Food Donations

Donations to the First Unitarian Food Pantry


To our generous community –

This is a lengthy post, which I don’t do that often. I hope you will find it interesting, as I have, to learn a bit about where our food donations o every year and how we can best share the harvest this year.  IF YOU WANT THE SHORT VERSION, JUST READ THE CAPITALIZED BITS. I have cross posted to widen distribution; I apologize if you wind up deleting me repeatedly.

As you know, every year we ask you to SHARE THE HARVEST AT PAGAN PRIDE DAY BY MAKING A FOOD DONATION. We give our collected donations to the First Unitarian Church, who distribute it to their food pantry.  They love us – they are very grateful for the hundreds (often over 1000) pounds of food we provide every year. When you are planning your donation (that is, rooting through the cabinets on Sunday morning), PLEASE CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING REQUESTS. They come from the person who does the grocery ordering for the food pantry (name not included as I did not ask her permission to post it). I’ve included some cool stuff I’ve learned about the UU food pantry and hunger relief in New Mexico, so while the requests and rationales are hers, the commentary and stats are provided by me. The stats came from the Hunger in America 2010 local report prepared for the NM Association of Food Banks, which is easily available on line and much more interesting than I thought it would be (although I confess a weakness for public health stats).

1 – FOOD MUST NOT BE PAST DATES. I mean, okay, like a week or a month on a can, no big deal. But any other packaging must absolutely be in dates, and cans really can’t be used much past the date stamp.  It’s one of those tedious things that home cooks don’t have to worry about, but folks who are distributing food to the public need to be careful. (And nothing says, “Here, I gave this away cause I hated it, I’m not very generous but enjoy!” better than a dusty 5 year old can of something strange.)

2 – GIANT CONTAINERS ARE GENEROUS, BUT NOT VERY HELPFUL. UNLESS IT’S BEANS AND RICE (this is NM, after all). The UU food pantry is a pantry, not a kitchen. They distribute up to 70 as-close-to-identical-as-possible bags of groceries every week. So smaller packaging helps them pass the stuff out further. 5 small jars of peanut butter would be more helpful than one gigantic Costco tub.

2A – BEANS AND RICE, GOOD!     However, they do love and especially need DRY BEANS AND RICE in larger sacks, which are very economical donations. They have 2 volunteers who repackage BEANS AND RICE into smaller bags to be distributed. BEANS AND RICE, GOOD!

3 – NO PERISHABLES OR CRUSHABLE/EASILY DAMAGED PACKAGING.   The UU food pantry buys their perishables (dairy, some fresh veggies, meat) from the Roadrunner Food Pantry on Tuesday to distribute Weds. We can’t properly store and handle perishables at Bataan Park or during transport when it’s so hot out (remember last year?).   As for the durability of the packaging, the food must be sorted and stacked when we receive it, then transported, then re-sorted into the pantry, then put in grocery sacks, then carried to homes…you get the idea. Bread and baked goods are easily crushed and perishable, so they are a real no no. If you’re wondering about glass, jars are just fine.

3A – MONEY IS A WONDERFUL HELPFUL DONATION.  You can give cash, or checks written out to the First Unitarian Church and marked “for food pantry”.  The UU Food Pantry spends about $18,000 per year on food from Roadrunner and other food sources (There is no overhead as the pantry is in the church, and no labor cost as 100% of the work is done by about 42 volunteers.)  So all of your donation goes to buy food – perishables and crushables mostly.Your donation will be potentially tax deductible (check with your accountant, etc).

4 – THE WISH LIST – MOST WANTED DONATIONS: DRY BEANS AND RICE;  15 OZ CANS OF FRUITS, SOUPS, OR VEGGIES; PASTA (in boxes, see #3); SMALL JARS OF PEANUT BUTTER, (and powdered milk, which they think might be too expensive to ask for but would love to have).

5 – AVOID BABY FOOD – it is a low demand item.  Why? Well, for one thing about 60% of the households using food pantries in NM do not have any children under 18, let alone babies. Only 7% of all members of households served by NM food banks (which includes shelters and kitchens as well as pantries) are under the age of 5.  For another thing, many low income and homeless families benefit from WIC (Women Infants and Children nutrition program) which is an awesome thing that provides formula if needed and baby food among other nutritional support services. And since it’s in low demand, the UUs have what they need already.

6 – AVOID EXOTIC FOODS –  Think mainstream cookables that anyone could use to come up with a basic meal. The use of odd ball sauces and condiments, strongly flavored items like canned sardines, exotics like hearts of palm, are matters of taste and cooking skill and not essential. The pantry is trying to provide adequate basic nutrition in a generally palatable form.  The food pantry staff sort the wierd stuff out and set it aside and only wind up giving it out if someone comes in asking, “Do you have a jar of pickled yak trotters?”

7 – If you can’t afford as much as you’d like to give, my personal suggestion is to ask others to help. I’ve been telling (nonpagan but kind) people about our food donation (not asking for food, just telling them about how we collect the single biggest donation to the pantry every year) and already have 3 cases of prime stuff in my office that folks just handed to me.  Talk to your neighbors or coworkers!

8 – And lastly, a request from the Pagan Pride Day committee.  We’d love not to have to say this, but…PLEASE, NOTHING THAT IS ALREADY DAMAGED. Badly dented cans, leaking or rusty cans or jar lids, open packages for whatever reason.. We sort out this kind of thing, and the outdated stuff, and discard them, which is both a chore and a shame.  If you would not want to eat it, please don’t pass it along. In case you wondered (some of you have been eagerly waiting, I’m sure), now for the stats:  about 44% of NM food pantry clients have incomes too high to qualify for food stamps but are food insecure anyway….over 88% are US citizens…..more than half are in fair to poor health….8% are homeless….the racial distribution of clients is close to the distribution in the state generally…almost 30% of client households include at least one elderly person, and many of those elders are raising grandchildren in their households….two thirds are women….a high proportion of clients have had to choose between
buying food and paying for other basic needs like utilities, medicine or medical care, rent/mortgage, or transportation…..32% of all NM food bank client households include at least one working adult.

The UU Food Pantry is 100% volunteer run and staffed, and provides a bag of groceries to anyone who states that they have a need, regardless of age, race, religion, sexual preference, left- or right-handedness, etc, etc. The food you donate (or help them purchase) helps up to 119 households every week, all year round.  If you are a person or household in need, the pantry is open on Wednesdays for limited hours – check with the church (they have a great website with contact info.) There is no bureaucracy, no eligibility determination, etc. No humiliation, just kindness and a little bit of help.

I was very impressed with the wonderful committed food pantry volunteers who talked with me about their program. They are a Good Thing, and the Pagan Pride Day committee hopes to gift them with the largest and most useful donation ever.

Please help, in the name of Ceres –

PPD Food Donation Coordinator 2010

–information updated September 5th, 2012