For some reason, we have gotten into the habit of doing all of our charitable giving at the end of the year.  One way we typically give back is to sponsor a family or two for Christmas, but I failed miserably at setting that up this year.  So instead, we decided to replace that aspect of our giving with some food pantry donations and a monetary gift to our local animal shelter.

I’ve given to food pantries before, but this time was different.  Instead of adding extra stuff to my regular shopping trip, I headed to the store for the sole purpose of buying things to donate.  Since this was a special trip, I took the time to call a few local food pantries to see what they might need, or what they don’t need.  Here’s what I found out:

What Do Food Pantries Need?

For starters, the people who helped me were very clear about the fact that they are happy to receive anything.  In other words, don’t let this list deter you from giving something else if you want.  They appreciate it all.  On the other hand, there are certain types of foods that are always in demand, and tend to hold up well.  Here are some of the top foods that made the list (in no particular order):

Canned Goods (Low Sodium and Low Sugar)


Low sodium (or regular) canned vegetables of any kind are appreciated.  People can eat them as-is or throw them in their favorite soups.  Meanwhile, low sugar fruits in cans or plastic single serving containers are preferred.  Applesauce in a plastic or glass container also holds up well.

Peanut Butter

Chunky.  Smooth.  With a touch of honey.  It doesn’t matter- food pantries love getting any kind you can dream up!  Peanut butter has a long shelf life and can be used in many different ways.  And throw some jelly in there too.

Canned Meat

Canned tuna, chicken, or salmon are perfect for sandwiches or in main dishes.  The long shelf life helps too.  A can of tuna, a can of peas, a package of pasta, and some mushroom soup can make an excellent, cheap casserole.

Shelf-stable milk

I’ve never paid that much attention to shelf-stable milk before, but I was told that it is a hot item for families without a refrigerator.  I also found shelf stable soy milk and almond milk too.  Any type of shelf-stable milk is appreciated.

Pasta and Rice

You simply cannot go wrong with any type of pasta or rice.  Not only can they be eaten alone or in a wide range of dishes, but they both last a long time on a shelf or in a pantry.  Even better, they are both filling and nutritious.  If you buy some pasta, make sure to buy some pasta sauce to go with it!

Cereal and Oatmeal

Most cereals are fortified with a wide range of nutrients that kids need. Meanwhile, oatmeal in individual packets is easy for people to make.  Both are nutritious foods that can last a long time on a shelf and get snatched up quickly in a food bank.  Try to buy low sugar cereals or oatmeal if you can.

Soup and Beans

You can’t go wrong with any type of soup or beans.  They last nearly forever in can and can be eaten alone or as part of a bigger meal.  Beef stew and canned chili are also a great idea.  Canned anything, really.

More About What Food Pantries Need

Again, this is not an all-encompassing list.  It’s just a basic list of top items that tend to go quickly.  Give whatever your heart desires!  With that being said, I did learn a few more pieces of interesting information I thought I would share:

  • You get bonus points for pop-tops- Most canned goods must be opened with a can opener, but many have pop-tops that are easily opened without any type of equipment at all.  I had never thought about it before, but canned goods with a pop-top are obviously preferable.  Some people may not have a can opener readily available.
  • Toiletries work too- Many food pantries also provide people with toiletries such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, and shampoo.  And feminine hygiene products are always appreciated and in short supply.  If you coupon for soap, shampoo, and mouthwash, you might even be able to get some of those items for free.
  • Food pantries always appreciate money- If you don’t want to shop for food or deal with the hassle, send a check instead.  Food pantries can use that money to purchase more food or pay for additional expenses that allow them to stay open in the first place.

Since we were heading to the food pantry anyway, I took some time to clean out our pantry as well.  And let me tell you – it made a huge difference!  There were so many foods in our pantry that we wont eat – things like a different brand of mac-n-cheese that my kids didn’t like, canned soup that I bought and didn’t like, and chicken broth I accidentally purchased instead of vegetable broth.  I added those items to the rest of our donation and freed up some extra space in the process- a win for everyone involved.

What are your favorite items to donate to food pantries?  Any items I missed?