Fresh fruit? Check. Almond milk? Got it. Brown rice? Better grab two. Each week, my grocery list includes a little something extra. Of course, I splurge on treats for myself (hello, chai tea!) and Mr. P (cheers, beer!) every once in a while. But those are not consistent extras. I do, however, routinely add items for my local food bank to my grocery list. In fact, I make it a point to purchase at least one item for the food pantry each week. The why is obvious, but the benefits–both budgetary and otherwise–might not be.
There’s A Real Need
First, let’s state the obvious: The economy and the job market are both turbulent to say the least, and homelessness is a sad part of reality. Each year, I’m amazed by the number of homeless students I encounter. Even if people are not homeless, local food banks help provide much-needed meals for those who need it most. Donating to area food banks is important. Donating consistently all year long is even more vital.
Stocking the Food Bank Differently
Our neighborhood collaborates with area churches to put together a huge food drive right before Thanksgiving. The United States Postal Service also hosts a mail carrier food drive in the spring. Previously, I, like most people, would make an extra trip to the store and fill my cart with the most-requested items whenever I learned of these drives. This kindness benefited the food pantry, but not my budget. After a year of this, a solution was staring me in the face: buy one donation item every week.
By purchasing a nonperishable donation item every week, I can stick to my grocery budget and support the food pantry year round. Typically, I will either buy multiples of an item that I scored for a great sale price or I’ll stock up on food pantry staples. While it might mean adding a few extra dollars to my spending every week, I always have the items on hand. That means if a food drive happens, I don’t have to make an extra trip to the store or worry about adjusting my budget. By creating this donation stockpile, I can also help keep my food pantry supplied all the time.
My Picks for Donation Items
Spices – Dietary staples like rice and beans can be bland. Buying garlic powder, minced onion, or cinnamon can add a little zip to anyone’s cooking.
Peanut Butter – I’ve waxed poetic about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before, but peanut butter is a quick and easy source of protein. Open jar, insert spoon, find happiness.
Snack Packs – I always try to scoop up tuna and cracker snack packs when I find them. I used to always donate rice, beans, and other items that people — myself included — could use to make a frugal meal. However, I realized that not everyone has easy access to a kitchen. These snack packs make for excellent mini-meals.
Feminine Products and Diapers – Um. Hello. These items are ridiculously expensive and essentially unavoidable. I can’t even begin to imagine being in a situation where I had to choose between purchasing food or sanitary items.
Of course, every food bank is different. Consult yours here for a list of their most-needed items.
When it comes to personal finance and budgets, it is not just about one person’s wallet. No one spends or saves money in isolation. We are all part of communities – local, virtual, global. So when it comes to our budget, we could certainly shave our budget a little more if we crossed the food bank off our shopping list. But giving to others is the biggest gift I can give myself, and I’ll never be able to put a price on that.
So Tell Me…What items do you give to your food bank? Would you consider adding donation items to your shopping list? What are your favorite ways to give back to the community?