The morning started out with a 6am drive through: one of the only food pantries that the average working poor can get food at. You get a bag handed to you through the window: Two artisan breads, a dozen eggs, a can of peas, two potatoes, and some pasta noodles. It's one of the few places you can get a protein. For me it's tough, because I am allergic to the antibiotics they use to clean eggs and to feed many of the hens in most eggs, and they don't appreciate you asking for organic.
Because I'm low on food, I decided to risk the eggs this week, and one of the little breads. Because of my sugar issues (I'm hypoglycemic, and can't use a lot of starches because my body doesn't moderate blood sugar well) I passed on the noodles and one of the potatoes.
The next pantry was also a little rough. They often package up fruits and veggies in a white plastic bag. You can't see what's in each bag, and it varies. Today there were bananas and onions in all the bags (I can eat a banana on occasion) as well as apples (that I can't eat ... which is a shame because I LOVE apples and berries) and a lime (which I'll use in cooking) and more potatoes. Next was bread... and while they had flat breads and low carb tortillas, they didn't have a lot this week, while they had table after table of other breads made by local bakeries... most of which are too many carbs for me. Then the sweets table (which was very small this week, which is very unusual) which I also passed on. I picked up something highly unusual (this week was a WIN when it came to pantries) a can of Trader Joe's Chicken Chili.
Then another grab bag, which varies week to week, this week a WIN: peanut butter, a can of peaches, and two cans of chicken breast meat.
and the last pantry had meat (unusual) but I haven't thawed it yet... about 80% of meat I get at pantries is spoiled. I also got some wraps/tortillas... but they were moldy... so I'm not sure if anything from that pantry is edible... except the two onions.
So I was pretty happy I'd gotten some proteins, a couple veggies, and I took a chance on some small quantities of bread, fruit, and the possibly anti-biotic laden eggs (which I promise to be very careful when I eat) and I headed to school...
... where I met up with a friend who had often worked the food pantry distributer. At some point I'd mentioned that Tay was often concerned about the pasta, which is never in a sealed bag, but is always repackaged... and she was shocked. When she donates or works, everything has to be sealed. I explained to her that cereal, rice, beans, lentils, pasta, and sometimes baked goods are repackaged into plain clear plastic bags with twist ties.
It never occurred to me that people donating these items didn't know that what they donate gets broken up and repackaged.
She also was surprised that we could get pasta but no sauce, since she always donated those items together.
So she asked me about other items. She donated boxed mac and cheese. I let her know that many people had to make it with water, because although it's meant to be made with milk and butter, and generally those things aren't available to those picking up food at the pantry... and if they're out of money or food stamps, they aren't likely to be buying those things.
And it never occurred to me that people who donate food don't know about the condition the food is distributed in... that much of the fruit is distributed moldy or rotten... that the pasta and beans are in unsealed bags after being repackaged, that you have to be very careful about bread mold. There's one pantry in town... which I'll no longer go to... that had everyone sign a release that said if we got sick eating the food from there that we couldn't sue them, and that we were aware that they couldn't guarantee that safe food handling protocols had been used with any of the foods.
So here's (once again) some information on how to donate food that is usable and given to the clients in the original packaging (a list of items that are both)
Things pantries always have enough or too much of:
vacuum packed quart cartons of milk mac and cheese that has canned our pouched cheese sauce complete box meals (with canned meat if the recipe has a meat product) cans of soup, chili, or pasta, or beans peanut butter (a staple at most pantries!) dry milk, egg, or meat substitute single serve rice or flavored rice, cereal, and pouches of instant potatoes
Many people think they're giving poor children something "special" by donating baked goods, but supermarkets donate massive quantities of baked goods (not just breads but pies, cookies, cakes, pastries, doughnuts... anything that's left over from the "day old"rack), and many pantries have more carbs and sweets than any other food (I went to a pantry in Clearwater that, for a long time, gave out nothing but carbs and sweets).
There are times I've gone to pantries and come away with nothing edible (or unspoiled) but a can of beans. There are times I have to throw out large quantities of rotten or moldy veggies and fruits. There is NEVER a time when I've gone to a food pantry and been able to eat everything I've been given.
Other things you can do to help:
There are a large number of people at the food pantries who have health issues... I'm not alone. There are people who are gluten intolerant, diabetic, have food allergies... and having foods available to them would be an amazing gift. Consider donating gluten free or sugar free or lactose free products. Hopefully it will become a movement among those who are helping... and more people with health issues will find the kinds of foods they can eat at these pantries, rather than risking their health eating whatever they can get.