How to be a good food donor in 7 simple steps

December 6, 2022 Updated: January 25, 2024

If you’ve checked out either of our myth-busting blogs (here or here), you already know Spoonfuls isn’t a food bank. We don’t have a warehouse or a drop-off center where you can donate food. We have established partnerships with food retailers like area grocery stores, wholesalers, farms, and farmers’ markets (where we source the food we deliver to places like local pantries). That means we’re always on the lookout for good food and routinely in conversation with programs that rely on it. 

Here’s what we know: While food programs (like your local pantry or community meal program) might look for different types and quantities of food, there are some universal truths every would-be food donor should consider.

  1. “Any” food isn’t good enough. Louder for the people in the back: “Any” food isn’t good enough! Just because someone is facing food insecurity doesn’t mean they should eat bad (or bad-for-you) food. Ask yourself not just would you eat it, but would you find it appealing? If the answer is “no,” don’t donate it. Sometimes, recycling food packaging and composting food scraps might be the better bet for the gnarly things you’ve found in your fridge or cupboard. Bottom line: Keeping the dignity in food keeps the dignity in people. 
  1. Remember, food is medicine! At Spoonfuls, our focus is on nutrient-dense foods, whole fruits and veggies, dairy, and lean protein. With food insecurity linked to diet-borne disease (good-for-you food is often more expensive and less accessible to people on fixed incomes), many people who utilize local food programs are already grappling with their own or a family member’s chronic health condition like obesity, diabetes, ashma, etc. That makes it even more imperative to donate nutrient-dense foods! 
  1. Consider culture. Not everyone can eat the same foods. Their religious or cultural practices dictate that they need certain things – and, sometimes, even when those religious and cultural practices don’t dictate what one eats, preparing and eating food in the style of one’s culture is an important way people pass on their traditions. Take into account some of the main cultural backgrounds of the people living in your community and learn a little about what foods are most important to them. Include a few culturally-relevant foods in your next donation! More about why this is important here. 
  1. Food that is nearing, at, or just-past its date label is often still tasty and nutritious! Remember that, apart from baby formula, date labels are just a manufacturer’s recommendation for when a food is at peak quality and freshness. Food programs have different requirements around what products they’ll take at or past-label, so check with them about what they can accept! You can learn more about date labels and what Spoonfuls’ Food Rescue Coordinators look for when sourcing food for our partners here. 
  1. Hunger happens all year round. While the majority of individual food donations and food drives coincide with food-forward holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, food insecurity is an issue in the spring and summer, too. Sure, reach out to local food programs in the fall and winter months – but reach out again in the spring and summer when they’re less likely to receive so much of their community’s support!
  1. Don’t guess. An easy and extremely effective way to make a donation that a food program can use is to – wait for it! – ask what they can use! Check out their website or give them a call. Most pantries and meal programs have “wish lists” of their most sought-after items. Ensuring that what you’re providing matches the needs of people who will ultimately receive it is an important way to mitigate food loss, too: We’re all less likely to waste foods we like to eat! 
  1. Sometimes money goes farther. For individuals and families considering a donation to a local food program, sometimes a check goes further, enabling the program to fund what it most needs then and there. Sometimes it will be food. Sometimes it will be shelving or a new refrigerator, upkeeping infrastructure that is critical to sustaining a program. Again, the best way to know what your community food programs actually need is to ask! Have a conversation. 

Now what? Get connected to a food program near you. Check out our Partners Page for a listing of the programs we work with across Massachusetts. Then reach out!

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