Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Making the Best of Things - Food Pantry Distribution

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
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Bread or crackers
  • Oatmeal
  • Cheese
  • Canned evaporated milk
  • Eggs
  • Stewed tomatoes or tomato sauce
  • Canned vegetables
  • Salsa
  • Basic herbs/spices (if you need them)
I tended to stay away from "one meal" items, e.g. canned soups or ravioli type items, although canned soups can be bulked up by adding vegetables or pasta, depending on the soup.  I also try to steer clear of anything with a high sodium content like the Hamburger Helper type meals.  Try to walk away with the most nutrition for your share.

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.

Next week we'll look at some of the very basic meals that can be made using primarily foods obtained from a food pantry.

Find the entire Making the Best of Things series here.


  1. Our food pantry at our church has become a part of my ministry. I enjoyed reading this and appreciate you posting about it. I have posted about ours at my blog if you would like to read about it.

  2. Great Post, I have too had to relied on our church's Alm's pantry. My husband lost his job and I am disabled due to my back/surgeries on it. So we too struggled to make ends meet! Our church's Alm's is great! I love the great provision we provide for others'. God will provided for us and others too. My son's school collects Alms every Thursday during their Chapel for it. We have monthly collections that is distributed by the a list and you chose by the letter of your last name to purchase by.(which rotates too. Also for special events we collect Alms. During Vacation Bible School this year we collected with a little competition going for the kids/also group who brought the most gets a small prize, it was such a success. We were able to bring in over 2,500 items for the Alms Pantry in just 5 Days. Its great to take care of the flock as we re intended to do. Be blessed and Great Post!

  3. Thank you so much for posting this!! Not only is this a great resource for those getting food, but for those donating! What a great list to consider when making donations, especially around Thanksgiving!