Reader Email: Using a Food Bank for the First Time

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When it comes to providing for your family, sometimes using coupons just isn’t enough to put food on the table each day. In fact, there are millions of people struggling to get by because of underemployment, stagnant wages and the rising costs of living. According to Feeding America, more than 46 million people turn to the Feeding America network each year for extra support.

Check out this email I received from a Hip2Save reader…

I am a long time couponer and have been a Hip2Save fan for years. Aside from helping my own household, I have loved so much being able to contribute to a local food bank. They have always been so appreciative of anything that I brought them, especially HBA (health & beauty aid) items since most of them do not have a budget that is large enough to include these items.

I have recently found myself at a point in life where I need to be on the other end. Today I went to a local food bank for the first time and as hard as it was from a pride standpoint, they were so helpful and kind. I doubt I’m the only couponer who is at that point/or near that point of needing help.

I thought a post about this may help other couponers know that pride shouldn’t stop them from asking for help. And to let couponers know how much their donations really help the community and even a fellow couponer.

If you’re in the same position as this reader, don’t be afraid to ask for help or let pride stand in the way. Consider finding a local community food bank or click here to read about other public assistance programs. The Feeding America nationwide network of food banks secures and distributes 4 billion meals each year through food pantries and meal programs throughout the United States.

Looking to Help?

If you’re looking to help, consider giving your time, talents or donations to help make a difference in the lives of your neighbors struggling with hunger. Go here for simple ways that you can help.

Also, there are many ways to support Feeding America as they partner with companies to raise awareness of hunger and provide financial support to help those in need. Here are just a few…

  • The Cheesecake Factory will donate $0.25 of select cheesecake slices sold to Feeding America.
  • Through August 14th, America can help spread the good by gathering ‘round to make a circle with friends and family, or simply by themselves, and taking a picture to share on social media using #GoodGoesRound. For every post, General Mills will help Feeding America secure ten additional meals to help feed hungry families thanks to its partnership with Cheerios.
  • Specially-marked packages of General Mills products featuring spokesperson Thomas Rhett and other Big Machine Label Group artists will include an Outnumber Hunger code. For every code entered between now and January 31st, 2018, Feeding America will secure five meals on behalf of local food banks.
Join The Discussion

Comments 53

  1. Kimberly

    Great post. It’s okay to ask for help.

  2. Lisa

    <3 this is so kind to share 🙂

  3. CW

    I was in the same position. My husband and I spend years doing Share and Angel Food Ministries making boxes of food for those who needed it. Both of those organizations closed because they couldn’t sustain costs. Then 2 yrs ago, we found that WE were the ones needing help. I agree with your reader, at first it was hard to take help.

    But it was also hard to FIND help. Other than thanksgiving, many food banks struggle to get food in the off holiday season. If you can, please donate.

  4. Melissa

    God Bless you and your family.

  5. Monique

    Thank you for this post! I think there can never be enough awesomeness and hopefully the more we talk about it and realize that anyone including ourselves can fall into hard times the more we alleviate the stigma behind asking for help.

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      You’re welcome Monique!

  6. Yar

    There is no shame on reaching out for help! Especially when it comes to take care of our family! Instead of judging we should be helping each other out more! One never knows when we’ll need help! Besides local food banks, different religions organizations offer help too! Living pay check to paycheck , I understand how hard it could be to make ends meet! By making priorities when it comes to my expenses, I’m able to still make donations to my church every month, most of the time using cuopons! My family is bless with the little we have!

  7. Laura

    We have been at both ends as well. There came a time when I had two young kids and my ability to coupon decreased and our need for food increased. Now we are a part of a church that has an AWESOME food pantry and we donate our time and resources when we can. It offers tons of fresh produce, frozen meat, diapers, and so much more!

  8. Michelle

    I’m so glad that your food bank made you feel so at ease with using them… Here in my home town it is the opposite on how they make people feel. I got involved with making “birthday bags” for parents to pick out on the month of their children’s birthday since they can only go one time per month to our food bank… However after the one time donation I asked if I could continue and they declined… Saying “children already receive gifts at Christmas through local programs and that is enough” plus I was put off on how they referred and talked about those using the food bank… I was able o connect with a food bank still in our county but 3 towns away and what a difference. The lady who runs it was once a single mom needing a food bank herself and the other ladies on the board are just as wonderful. I use all “hip2save” deals to buy toys and party supplies for the bags. Every kid deserves a birthday no matter their families situation and I am more than happy to help. I just wish more food banks were understanding that people using the food bank need to be treated with some respect and dignity…

    • Laurie

      Love your story. If been on both ends praying in baby diapers to being able to bless others. But I love the ideal of b-day gifts/bags. All kids should be able to be blessed, validated and honored on their birthday no matter your financial situation. Your story has prompted me to Ck what is available within my community for Birthday giving.
      Thanks for being such a blessing you will never know to what extent you are blessing these precious souls.

  9. Kris

    1-800-5-HUNGRY is a hotline where you give your zip code and get information for meal sites/ food pantries in your area.

  10. Lo

    211 is also a great resource. In my area they help find food and clothing resources, file taxes and help ppl file for HEAP ( heat assistance program in the winter).

  11. Deb

    And, may I put a plug in for the WIC (Women, Infants, Children) Program? While WIC does have income guidelines (185% of poverty), a pregnant woman counts as 2 people. WIC is not welfare. WIC has been around for about 40 years and is a program of the USDA that provides supplemental nutrition, healthcare education and referrals, and breastfeeding support for pregnant and breastfeeding women, non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and infants and children up to age 5. In the US, more than 50% of infants are on WIC. WIC varies from state to state, but in many states, participation has declined. WIC is a cost-effective program. For every dollar spent on WIC, we reduce costs for Medicaid by about 1-4 dollars.

    • Krystal

      I have used wic when I had pregnant with my first and it is a great organization. The thing I disliked about the whole ordeal was the stigma attached trying to use it! Some people checking me out at the stores were uneducated about how to redeem then checks Making it difficult.

      • Deanna

        I can relate since i used to be on WIC too. Not only is there dirty looks from the cashiers, but also the people behind you in line. Mainly because it takes a little longer to do the check out process.

    • Taylor S.

      I second the wonderfulness that is WIC! It does not foot the whole bill but covering things such as milk, bread, and eggs certainly goes a long way!

  12. Sunny N.

    Another program that donates meals from a retail setting is the “Cheeky” brand of disposable dinnerware available at Target. They partner through Feeding America as well and will donate on every purchase. The products can be found both in the “Party” and “Paper” sections at most Targets. Almost all of the products are made in the United States as another bonus.

  13. Diana

    What kinds of items would be most appreciated if donated? What food items? Does the food bank take toiletries?

    • Susi

      Most food banks take toiletries yes!! I have found that our local homeless shelter & crisis centers are always in desperate need of deodorants, toothpaste & toothbrushes, hair brushes & combs, as well as bath 🛀 items
      Those are the things I personally try to donate the most of. And other posts are correct in stating they need these and food items year round. The people that need them them the most are not just hungry @ Christmas they suffer year round. Many Blessings to those that donate as they are Blessings to those in need!

      • Deb

        I donate pet food and sanitary napkins/tampons to my local food pantry. Food stamps won’t cover sanitary goods and there are lots of pantry participants with pets.

        • Adrian

          Having a pet is a luxury. If you can’t afford to feed and take care of yourself then it’s selfish to have a pet. Give the pet up to a good home where they can afford to feed it.

          • didi

            some people have no one but a dog or a cat left from their family or friends , do not be judgmental , if you are attached to someone even if it was a pet you won’t want to give them up

      • Mara

        Our local food pantry really appreciates baby items such as formula and diapers. They also appreciate money because food pantries (which distribute the food) actually buy food at huge discount from food bank. So you can pay $1 for a can of food and donate it but that $1 might allow them to buy 10 cans of food from food bank.

    • Pat Gale

      One other thing … when Rite Aid had a really hot deal on laundry detergent a while ago, I bought as much as I was allowed and brought it to our food pantry. I wasn’t sure they would take it, but when I asked, they were very happy. They said people ask about stuff like detergent all the time. Now I make it a point when I am able to combine sales & coupons for cheap or free detergent to grab it even if I don’t need any, and bring it there.

    • Kikisaver

      Diana, our regional food bank happily accepts toiletries and also pet food. We organize an annual community care day where we host providers who donate “spa” services and hand out toiletries and self-care bags. Toiletries are provided to community pantries/ local food banks on an ongoing basis as our regional bank receives them. We also welcome new hairbrushes, combs, etc.
      Food- wise, high protein items are most needed (canned tuna, peanut butter), as well as nutrient dense foods.

    • Rita

      Can I just add what someone mentioned below, that a lot of food pantries are very well connected with produce and other providers, and so usually can get items at a much cheaper rate than most regular consumers. I wouldn’t consider hip2save shoppers “regular consumers” but consider giving money if you can 😊

  14. Monique

    I meant awareness in my earlier post…

  15. Thehenrydthoreau

    This reader’s honesty should serve as a warning. As a society, there is an issue of overspending $1.33 for each $1. The cost increases of basics like food and housing is palpable. It takes one medical or dental situation to find food sustainability impossible. I was hit with a 4,024 usd dental bill and a 3,075 usd dental bill for my son within a two month period. We need to look at the true cost of a situation and how it could impact is in the future. The more we move towards this mindset, the better prepared we are for the tough times ahead.

    • llc

      Their are dental programs (at least here in Houston) for low cost dental work – usually schools and the work is done by students. Now it does take longer because a teacher has to come by and “approve” students work but it is better than doing nothing and having tooth pain. I have even seen some students post on Craigslist because they need a person so they can clean their teeth.

      • Jenny

        Your county hospital may also be an option. Here in Minneapolis HCMC has a dental program (the may have some students but most of their staff is regular dentists/oral surgeons. I had my wisdom teeth out and wanted sedation so my dentist (in a fancy downtown office) referred my to county. I was 160 with insurance to get all 4 out +400 for the sedation and because my were impacted the sedation was covered by insurance. I think it was about 1000 for all 4 before insurance. My co-workers husband had his out at about the same time and it was over 2000 AFTER insurance. I think in a large part because HCMC doesn’t charge for tons of extras that aren’t covered by insurance.

  16. Sarah

    I remember my first year of teaching, I was volunteering at a food bank that had poverty guidelines. I was helping a new person sign up and realized *I was below the poverty line.
    Sometimes I overhear people grumbling about others “on government assistance” and all their grossly wrong stereotypes and I try to kindly remind them that the vast majority are the working poor/unemployed/trying their best. Nobody wants to find themselves in a situation where they need assistance but we can’t always control life’s circumstances.

    • Kikisaver

      Well said, Sarah. I also found myself below the poverty line while in college and teaching. Although I didn’t accept assistance I knew many who did. I began working with a gleaning organization that collected fresh produce and you could work and keep some produce if you needed it or you could donate it all to the food bank. If people realized how many working people are in this situation, needing help, the stigma would finally begin to change…

  17. Diane

    I donate to one of the Salvation Army locations with a food pantry. I drive further to help the Salvation Army located across the street from a large low income housing area that has no grocery store within 1.5 miles. There are no sidewalks and they must pass by interstate on and exit ramp to reach the nearest grocery store.

    I discovered a few years ago that food panties are generally forgotten during the summer months. So I donate all summer and check in during the rest of the year to make sure they have food. Food pantries love proteins like tuna, canned ham and chicken, peanut butter. Saltines are helpful for snacks. I had trouble finding them at a price I was willing to pay until I discovered Aldi’s carries them around .80 box.

    • Adrian

      Food panties LOL

  18. Bonnie

    Many food banks have a once a month limit for a food basket. However, bread & produce are given anyone weekly or even more often during the growing season & often without out any income requirements. Here in eastern Washington, there is also a mobile food bank that visits various locations both in eastern WA & north Idaho once or twice a month. At these events no proof of ID or address are required. Some stops are in rural areas where resources are minimal. The food bank has also begun to partner with others at these events as well. The local energy company sometimes comes with energy efficiency products . The neighborhood action organization helps folks sign up for energy assistance & even a new organization that provides bras has come to sign women up to come get fitted

  19. Lk

    Great comment. I work for a community college and next week is our annual meeting. Everyone has been asked to bring food for a local pantry. However we have several employees, especially student assistants, who can use the services if a food bank. Many of us bring items to work regularly for them.

    • Kikisaver

      That is very kind. Thank you for all you do to lift others up. Our local university recently started a food bank on campus. So needed!!

  20. Libriar

    I volunteer at a food bank. As a result I’ve realized a few things:

    1. To be able to save money through couponing, buying when things are on sale, etc., you need to have money. You can’t stock up on things on sale when you are living paycheck to paycheck. And you can’t shop at multiple stores when you have transportation issues. Being able to take advantage of sales and coupons is mostly reserved for people with the means to do so.

    2. Food banks can get the most bang for their buck with monetary donations rather than food donations. They buy items like rice, pasta, and beans in bulk for quite cheap.

    3. I always buy diapers when I find good sales to donate to the food bank. They are always needed and never have enough. (And this is something they won’t buy with donated money if they run out.)

    • Katrina Weiss

      And to add to number one, not everyone has a separate freezer to keep things in or even a large fridge with a freezer.

  21. angeld001

    My vet gives a discount of five percent if you bring in five items to donate to the local food bank. We have four animals so we are at our vet quite a few times a year. I always donate more than five items each time though ours doesn’t like sample items. I also try to make sure that friends that may be struggling also get some food. I have made all of my friends aware of hip2save, freebies from Kroger, Giant Eagle, Meijer, local resources like the lunches for kids during the summer, and free back to school supply events, etc. I split stuff from Sam’s club with them, give them extras from buy 1, get 1 sales, etc.
    I also volunteer with a local outreach group that feeds the homeless and any free cat/dog food goes to that organization because homeless people have hungry pets too. Every little bit helps.
    The best advice I can give is: become very familiar with all of your local resources.

  22. Jill

    Thanks for your sharing your life us. You should have won the $10 Amazon prize coz this would have been a Friday Hip! Wishing you well despite life’s difficulties you are facing now. Always keep the faith coz God answers all prayers in your most unexpected ways.

  23. Liezl

    I appreciate the boldness for sharing…God bless you more!

  24. Katrina Weiss

    I love helping at (and getting food from) FoodLink. It may only be in NY or Western NY. Community sites like churches and food banks agree to be a distribution point and then every month a truck brings food donated by grocery stores to the site and volunteers set up and give out the food. You never know exactly what’s coming, and sometimes the produce is beyond giving away, but people sometimes take it anyways for their chickens or other animals. There are no income limits, the only questions asked are name and household size.

  25. Jane

    I’m very touched by the honesty in this reader’s letter for my family, too, has recently had to start going to a food bank. My husband was laid off and now I am struggling to provide for my family as best I can by working any and all shifts available to me until he finds new employment. I would have never thought we’d depend on church and government institutions to feed my family. I’m trying hard to keep a positive outlook, especially for my two little children, but I find myself awake at night, worrying how to get through this. May God bless all those out there who are going through similar times.

  26. Amy

    I always try to donate extra items kids need or like during the summer. Kids who receive free or reduced cost lunches often go hungry or do not eat healthy meals in the summer when they are not in school.

  27. Meg

    It was mentioned above, but I do think it’s worth repeating.

    Food banks have special buying agreements. While I think donations of anything are great, if you can donate cash they can buy much more with it than you can. A 10.00 donation to our local food bank gets enough groceries for four meals for a family of four and then some! I think most people aren’t aware that a dollar donated to the food bank really has super power beyond what it has in your wallet (even with coupons)!
    Thanks for the post, Colin. I think it was a lovely service to your readers.

    • Jennifer B.

      Our food bank states that a $1 donation buys $10 worth of food, so it really does have “super power.”

      Someone else posted to learn about your local resources. I highly agree. Find out what they need most and be on the look-out for sales and deals to help meet those needs when you can.

  28. Kikisaver

    Food banks are such a lifeline for so many people. I work at our regional food bank and many of the people who volunteer their time there have previously received emergency food boxes. There is no shame in reaching out for help. It is hard to ask for help and I’ve lived with and understand hunger and pride and the reluctance. Thank you for bravely reaching out and sharing your story. You are helping people who read it who hesitate to ask for help, which is hard. Hold your head up high! No one should ever go hungry in this country where food is so abundant. Not on my watch! God bless you!

  29. Tara

    I’ve been in your shoes. It is so much easier on us to help then to ask for help. Anytime I hit a rough patch, my mom always reminded me what of I’ve done and not to feel bad if I need help for my family. That’s not why we do it though. God bless you and good luck!

  30. MCouzens

    I donate to a local food bank in my community every month. They automatically take it out of my bank account. I also volunteer at this same food bank from time to time. And even though I have never needed this type of assistance I have come very close. And if I ever did need it I would feel good knowing that I gave when I could & didn’t just take when I needed. You and your family have done the same thing & you should not feel any shame. You are doing your best just like all of us. We must support these organizations so that they are there for whoever may need them, even ourselves someday. God bless you & your family.

  31. Piyamas

    We make a summer “to do” list with the kids and donating to the food bank is always on it. For the holidays, we donate to families of service people who are in the hospital. They are often struggling as well. Though as important it is to donate food & $, please, please, please, look at all of the need out there and then ask your candidates for office at the local, state, and national level if they are in favor of cutting this invaluable resource. So many of these “safety nets” are being forced to make due with less, and sometimes those in the private community don’t have the resources to donate.

  32. Joy

    Many community organizations have online websites and often post ‘wish lists’, giving you good ideas of items they are most wishing to receive. My mom and I often use coupons to shop for personal products (hair care, razors, deodorant), pasta, peanut butter as they included on our favorite organization’s wish list.

  33. Lauren

    Amen, amen! Great post and great responses from many compassionate and empathetic people.

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