Charitable contributions, food bank, food pantry, helping others

Politics, Charitable Contributions and the Food Pantry

In the months leading up to the election, there was no shortage of politically-charged opinions and, in this digital age, my Facebook newsfeed was overflowing with damnations and sweeping generalizations of those “greedy” Republicans and Democrats who “live off the government”. Mitt Romney was vilified for his comments about the 47% and the “very poor”. Obama was labeled a Communist and my conservative friends insisted it isn’t government’s role to care for people, it’s charity’s responsibility. Opinions aside, I had to wonder, were my liberal friends helping the “very poor” they apparently cared so much about? Were my conservative friends giving to the charities they claimed should help their fellow Americans? Sure, everyone posted politically charged status updates and self-congratulatory photos of their “I Voted!” stickers, but was there any meaningful action behind it all?

I volunteer every other week at a local food pantry. To capitalize on everyone’s current political enthusiasm, I urged friends to take a more active role in helping those less fortunate. I challenged each of them to ‘put your money where your mouth is’. Rather than post another snarky status update, I encouraged them to help those “very poor” caught in the political crossfire by donating to their local food pantries.

The Food Pantry Challenge

I am extending the same challenge to you. To maximize your donation, here are some pointers I have acquired while volunteering:

1. The food pantry is not your garbage can. Do not give them your expired food with the mindset that they should be happy for what they get. No one is happy when they get botulism. Expired food has to be thrown out, but only after the volunteers’ time has been wasted by checking each can’s date then lugging them all to a dumpster.

2. Staples like oil, flour and sugar are rarely donated and always needed and appreciated.

3. When donating mixes (like instant potatoes or muffins) ones that require only water are preferable to those that require milk, oil and/or eggs, which are often precious commodities.

4. No prep, easy-open, shelf stable foods are ideal for children who are home alone and cannot prepare their own snacks. Ideas include low-fat pudding cups, trail mix, beef jerky, easy-open fruit cups, 100% juice boxes and peanut butter cracker sandwiches.

5. Laundry detergent is not covered by food stamps and is always needed. Any kind is helpful; laundry pods are easily portable for those who do their laundry outside the home, while liquids and powdered formulas allow people to use less, stretching the bottle over many loads.

6. Give regularly. After the holidays, donations drop dramatically. It’s heartbreaking to look a child in the face during the summer and apologize because you have no cereal for her breakfast this month.

7. Many kids living in poverty are not afforded the luxury of a birthday cake. Consider making birthday packs for your local food pantry. Include a disposable aluminum pan for baking, cake mix, frosting, candles and a birthday card. This is a great service project for classrooms, workplaces, scouts and kids earning volunteer hours for graduation, confirmation or bar and bat mitzvahs. Every child deserves a happy birthday.

8. It is true that some food pantry recipients are there because of their own bad choices. However, many of these recipients have children. Do not avoid giving simply to punish people for making bad choices. In the end, it’s their kids who end up suffering.

9. A fair number of recipients are the elderly who have outlived their savings and can no longer work. Incontinence products, Tucks pads and denture products are always needed.

10. If you’re a vegetable gardener, share your bounty or plant a few extra plants for your local pantry. Fresh produce is a rare treat for many of these families.

11. Don’t forget the animals! In this economy, many families must surrender their pets and shelters are overflowing. A donation to your favorite (preferably no-kill) shelter is a great way to help our furry friends. Cash is ideal but if you don’t have any to spare, inquire about other needs they may have like old blankets. Animals have no voice…they are depending on you!

Helping Others: It’s Easy

It is my sincere hope that some of my friends, and you, accept my challenge. It’s very easy to flaunt one’s holier-than-thou, pious political beliefs on Facebook during election season but talk is cheap. The real measure of one’s convictions—and the only way to enact real change—is the willingness to follow through with action and help fill up your local food pantry.

Jennifer Rhodes is a writer and teacher whose big mouth and complete absence of sound judgment make her a liability in most professional and social situations even when inviting others’ charitable contributions to a food pantry.

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