20 Items to Add to Your Next Food Bank Donation

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We’re sharing the best food bank donations to make, and a few to avoid!

smiling woman holding a box of donation items in front of an open vehicle door

While food banks certainly appreciate your donations at any time of year, the holiday season can put an additional strain on their resources. As a result, they are especially grateful for your generosity at this time of year!

With this in mind, many individuals and organizations like to increase their donations leading up to Christmas to help meet the surging needs of their community.

woman adding items to a full box of donations

Below, we’re sharing some things to keep in mind when planning a donation to your local food bank. We’re covering the best food bank donations, things to avoid, and a few general ideas to keep in mind.

What donation items are at the top of food banks’ wish lists?

filling boxes at a food bank

First and foremost, cash is always a welcome donation. Oftentimes, your monetary donation can be used by the food bank to purchase food at a discount. As a result, donating cash may stretch your dollar farther than purchasing food at the grocery store or another retailer.

If you’d like to make a donation of food or personal care products, we have a list of items that food banks are always happy to receive – there are some things that may surprise you!

If you’re looking to keep costs down (who isn’t this year?) and would like to do a little one-stop shopping, we were able to find all of the items below at our local Dollar Tree. You may be able to find better prices when you shop weekly sales, and if you’re a Walgreens shopper, you may even be able to score some of these items free after coupon stacks and rewards.

dollar tree cart full of donation items

1. Manual can opener
2. Canned vegetables, beans, soup, etc.
3. Boxed milk
4. Vegetable oil
5. Salt & Pepper
6. Other spices and condiments like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, etc.
7. Tea bags
8. Ground coffee
9. Sugar
10. Flour
11. Tuna or other canned meat
12. Crackers
13. Sandwich bread
14. Cake mix & frosting
15. Stuffing mix
16. Cereal
17. Dish & laundry detergent
18. Feminine hygiene items
19. Baby food, formula, & diapers
20. Perishable items (select food banks only)

Be sure to check with your local food bank to see if they can accommodate perishable foods like milk, eggs, butter, margarine, fresh meat, and produce. Many food banks cannot accept these items, but if they can, these foods will be greatly appreciated by the recipients.

Bonus: Keep an eye out for vegetable and herb seeds! If it’s not season-appropriate for outdoor planting, they can still be used for container gardening.

Bottles of Swirl Wine lined up on a table

What not to donate to a food bank!

While most of your food bank donations will be gratefully accepted, there are definitely a few items you’ll want to avoid.

At the top of the do-not-donate list is usually alcohol. Many well-intentioned people try to donate alcohol to food banks, especially around the holidays. Most food banks cannot accept these donations.

Open, used, or expired products should not be donated, either. This includes any product that has an expiration date that is hard to read.

Because only properly sealed items can be donated, homemade baked goods and leftovers unfortunately can’t be accepted, either.

hand holding two boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese

Finally, there are some food items that are perfectly fine to donate, but your food bank may already have a lot of them. These include the following:

  • Boxed Macaroni and Cheese – Many individuals don’t take home boxed mac and cheese when these see it at the food bank. This is likely due to the fact that it requires milk and butter, which are not available at most food banks.
  • Seasoned rice mixes – These often go unclaimed at food banks because they require butter or cooking oil.
  • Hamburger Helper – Most food banks can not stock ground beef, making a box of Hamburger Helper less appealing to individuals in need.
  • Spaghetti and pasta sauce – These are popular donations, so your food bank may already have a lot of them on the shelf.
  • Peanut butter and jelly – These are often donated too, so you may want to consider the less frequently-donated sandwich bread instead!

Looking for more ways to make a positive impact in your community?

About the writer:

Jenna has a Bachelor's Degree from Lycoming College and her Master's from Penn State, holding 4 years of writing experience between a variety of publications and Hip2Save.

Join The Discussion

Comments 8

  1. Teah

    I had heard once before that food banks get a lot of cereal but no milk because its perishable. Dry cereal isn’t always the best…How ever consider shelf stable milk when you donate cereal. I’ve seen cartons of it at both Dollar tree and Wal-mart

    • Trish (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks for sharing this helpful tip, Teah! πŸ€—β€οΈ

  2. Sarah

    I recently volunteered at a Food Bank with work and the Director told me cans of Chef Boyardee are the #1 thing they wished they received more often. This is because kids often make their own lunch/dinner while parents are working.

  3. llc

    As a food bank volunteer (for years) this is all dependent on the location and what is available at the time. We have mac and cheese all the time and the clients love it. Its a shelf stable item and many clients are on WIC so they get milk. And we hand out milk alot at the food bank, its just determinate on the donations. Mostly its fresh but sometimes its the shelf stable kind. Canned meats are preferred over peanut butter. Cooking oils are a real treat. Canned fruit is also great. Pantries seem to always have canned pasta sauce (like spaghetti sauce) so ready to eat like spaghetti o are better. Chili and Soup are great too.

    • Trish (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks for commenting, llc! Good to know what items are preferred at most food banks and that it can also vary depending on location and availability! πŸ’ž

  4. Danette

    Also toothbrushes and toothpaste and shampoo and soap. Breaks my heart to watch people grab that up.

  5. Klp

    It’s good to buy canned items that have the pop top so a can opener isn’t needed πŸ™‚

  6. Amy

    There is a food pantry near my work (also close to a college), and they got a large shipment of laundry detergent that just flew off the shelves. One of the workers pointed out that you can cobble together a fair amount of food from soup kitchens and the like, but personal care and cleaning items are more expensive and harder to find. They often have packs of Clorox wipes too, and those go super fast. As for food items, they said canned soup and canned ready meals (not just for kids!) are great for working people.

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