My college has a food bank for students. You have to show a student ID, fill up your bags, and then sign and date a paper, with optional checklist to indicate what types of items you took. Every two weeks you can get a bag of toiletries, and you can either get one bag of food a week, or two at a time if you only come in every other week. Not long into the semester, they offered me a tote bag, which made it much easier to visit because I could carry the food with me to class without embarrassment, versus having to hike way back to the car and hide it in my trunk.
I don’t think I ever filled my bags as full as I could have, even taking fewer than the allowed amount of bags some weeks when I was feeling particularly guilty about being there. Over the past semester I’ve made several observations about suggestions I could make to people donating to a food bank. These are especially applicable in a college setting, but the general ideas apply elsewhere too.
- Please choose packages that have individually wrapped items inside them. For example, instead of family-size bags of chips, get one of the variety packs of single-serving bags. The food bank will split them up so people can take just a few and more people will get some.
- Granola bars go quickly and there’s always demand for those. Usually there’s enough oatmeal to go around, but consider cream of wheat, which also comes in single-serving packets.
- Reconsider the choice to donate a bunch of canned vegetables. Everyone donates the canned vegetables, and there’s an overabundance of them. Think about more unusual vegetables (maybe asparagus? hominy?), beans, and fruit.
- Many people may not have reliable access to a refrigerator and/or stove. Think about items that are in smaller packages to reduce leftovers, and items that can be eaten uncooked or microwaved.
- There’s usually lots of soup, but if you’re willing to spend a little extra (or find coupons or a good sale), the single-serving soups in the microwavable containers would be really nice.
- Dried fruit. Just fruit in general, but things like raisins and fruit leather are rare to find and would make a great snack when people have to rush between classes all day.
- Please no ramen. I know you can buy a huge bundle of them for a very low price, but the idea of the food bank is for people to get at least somewhat healthy foods they can’t afford.
- The microwavable cups of pasta and cheese are very popular. There’s usually a good supply of those, but how about the similar cups of instant mashed potatoes?
- Toiletries are wonderful, but would be even better if people could donate a wider variety. There’s always plenty of shampoo, conditioner, and soap/body wash. There’s plenty of toothbrushes, toothpaste, and deodorant, and a lot of these items last for quite a while. Mouthwash is pretty rare, as are floss and the little floss picks. I have never seen Q-tips there, and those can be bought in little travel packs that would be good for donations. Also, travel packs of tissues. As someone with extremely curly hair, I can say some of us would be very grateful for cans of mousse to tame the curls.
- Also consider cleaning supplies and baby supplies (diapers, wipes, formula, etc.) Even in a college, there are plenty of parents with young children, and this would be even more true in the wider community setting.
I started forming these ideas as a mental list, so that once I graduate and find a steady job I can go back and donate all the things I wish they’d had while I was a student. Hopefully others will find these suggestions helpful as well.