What to Donate to a Food Bank... and What to Avoid

August 09, 2021  |  by Cody Gohl   |  

In this post, we’re going to cover all the things you can and can’t donate to the network of food pantries and soup kitchens that power our work at the Food Bank For New York City. While our donation dos and don’ts may differ from other hunger relief organizations, they should still provide you with a better understanding of what kinds of resources organizations like ours are generally looking for.  

But before we get into our full donation chart, we want to cover a few tips and tricks for optimizing your next donation.  

what to donate (produce)

Consider Refrigeration 

While several organizations in our member network may be able to refrigerate things like produce, dairy, and meat, not all food pantries and soup kitchens have this same capacity, so always make sure to double check before you donate. If it’s unclear, stick with shelf-stable goods like canned food, flour, cooking oil, or rice.  

Skip the Expired Goods  

Yes, “best of” or “expiration” dates aren’t always accurate, but that doesn’t mean you should donate expired goods to hunger relief organizations. When thinking about what to give, consider whether or not you’d be comfortable serving the item to your family. If you wouldn’t eat something past its “sell-by” date, chances are you shouldn’t donate it.  

what to donate (bag)

No Leftovers Please  

You might be the best chef in the entire world, but unfortunately, we can’t accept your home-cooked meals or food items. Without knowing how the items were prepared, we’re unable to control for things like allergies and dietary restrictions. The same thing is true for any baked goods or meals you might buy from a local grocer.  

Don’t Break the Seal  

Food pantries and soup kitchens in our member network are only able to accept unopened or unused food items. This means that you can’t donate a half-used box of spaghetti or bring us a Ziploc bag of items your family no longer needs. We appreciate the spirit of this gift, but want our clients to have the same experience that any of us have when shopping for and selecting the new food items they want to eat.  

what to donate (grains)

Prioritize Nutrition  

To bring a little more care to your donation, think about the nutritional value of what you’re giving. When donating canned vegetables, for example, consider giving low-sodium veggies. And if you’re thinking about donating grains or pasta, we say prioritize things like brown rice and whole grain noodles. We want to serve our clients quality ingredients that not only taste good, but do good things for the body.  

Now that you’ve read through these tips, take a peek at our official donation chart below. We’ve organized items into things we’d like to “prioritize” and ones we’d like to “reduce.”  

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To learn more about our approach to community nutrition, click this link.

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