This time of year, food banks are working extra hard to keep their shelves stocked. If you're in a charitable mood, you might be wondering what exactly these charities are looking for in the way of donations. A recent thread on Reddit explored just that. Numerous commenters with experience either working at or patronizing food banks offered their thoughts on the best items to donate—and it's not just food, either.

Along with the following 10 ideas, there may be an even simpler way to find out what your food bank needs: "The best advice I can offer is to call your local food bank and ask them. Needs are locally determined and can change depending on what is donated by others that week."


Warm feet can make all the difference, especially so at this time of year. As one formerly homeless commenter said, "Socks mean the world to you. They keep you warm, make you feel like you have something new, and just comfort you. Also, they get stolen fast when you sleep on the streets."


Spices are cheap, versatile and you can get them in bulk, so this is a great choice for a donation. A little cayenne pepper, for example, can add some extra, needed flavor to an otherwise bland meal.


Meat is a bit more expensive, and it can be a rarity at food banks. As one commenter noted:

"If you're a hunter and your local food bank participates in Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH) you can donate any excess meat you harvest. In some states it enables you to harvest over the limit provided you donate the butchered meat. Food banks love getting fresh venison because it's both versatile and adds some variety to what they can provide."

Feminine Products

You might not think that a food bank would have a need for tampons, pads or panty liners, but it's a constant concern for any woman living on the street. Food banks will gladly accept donations of feminine hygiene products, as their patrons frequently cannot afford them themselves.


Many states' food-stamp programs restrict their users to buying just food and food-related necessities. Unfortunately, this does not cover things like toilet paper, toothpaste, deodorant or soap, so any of those items are a major help.

Dried Milk and Butter

Lots of items on shelves at food banks would be great to eat if only there weren't certain key missing ingredients, and frequently those problems can be solved by adding a little dry milk or butter. "You get lots of hamburger helper, mac n' cheese, cereal, etc., but no butter or milk," said one commenter who had made many trips to his local food bank. "If you donate dry milk and dry butter (called butter buds), you'd be doing a lot of poor folks a HUGE favor."

Baby Formula

Another item that can be pretty expensive and thus hard to find at a food bank is baby formula. But many poor or homeless mothers are in desperate need of high-quality formula for their infants.

Fresh Fruit

A batch of fresh oranges or pears is a delicacy compared with the usual canned produce at food banks: "Fresh fruits are always awesome to receive," said one commenter. "We once got a package of strawberries and a bag of mangos, and we ate like kings that week!"

Diabetic-Friendly Foods

Diabetics have very specific dietary needs, and it can be extra difficult to regulate your blood sugar if you have to rely on food banks. So keep in mind items like brown rice, whole-grain foods and things with reduced sugar.


If you're in any doubt about what's best to give, money is always an excellent choice. Commenter Piprod01 put it succinctly: "Money. Without a doubt. Food banks can buy food far cheaper than you can, and they would actually get stuff they know people will eat and won't need someone to check for spoilage."

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