We may not have all been there, but I'll bet you know someone who has had to depend on the kindness of others for their next meal. In November 2009, my husband lost his job. I wasn't working at the time, so we had no income at all. At the time, we lived off our savings. In August 2010, he found a job that lasted only 4 months, and I found a part time job as a local church secretary. It took my husband almost another full year to replace the job that didn't work out. During that time, we were fortunate enough to have help from friends, members of our own congregation, family, my bosses, and yes, a food pantry.
If you have to seek help from a food pantry, what can you expect to find in your distribution?
Protein: Usually dried beans, canned beans, canned chicken or tuna, peanut butter. If you visit a food bank partially funded by programs such as Feeding America (formerly known as Second Harvest) that can obtain USDA surplus foods, you may also get some frozen meat like ground beef or chicken.
Grains: Rice, pasta, macaroni and cheese packages, crackers, cereal, oatmeal. Sometimes bread or mixes for items like muffins or cornbread. Rarely tortillas (although these may be more common in other regions/states).
Fruits and vegetables: Canned fruits, canned vegetables. Some food pantries may have access to in season fresh produce.
Dairy: USDA surplus cheese, canned evaporated milk, powdered milk. Occasionally eggs.
Canned goods: Soup, ravioli/pasta meals, refried beans, stewed tomatoes or tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce
Other: Occasionally you may also receive toilet paper, paper towels, soap, shampoo, dish washing detergent, laundry detergent, packaged foods (like Hamburger Helper or taco kits), juice, cookies, cake mixes, small bags of candy, ketchup, mustard, mayo, basic herbs and spices, salsa. Some food pantries also distribute hats, scarves, and mittens in the winter time.
What items should you take away from the food pantry?
Some food pantries have bags and boxes already prepared for clients to pick up when they arrive. Others will let clients "shop" for items they need or can use the most. If you are able to shop, even for part of your food, here are some things to look for.
- Peanut butter. It goes a long way toward feeding hungry children and can make several meals.
- Frozen meats
- Canned tuna or chicken, especially if no frozen meats are available.
- Dried beans
- Bread or crackers
- Canned evaporated milk
- Stewed tomatoes or tomato sauce
- Canned vegetables
- Basic herbs/spices (if you need them)
What can I possibly make from this stuff?
Well, the first thing to remember is that a food pantry distribution is probably NOT going to get you through an entire month. When I was using a food pantry, I was only getting canned goods - no frozen meats, cheese, or produce. But I was able to "shop" for the items I needed most. I choose carefully, anticipating what may need to be purchased to round out a meal with the items I brought home. Sometimes I could visit a separate bread pantry, which on rare occasion also had eggs.
Find the entire Making the Best of Things series here.