Close up of volunteer packs donated food in cardboard box for people in need during Christmas.

During the holiday season, we think more and more about helping those in need. Our focus goes beyond giving material gifts to the idea of ensuring that those dealing with food insecurity can enjoy a nourishing, and if possible, festive meal. It’s one of the things we value here at Ocean State Job Lot, and with our Three Square Meals program, we try to fight against food insecurity as part of our Mission, Vision, and Values.  

When considering food donations, it’s essential to prioritize non-perishable items that contribute to a well-rounded dining experience for those in need. How we go about it can come in various forms. Some of the first things that come to mind are canned vegetables, fruits, and proteins, like tuna or canned chicken, that offer versatility and nutritional value. Grains like rice, pasta, and cereal provide essential carbohydrates, while canned soups and stews can offer a comforting warmth during the winter months. Donating basic condiments and sauces can enhance the flavor of meals and add a tasty touch to otherwise simple dishes.

Additionally, consider contributing holiday-themed treats like cookies, chocolates, and other sweets to add a touch of joy to recipients’ celebrations. Don’t forget about dietary restrictions; provide gluten-free, low-sodium, or sugar-free options to address specific nutritional needs.

But as we think about helping those in need of our help, maybe we should be flipping the script and start asking questions of food banks and those in need themselves as to what they truly need. Maybe by starting with that premise, we can bring donations to another level.

Volunteers accepting donations at a local food bank.

Reaching Out

One of the most helpful things you can do is do a little research on your local food pantry. Make a phone call or even better yet, see if you can stop in to have a conversation. Value their time because a lot of workers are volunteers and their time is very valuable as they try to multi-task with short schedules and staff.  

If you’re willing, offer your time to help out. Everyone usually thinks about donating their time during the holiday season, but how about those “off-months.” Food insecurity is a year-long struggle for many, so food pantries can use donations and the help just as much from January through October as well. Work with your local facility to see what works best for them. It could be a rotating basis where you have a set schedule to volunteer throughout the year. Asking is always the first step. Reaching out to your local Department of Health and Services can be a great resource.

A donate sign with various products to donate to a food pantry surrounding it.

Things you may not know

While we are all pretty familiar with some of the staples that are given: pasta, spaghetti, mac & cheese, etc., here are a few things you may not have thought about.

  • While macaroni & cheese may be something that is donated often, does the pantry or food bank have the milk or butter that could go with it to complete making the meal just in case the ones receiving the donations don’t have it at home? 
  • Peanut butter and jelly are often given but is the fresh bread needed to make the sandwiches available as well?
  • Non-perishable cans need can openers or pop tops to open. It’s a simple thing that is often forgotten but can desperately be needed. 
  • Fresh meat is in high demand. So are eggs. Find out if your local pantry can handle the donation of either. 
  • Packaged rice kits could use oils that sometimes are a luxury to food pantries. 
A box of Twinings Chai tea.

Treats and comfort donations

  • Don’t just think about the nuts and bolts of food donations when you start to plan how you’ll help. There are little things that absolutely will make a difference in someone’s day in addition to a hearty meal. Think of those as comfort items that we may sometimes take for granted.
  • A hot cup of tea or coffee could go a long way in making someone’s day. 
  • Sugar and spices to add flavor would be nice.
  • Cake mixes, frosting, cookies, and other treats make an instant birthday party possible for a family or child. Ice cream is often available too. 
Personal hygiene products.

Non-food donations

While the primary focus is of course on the food donations, there’s always a need for items other than food as well. Some of those are:

  • Toiletries (soap, shampoo, toilet paper, deodorant)
  • Tissues
  • Toothpaste and toothbrushes
  • Laundry detergent
  • Feminine supplies (sanitary napkins and tampons)
  • Baby supplies (wipes, baby food)
Group of diverse people gathering in modern kitchen setting. Volunteer work and community service.

Other options

In addition to giving during the holiday season, there are other ways you can help. As we said previously, volunteering your time or helping at other times of the year are good thoughts. You can also do monthly monetary donations so that food pantries can use your funds to go get the supplies they need at locations like Ocean State Job Lot where they can stretch that dollar to get more for the people they serve. The monthly donations let them know they can count on you for months to come. 

If you are someone who does donate or gives of their time often, reach out to those who don’t. Ask friends and family members as well as co-workers to see if they might want to support as well. The wider the reach, the more people can be helped. On your next visit to Ocean State Job Lot, consider what items you could purchase and drop off. Remember, you don’t have to get everything at once. Buying a little at a time could go a long way as it builds up quickly. Every little bit helps and always remember that together, we are making a difference in people’s lives no matter what path you choose in helping.