Whether it’s grocery shopping for an elderly friend, organizing moms to make lasagna, or donating to a food bank or food drive, food is a powerful way to support our community.
As the holidays approach, more people are starting to think about how to donate to a Thanksgiving food drive or even host one.
In 2020, food banks across the country are faced with a huge surge in demand and challenges such as shortages and limited volunteers.
Feeding America estimates that one in six Americans have struggled with hunger as a result of the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 crisis has brought food insecurity into the spotlight, and many families will experience food insecurity,” said Adrienne Worthington, RDN, LDN, director of nutrition programs at the Greater Boston Food Bank. “The holidays will look a lot different for everyone this year, but it will be even harder for those struggling with hunger.”
Now more than ever, how we think about Thanksgiving and our own concerns surrounding the holiday can be quite different.
How to donate to the Thanksgiving food drive
“Since COVID-19 has limited the availability of volunteer opportunities, there are two main ways you can help,” said Worthington. “The first is to support your local food bank with a financial donation.” The second is to donate your own purchased items.
And before you head to the store or grab your credit card, let’s talk about the difference between a food bank, a food pantry, and a food drive.
A food bank Worthington explains that a large warehouse that distributes millions of pounds of food to local organizations, such as food pantries, soup kitchens and housing programs.
Food pantry Companies that directly deliver — and may run — groceries or cooked meals on demand Food driveor requests from the public for food.
With purchasing power supported by grants, food banks can help reduce overall costs by buying in bulk.
“For example, the Greater Boston Food Bank can provide a full Thanksgiving dinner for a family of five for just $25,” Worthington said.
The big difference is whether to purchase items that you personally select or let an organization decide.
How to Find a Thanksgiving Food Drive
During the holiday, many grocery stores and local organizations hold Thanksgiving food drives.
Another option is to check local food pantries or food bank websites to find out where food drives are happening.
“It’s important to ask how they receive donations from the community,” says Worthington. “They will give you details such as the days and times they are open and any COVID-related regulations.”
“You can also donate to the virtual food drive,” says Carolyn Pullen, MS, RD, LDN, nutrition manager at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. “While donating to a traditional food drive limits you to shelf-stable foods, donating to a virtual food drive allows us to source the food we need most with healthy, fresh produce.”
What items should I donate to the Thanksgiving food drive?
“Food drives only take shelf-stable items like boxes, cans and containers that you find in the middle of the grocery store that don’t require refrigeration,” says Worthington.
Healthy, filling foods are always in demand. “Our most requested items are peanut butter, canned fruits and vegetables, canned meats, beans, soups and stews, pasta and cereal,” says Pullen.
Here are some good items to start with:
On a cold day, oatmeal is a comforting breakfast food that’s easy to expand and personalize based on what you have on hand.
“Think about the days before and after Thanksgiving and donate breakfast cereals like farina and oats,” says Worthington.
2. Nut butter
“When donating to a food drive, it’s important to think about what food people want and need,” Pullen said
Peanut butter is always a popular choice, especially for kids. Think beyond peanut butter and also consider some allergen-free alternatives like sunflower seed butter.
3. Low-sodium canned vegetables
“Reduced-sodium items such as canned vegetables or vegetable broth will help families prepare meals,” says Worthington. “If you want to keep it Thanksgiving-centric, think about the kinds of sides you can provide.”
4. Canned protein
Canned tuna and beans are healthy food shortcuts. “Proteins like low-sodium canned beans, chicken, and tuna are good options,” says Worthington.
With canned beans, you can also make plant-based options for Thanksgiving meals, then find creative ways to use leftovers.
5. Canned pumpkin puree
It is Thanksgiving after all, and nothing says fall like some yummy pumpkin spice. “Pie fillings and cake mixes are also great, because who doesn’t love dessert?” Worthington said.