One of the main inspirations for my work is the belief that food brings people together, builds communities, and that sharing food with others is one of the most powerful ways to give of yourself. I derive a great sense of satisfaction and self-worth from being able to provide a delicious and nourishing meal to my family and friends. Sharing food with others goes beyond simply providing for someone’s basic needs, but provides the fuel that is required to continue the circle of life and to expand the human spirit.
I am addressing the subject of sharing nutrition because we are entering the holiday season when the most people choose to give of their time, talent, and treasure. Hunger and malnutrition is prevalent all year-long, but with Thanksgiving just around the corner, food is at the forefront of most people’s minds. I want to touch on the subject, not as a way to help individuals improve their own health and wellness, but as a way to encourage sharing good nutrition with those that have a difficult time feeding their bodies well.
Like many other people, I often donate my unwanted items to local thrift shops to help fund social services in my community. In doing so, I have a guideline, that “if it is not good enough for me, it is not good enough for those less fortunate.” Before donating something I first take a look at why I need to get rid of it: Is it broken? Do I no longer have a use for it? Is it too small or big? I never donate things that I am unwilling to use because they are broken, stained, hideous, or otherwise. I believe that the same rubric should be applied when donating food.
I worked in homeless youth shelters for seven years and I have seen the foods that people donate. Some food is terrific and other food is pretty unbelievable. Sometimes it would seem that people would dig through their pantries to find all the food their families wouldn’t eat that is about to expire, throw it in a musty box from the garage and drop it off for the homeless kids. Sure these people did share of their treasure (they did pay for it at some point), but it would always seem that these types of donations were really meant to clear off the shelves rather than to help others. I met a lot of really brave and creative young people who could make a meal with cob-webbed boxes of instant potatoes and rusty cans of Spam, but I certainly would never eat anything like that.
This year, I would like to encourage people to pledge to donate the highest quality food they can afford to share. Make “if I won’t buy it for my family, I won’t donate it” be your guide. The needs of the homeless and impoverished can be difficult to meet when the local food bank only requests non-perishable items, but it is possible to find items that are not ramen noodles and deviled ham. It is important to remember that those who struggle to afford to pay for their most basic of needs likely have fairly compromised immune systems due to their malnutrition. This makes it all the more important to donate only high-quality, healthful foods. Your food bank probably also accepts fresh and frozen foods. You just need to call and ask about how to donate those items as they cannot be left in a collection barrel.
Another point to keep in mind is that just as someone in your family may have a food
allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity, so too do those receiving food assistance. Make an effort to donate at least one item that will meet the needs of someone with special dietary considerations.
When deciding what foods to purchase and donate keep the following points in mind:
- Homeless individuals and families may not have access to a kitchen to prepare a meal. There are healthy and organic versions of things like “Cup ‘o Soup” and “Rice-a-Roni.”
- Those experiencing homelessness may not have access to clean drinking water. Donations of bottled water are excellent.
- People receiving food services may have had little exposure to preparing/using items such as quinoa, flax, and even lentils. Include your favorite recipe.
- Read the labels. If you haven’t started doing this for yourself, now is a great time to start.
- Call your local food bank and find out what they have too little of. There will always be a surplus of certain items.
- Don’t forget the herbs and spices! These can be expensive, but are key in making any meal truly delicious.
Will you pledge to donate high-quality, healthful food this year?
Need some help finding where to donate? Visit FoodPantries.org