Food banks: What they need, what they don't

Do you want to donate goods to your local food bank? Here's a list of items that shelters and food bank clients need most.

Photo: iStockphoto

If you want to donate to fight hunger, remember that it’s always best to check what local food banks need. (Many food banks have wish lists on their websites.) You don’t want to burden food banks with goods that take up space and aren’t a good fit.

When Spreading Salam, a group created to help kids help others, first started sharing food with those in need, they were politely told that what they were offering was not the right choice. “Initially we were giving granola bars, apples and a sandwich with some water,” says Toronto mom Salma Syed. “But we found out a lot of people downtown don’t have a full set of teeth, which makes it difficult to chew on something hard like an apple or granola bar. So they told us: ‘We won’t be able to take this.'” Now the group brings soft sandwiches like egg salad or tuna, and in the winter, soups and chili.

Keep in mind that many food bank clients struggle with health issues like diabetes, so high-fibre, low-sugar, whole-grain fresh foods are better than high-sodium or processed foods, whenever possible.

What food banks need

It’s best to check your local food bank to get area-specific recommendations (for example, are apples welcome or problematic?), but here’s a general list of items that most food banks need:

  • Healthy cereals and oatmeal
  • Bags of potatoes or apples
  • Kids’ snack items (juice boxes, individual applesauces, etc.)
  • Toilet paper
  • Diapers and wipes
  • Jars and pouches of baby food
  • Personal hygiene products, like sanitary pads
  • Toiletries like toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, lip balm
  • Dry pasta
  • Jars of pasta sauce
  • Canned fish and meat (salmon, tuna, ham, turkey—pop-top cans are best)
  • Canned vegetables and fruit
  • Milk (fresh, canned, or powdered)
  • Peanut butter
  • Canned beans
  • Sliced bread
  • Canned and dry soups
  • Baking mixes that require only water
  • Spices

A version of this article appeared in our December 2016 issue, titled “What do food banks really need?,” pg. 73.

Read more:
Kid volunteers: Raising children who give back
5 books to teach your kids about privilege and socioeconomic differences
17 holiday gifts that give back

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