Guide to Giving Food Donations: Places & Practices

Published October 27, 2020
box with food donations

Giving food donations to local organizations is a noble mission, but it isn't always as easy as delivering a grocery bag of canned goods. A guide to giving food donations can help you save time and money when you know where to donate food and what kind of food is needed.

Food Donations and Where to Donate Food

There are many ways you can donate food. Throughout the United States, people are making food donations that impact and change people's lives.

1. Chefs and Restaurant Owners

Some cities and towns have organized to let chefs and restaurant owners donate surplus foods to various organizations that bring these two groups together. You can check your local area to see if such a group exists. If you don't have anyone coordinating this kind of food distribution, you might consider creating one.

2. Purchase Chef Meals for Those in Need

The Food Connection organization collects surplus meals from caterers, restaurants, and institutions. The group then delivers these meals to their various partners in the community responsible for feeding people in need. Currently, Food Connection operates in Buncombe and Madison counties in North Carolina. However, the Food Connection website states, "We'd love to start a food rescue revolution in other places. Get in touch!"

3. Replate and Food Donations

Replate takes food donations from farmers markets, caterers, product brand overruns, offices that offer meal services, restaurants, and various sources that have surplus food. The food donations are given to a nonprofit organization for distribution to various charities supporting those suffering from food insecurity, as well as to individuals.

4. Church Food Pantry

Many churches have their own food pantry to serve as an outreach program for their community. Some church's offer a mobile food pantry to distribute food in high need areas. Some work with Social Services to fill the gap between first applying for assistance and getting assistance.

5. Inter-Faith Loaves & Fishes Organizations

Many churches and inter-faith organizations sponsor a food pantry. The most commonly used name for this food program is Loaves & Fishes, named after the scripture where Christ fed 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. These groups usually post a list for food donations that you can drop off at their location(s).

people volunteering to sort donations

6. Food Shuttle

You can join in a regional or local interfaith food collection organization or food pantry. You can donate food or participate/organize a virtual food drive. A good example of this type of community-drive food bank/pantry is the Interfaith Food Shuttle that works with school pantries and other various programs, such as BackPack Buddies, Grocery bags for Seniors, Pantry Supplement Boxes, Community Partners, and Mobile Markets to distribute food.

7. Amazon Food Donation Wish Lists

Many organizations set up an Amazon Wish List where you can go online and select the foods you wish to donate to the organization. You order the foods the same way you would order for yourself, except the order you place will be delivered to the address provided by the organization. For example, you can choose to donate to the Capital Area Food Bank's Amazon Wish List or your local Loaves & Fishes Amazon Wish List.

8. Where to Donate Food and Surplus Crops

The Society of St. Andrew supports several projects that include, Gleaning Network, Harvest of Hope, Potato & Produce Project and serves as a nonprofit distribution partner for many of the USDA Farm to Families contractors. If you're a packer, farmer, or farm market, you can donate crops through the organization. If you're a home gardener, you can donate your surplus vegetables with your community through the organization.

9. Donate Food to College Students

You can stop the hunger in colleges by participating the Swipe Out Hunger, a national nonprofit dedicated to stopping college and university hunger. You can donate meals by participating in the Swipe Out Hunger Drive.

10. Homeless Shelter and Soup Kitchen Food Donations

Many homeless shelters work with social services, while others work independently. You can donate food by locating your local homeless shelters to see how you can donate and what foods are needed. You may have a local soup kitchen that prepares daily meals for the. low-income and homeless and would appreciate food donations.

Volunteers working in soup kitchen

11. Food Recovery Programs

There are many groups dedicated to recovery food and donating it to various organizations dedicated to feeding the hunger. K-12 schools often choose to recover uneaten foods to donate to a local organization. You can start this kind of food recovery program in your school through K-12 Food+Rescue.

12. Food Not Bombs

Several decades in operation, Food Not Bombs is a grassroots hyperlocal group that feeds the homeless and anyone else suffering from hunger. Over 500 chapters exist through the US with many more worldwide. The groups in various cities/towns collect surplus foods from grocery stores, produce markets, and bakeries to distribute. Some groups cook in public parks and give the food away. You can check the website map for local groups to contact to donate food.

13. Groups On Facebook for Food Donations

You can find several food-donation groups on Facebook. You should always do your due diligence of any group you wish to donate food or money.

  • Food Donations has several thousand members that is an open source for people to donate to families around the world needing food.
  • FoodBus is a school food recovery of unused and unopened leftover food from school lunches is donated to food pantries.
  • NTUC FairPrice celebrates the annual World Food Day with a month-long Food Donation Drive with the donations going to Food Bank and Food from the Heart.

14. Some Schools Accept Healthy Food Donations

Some schools participate in a School Pantry program. You will need to check with your local school to see if such a program is available. Feeding America in local areas operate school food pantries to distribute needed food to the participating schools.

15. Meals on Wheels Food Donations

You can make monetary donations to your local Meals on Wheels that delivers healthy foods to senior citizens. The price to the senior citizens is a sliding scale based on need, such as eligible for Medicaid or other subsidy programs.

16. Feeding America for Hunger Relief

Making monetary donations to Feeding America provides hunger relief to people who participate in their sponsored programs. These include:

  • Mobile Pantry Program
  • Disaster Food Assistance
  • BackPack Program
  • School Pantry Program
  • Kids Café
  • Senior Grocery Program
  • SNAP® Outreach (formerly Food Stamps)

Tips for Types of Foods to Donate

You can often find a guideline for the organization you wish to donate food. The best foods are those without sodium and sugar added. Additionally:

  • Canned fruits in juice with no added sugar are better than heavy syrup canned fruits.
  • Canned meats and fish, such as chicken, salmon, sardines, and spam are good sources of protein.
  • Canned vegetables with no or low-sodium, canned beef stew, and fermented foods, such as pickles or sauerkraut are often good choices.
  • Condiments such as ketchup, mustard, and relishes are often appreciated.
  • Package meals can be welcomed as are pasta and jars of sauces.
  • Frozen foods may also be accepted, but check first to make sure the facilty has a freezer.

You should always check the expiration date to make sure you aren't donating foods that are out of date and will have to be thrown away instead of distributed.

Man unloading groceries to donate

How to Give Food Donations to Food Banks

The most obvious place to give food is a food bank. However, food banks are modernized when it comes to food drives or individual food donations.

Food Banks Organized for Food Distribution

Food Banks need specific foods since their mission is to distribute food to various charity organizations, which in turn distribute the foods to local organizations and individuals. Coordinating such efforts requires everyone to work with the same food product inventory to ensure effectiveness and efficiency.

Food Donations vs Monetary Donations

It is far easier for a food bank to purchase the foods needed. Imagine the task of having to sort through a hodge-podge of food types, trying to organize and then getting it distributed in an organized and timely manner.

Monetary Donations to Buy Food

Food banks prefer monetary donations so they can purchase the foods they need to stock their warehouses. This means charity organizations can then order the food they need to distribute.

Bulk Buying Discounts From Food Manufacturers

Most food banks have working relationships with food manufacturers with bulk buying discounts. Bulk buying allows the food bank to service more people than processing canned food dropped off at a local center. This type of food donation places money as the commodity instead of dropping off cans of food to a center.

Statistics for Monetary Donations to Hunger Relief

Feeding America, mentioned above, is the nation's largest hunger relief organization. It has over 200 food banks in its national network. The organization works with food manufacturers, retailers, distributors, companies providing food services, and farmers to rescue healthy food destined for landfills.

Why Monetary Donations Are Often Best

Feeding America offers statistics to demonstrate the impact of monetary donations vs. canned good drop offs. With a $700 donation, Feeding American can provide 2,100 meals to people needing food. For a $1 donation, the organization provide 11 meals.

Giving Food Donations Simple Guide

There are many ways you can give food donations. You can use a guide for food donations to help you navigate the best way to participate is feeding the hungry and working to put an end to hunger.

Guide to Giving Food Donations: Places & Practices