allow cloth diapers.

  3. In general, think of kids and the elderly. Unusual or trendy things like quinoa might not be as welcome as something like chicken soup with stars. Parents have to convince their kids to eat whatever they receive from the pantry.

  4. I've been told multiple times how appreciated cake mix and frosting is. Remember, classroom birthdays are a thing in many schools, and everyone should be allowed to have a birthday cake. 

  5. Some food pantries directly support an immigrant or refugee population. For those, it's much appreciated to donate the foods of that region.
  6. Think about ease of eating. Although dry goods can be great, some people might not have electricity. Consider granola bars or fruit cups or things that can be eaten as-is.

  7. Spices and sauces! Most pantries are pretty well stocked with pasta and rices, so donations of things to flavor those basics are always appreciated.

  8. Pads and tampons, if your local food pantry accepts them. These objects are TAXED in most states, and can’t be purchased with SNAP benefits.
  9. Something "special" , like chocolate. Fancy pasta sauce. A really nice box of cookies. Think of all the reasons you "treat yourself" to a little luxury, everything from a breakup to a celebration, and remember everyone feels those things.

  10. Low sodium/low sugar versions of staples like peanut butter, tuna, and juice.

  11. Instant coffee and tea. I'm told senior citizens especially really appreciate decaf instant coffee. For them, it might help them socialize and give them the ability to invite a friend over for coffee.

  12. Pet food, with the MAJOR caveat that you check to ensure the food bank you're giving to accepts them. 

  13. Kosher, gluten-free, vegan and nut-free foods are often highly sought after.

  14. If you have a garden, check with your local pantry. Some accept homegrown crops!

  15. Reusable tote bags. You know those ones you get at conferences? They are so much sturdier than plastic bags.

16. Cooking oil, soap, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene goods.


NOTE: Though the No Kid Hungry campaign supports many incredible food banks and community organizations, we do not accept or distribute food donations. Learn more about our work to end childhood hunger in the United States.

Learn more about the ways you can help hungry kids or make a donation today.

Carrie DiRisio is an author and the creator of the popular Twitter account Brooding YA Hero. Carrie is is active with the Junior League of Pittsburgh; the organization focuses on food insecurity in the region.