Dos and Don’ts for Donating to Food Banks

Disclosure: Post contains affiliate links.

As we enter the holiday season, I always like to take stock in the love and gifts we are lucky enough to have in our life. I don’t specifically mean material things, although I do like to give thanks for those too. Instead, what I’m always most thankful that we have the means to provide  the necessary things in life.

We have a house, so we have shelter. We have jobs so we have heat, water, clothes and food.

Each year I’m reminded that during this season of giving, there are a lot of people out there that aren’t lucky enough to have these things. And while giving and donating is important year-round, I always have a heightened awareness during this magical time. I know it’s not magical for everyone, especially for those struggling with hunger and wondering how to feed their children.

This year, we will be donating clothes as we always do each season, but I also am planning to donate food too. We moved to Michigan last December and while I love my little farm, this area isn’t as well-off as the area we moved from. A lot of the families in my daughter’s school struggle and it breaks my heart to think that they might be struggling to put food on the table since it’s such a basic need.

I’ve done some research on the food banks in our area and I wanted to share some of my learnings with you. If you plan to donate food this year, find my tips along with some dos and don’ts for donating. Also, it should be noted that there’s a different between food panties and food banks. However, for simplicity purposes, we’ve used the term “food banks” to apply to all.

Dos and Don'ts for Donating to Food BanksFood Bank Dos and Don’ts

  1. Before you visit to donate, check the hours of your local food bank. Many of them have special hours or are only open certain days when staff or volunteers are available.
  2. Never donate opened food to food banks. While you might think you’re conserving, they can’t accept bags or cans that have been previously opened or punctured or dented. Unlike clothing, there’s nothing anyone can do with used food.
  3. Do not donate expired food. If you shouldn’t be eating it, neither should anyone else.
  4. When it comes to refrigerated foods, check with your donation center. Some food banks can take these foods and are really grateful to have them. Others do not have refrigeration and are dry facilities. Always call first.
  5. Food like apples, potatoes, bananas and other fruits and vegetables that don’t need to be refrigerated are always welcome.
  6. Food banks will not accept your homemade goods, no matter how good the soup is or how lovely grandma’s cookies taste. Always opt for pre-packaged foods when donating.
  7. Unlabeled foods are also not excepted. Think cans that are missing the wrapper or other similar items.
  8. Sometimes food pantries don’t except items in glass jars like pickles or pasta sauce. Check to see if your local food bank allows this or not.
  9. Check with your local food bank before you decide to donate frozen foods or any frozen meats. Again, some of them might have refrigeration and take these items. Others might not have it available.
  10. Specialty items like soy sauce or other condiments are nice, but when donating really consider the staples people need from day-to-day. Volunteers try to put together boxes that are well-rounded for nutritional purposes and often times items like that just don’t fit.

What food banks need the most

  • Canned proteins like chicken or tuna
  • Canned fruits and vegetables. Think beans, peas, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, apple sauce, peaches, pears, oranges, etc.
  • Canned pasta sauce and pasta noodles
  • Shelf stable milk and milk alternative likes soy and almond milks. Also, if they have refrigeration then they may also accept milk from the dairy section.
  • Lunch box items like juice boxes, granola bars, fruit snacks, small containers of fruit and apple sauce, crackers, etc.
  • Cereal lower in sugar
  • Oatmeal
  • Rice, ideally whole grain or brown
  • Bread
  • Dried fruit
  • Peanut butter, almond butter, etc.
  • Pancake mixes that only need water
  • Spices including basil, oregano, cinnamon, thyme, rosemary, etc.
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cooking oils such as canola oil, olive oil and vegetable oil
  • Formula, infant cereal, diapers, wipes
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste for adults and kids
  • Hand and body lotion
  • Lip balm, especially in those colder areas

Seasonal donations

Consider donating these additional items during the holiday season

  • Frozen turkeys (check with your facility)
  • Canned cranberries
  • Canned fruits
  • Baking mixes that require only water
  • Chocolate and other candy
  • Pre-packaged cookies
  • Candy canes

Keep in mind that during the holidays it can be especially rough because kids are out of school. Those children might be relying on the free lunch they get as their one good meal for the day. The same applies to summer break.

Finding our what’s needed

Also, if you don’t know what to give, a lot of food banks will list what they need most on their website or have a phone recording with the details. Also, know that you can give monetary donations to food banks if you don’t know exactly what they might need most.

For more information, or to find a food bank near you, visit Feeding America.

For more parenting and kid experiences, click here.


  1. This is a great list of tips to encourage people to do the right thing when it comes to donating. Extremely practical and to the point. I think it is best to always work closely with the food bank you plan on donating to, so that you can ensure that you donate things that are really in need and will be used and appreciated.

  2. This is very helpful advice. I didn’t know that food banks needed particular items the most. I have to keep those ones in mind!

  3. I think it’s great to donate during the holidays. I always donate as much as I can, especially around the holidays. Great tips here too.

  4. This is really helpful! I never thought to donate produce that doesn’t require refrigeration. Or salt and pepper. Or cooking oils! This really is a great post!

  5. I try to donate as often as I can to our local food banks. One thing I know that food banks get requests for in my area is women’s menstrual hygiene products. There is actually a program called Tampon Tuesday to help get these products into food banks in the area.

  6. Thank you for all the tips. I used to run a food/necessities bank and you would be surprised at the things people would try to donate! Ths is a great resource for anyone wanting to give back to the community not only this time of year but ALL year! There are always needs! And if the food bank takes more than food, besides regular toiletries, I would add TOILET paper to the list! That’s something people can not get with food stamps so it’s always high in demand; but not all places take it especially because it takes up so much room.

  7. Thanks for sharing this very useful information. I always wonder what to donate besides the typical canned veggies. Didn’t know that there are even facilities that would accept refrigerated or frozen food.

  8. These are such great tips to keep in mind! Many events and holiday festivities accept food bank donations and I think it’s great to know these things in advance so that your contribution can go further!

  9. Great information for this time of the year, we will be donating a lot of food and this helps us to know what are good ideas for food donation

  10. Such a handy reference for donating to food pantries. I didn’t know that about some of the rules like labels being missing or possibly not taking glass jars.

  11. I love this I definitely try to give back this time of year. And I definitely try to pick up additional items when I go grocery shopping.This is amazing. Great post!

  12. It never entered my head that there would be does and don’ts with donating food. I was surprised about no homemade food but it makes sense. Thanks for sharing, people need to know these tips.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here