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My Trip to the Food Bank

GroceriesLaurie at The Frugal Farmer wrote a post a while back about how her mom worked really hard but just didn’t have enough money for groceries at one point. That post really stuck with me, and I vowed to find out more about the food banks in our community to see if there was something I could do to help. After I read an article in the local paper that asked for food donations,  I knew it was time for action. While I wasn’t really looking for a cheap route, I found out that giving food to the needy is actually one of the least expensive ways you can give back to the community.

Clean Out the Pantry

First I started with my own pantry. We’ve been doing really good about eating things we already have on hand, but sometimes you find food in your cabinet that you know you’ll never eat. I’m not sure why I had four jars of pickles. I also found a package of pre-made Spanish rice, a can of soup in a flavor we’d never eat,  and an unopened box of cereal that no one in my house likes. It makes me wonder if goblins stocked my pantry, but oh, well, I feel better knowing this stuff is going to get eaten by someone. We are truly not hungry enough to need it.

Look at Grocery Sales

On my most recent grocery trip, cereal was on sale for about a dollar a box. I added three extra boxes of Cheerios for the food bank. Canned vegetables were also on sale for $.67, so I grabbed a few of those. For just over $5 and what was in my pantry, I had two bags of food to give away. My neighbor’s garden is going bananas, and he gave us way more zucchini than we’ll ever eat, so I threw one of those in there too. I wasn’t sure if they took produce, but thought I would ask.

In the past, I’ve put canned food in the donation box at the front of the grocery store at Christmas, or I’ve given to the Boy Scouts when they come around for their annual food drive, bit I’ve never visited a food bank. That changed last week when I dropped off the food.

You Feed the Community From There?

I’m not sure what I was expecting, and I’m sure food banks are larger in the city, but this one was a really small place with a really small stockpile of food for the amount of people that come through there. I asked what their biggest need was.

The volunteer who was working told me to first buy whatever was on sale. They could use it. They did take some produce, so my zucchini will hopefully find a good home. She also said there was a big need for things like peanut butter, cereal, pasta, tuna, and canned soups. It also broke my heart to hear that cans that don’t require an opener are requested because small children can get into those if they have to fend for themselves.

Are You Judgmental?

I admit that I’ve had pretty harsh thoughts in the past when I’ve seen people paying with food stamps buying a cart load of convenience foods. We all know it’s cheaper to make foods from scratch, but I guess many food bank clients live out of cars or cheap motel rooms without stoves or refrigerators. I know there are plenty of people who work the system, but I’m going to try not to be so judgmental going forward.

I am also going to admit how lucky and spoiled I am because I don’t ever remember having to wonder if I would have food at the next meal time. I believe anyone can change their situation in life, but maybe they need some help along the way.  I think from now on, I will make it a part of my grocery shopping trips to add a few items for the food bank. I can only hope someone would do the same for me if I was ever in that situation.

Have you ever been to the food bank? What do you have in your pantry that will never get eaten?

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/kratuanoiy

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. Kim, this post brought tears to my eyes – thank you so much for not only linking to my story, but for taking action. In my many years of work with the impoverish, I’ve found that many, many people “make their own bed” so to speak, by seriously wasting their money ($100 tennis shoes and smartphones) and then cry foul when there’s no money for food. But there are also many families that, due to their best efforts, just can’t make it, and this is why helping out with food where we can is SO important. It’s a horrible feeling not knowing where your next meal is going to come from, and like you spelled out so eloquently, we can help others have food and do it cheaply as well. And even if the money’s not there, there’s other things you can do. A couple of our experiences in helping these people have been to: 1. deliver food that a local church had bought to the needy families, and for another stint we would go each week to the food shelf and pack the food that the needy would come and pick up. A side benefit of that volunteer job was that when volunteers left, they were allowed to take home a whole bag of food for themselves. Neither of these cost us much, but yet they helped people tremendously. Kim, I’m so glad you’ve got a heart to help in this area, as, especially now with having my own children, it’s an issue that’s close to my heart. Thank you a million times over for making a difference, because it really does make a difference to those struggling to feed their families.

  2. I have volunteered at a food bank, and I think providing food for those who can’t afford to buy it themselves is something we should all contribute to in one way or another, even if it’s just dropping off a few cans of non-perishables. I

  3. There are people out there who really do struggle and need help with food. That’s why I always get so upset when I see people judging others on welfare or food stamps. No one knows the situation that those people are really in. A few people can give everyone on welfare a bad rep. It’s so much easier to think of the people abusing the system than it is to think of those that the system really helps. This post makes me want to go visit my local food bank. It kills me that some kids have to fend for themselves. It’s heartbreaking.

    • You probably never hear the people who are really in need talking about it either. It’s only the ones who sit around and complain about what benefits they have and how they need more who make you crazy.

  4. Good post Kim, on multiple levels. It’s funny, because I actually wrote on cutting food stamps today. It’s a crying shame to read about kids being impacted through this and it just hurts my heart to know that it is going on. So many of us have been incredibly blessed, but at the same time so many are in need through a variety of situations. We have given to our Food Bank in the past, usually once or twice a year and this post just encourages me to do it more.

  5. I recently had a reminder not to judge anyone until I walked a mile in their shoes. I was in line at the grocery store behind a woman who was using food stamps for her groceries. She said that I might want to move to another register because it would take a while — they had to match each “stamp” (looked like a check) to each product she bought, and enter the amount into the register. As a couponer, I am all too familiar with holding up lines so I told her it wasn’t a problem and waited for her to be done. It amazed me how hard she had to work at the grocery store to match each “stamp” to an approved product that was priced under the amount of the stamp. She had a young child with her, and she said that she was fostering the child, and the stamps she was using was her benefit for fostering the child but it took her so long to get through a week’s worth of grocery shopping that it almost wasn’t worth it. But if she didn’t use the stamps, she couldn’t foster the child. As though fostering isn’t hard enough, she has another burden lumped onto her because other people cheat the system!

    • I’m sure that’s why the vouchers are the way they are. My original thought would have probably been, “If you get it for free, you shouldn’t complain about what you get.” This certainly makes me rethink that statement.

  6. Our local food pantry is great and before we moved, I used to volunteer with an organization that partnered with them to send backpacks full of food home with kids on Fridays to make sure they would have plenty o food on the weekend even when they didn’t have free breakfast and lunch at school. Lots of individual servings and kid friendly packaging that might be “wasteful” for being comvenience foods, but you knew a kid could make themselves easy Mac a lot easier than a box of Mac and cheese.

    • That is a very good point. There is a good chance people needing food will not have milk and butter back at the house. I should grab some of those little microwave cups for next time.

  7. I’m glad food banks exist. I’ve often tried to give food directly to the homeless or people asking for help on the street and they are so judgmental and often unappreciative. Now I know where I should go with my food.

  8. Thank you for sharing this. Too often I take for granted my ability to purchase and incorporate fresh, whole foods into my meals. This was a sobering post – in a good way. Thanks for detailing what we can do to help. I’m going to go through my pantry as soon as I get home today.

  9. My wife an dI volunteer at a non profit that feeds the homeless. It is definitely one of the most rewarding time I spend.

  10. Oh sorry but honestly I didn’t know that there is a food bank, after I read this post I immediately searched on the internet if we have food bank here in our country. And luckily I found their website and I hope I can send something to help.

  11. No I am not judgemental at all and we have on more than one occasion donated to the food bank and any other organizations that need food. We used coupons in the past to get so much free stuff that it was nothing to donate as much as we could. Many of my fans that still coupon heavily donate but it doesn’t stop there because you don’t have to coupon to donate. We pick up items on dollar days and load up and drop them off as well. Every little bit helps.

    • Sometimes I don’t get the free items when I stumble upon them if it’s not something we use, but I will from now on. I’ve also realized how spoiled we are with what we eat. If we were hungry we would not be so choosy.

  12. I recently watched the documentary A Place at the Table, which was about food insecurity, a term I had not heard of. Because even if people are getting food, they are essentially still starving. Food banks are a double edged sword for me. On one hand I think they are great in feeding people, but most of the food, in my opinion, is not healthy. Processed and sugary foods…things high in sodium. It’s very possible to be overweight and hungry at the same time in America. It’s crazy! What’s the solution? I have no idea…maybe free community classes how to teach people to keep with cheap ingredients from scratch? I think another problem might be time. In the case of a single mother who might be working two jobs to make ends meet..she might not have the time to cook from scratch. In any case, it’s still a very BIG problem in our country. 🙁

    • I used to be on a community health committee and that was a huge issue. People were getting tons of food assistance but buying crap and running out of food because they bought all microwave stuff. A huge issue was that the mom didn’t know how to cook. They offer cooking classes all the time, but they are poorly attended. I don’t think anyone should try and survive long term on food banks, but hopefully, it’s a short term solution until people can get out of transitional housing. I like to think those are the ones I’m helping. Crap food is cheaper. There is no way around that until there are enough community gardens or similar and people actually learn how and take the time to cook.

  13. Every few months I check in with our food bank to ask what they need the most, then publish that info via some industry organizations I’m involved with. Usually, the responses include deodorant and shampoo, which I had never thought of until the past few years! Kids lunch stuff is also on the list most of the time, like granola bars, juice boxes, fruit snacks and such.
    One thing to note is that many food banks get wicked pricing deals, so while it doesn’t feel as good for the giver, cash is usually the best gift we can give!

    • I would have never thought deodorant and shampoo, but if you can’t afford food, I guess you can’t afford health and beauty products.

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