We’re heading into food drive season: The time of year when bins at grocery stores and notes in children's backpacks remind us that some members of our community are less fortunate than others and ask us to help if we can. I have mixed feelings about this. With so much need around us, any effort to help our neighbors is important, but I hate to see the holidays branded as the only giving season. Food insecurity is an issue that won’t go away after the lights and festive decorations come down.
I know firsthand what it feels like to stare at an empty cupboard. To gather up all the change from the top of the washing machine and the cushions of your couch and realize you still don’t have enough money to buy milk for your child. Twenty years ago, I relied on my local food bank for help feeding my son.
I was a single mom, working as a receptionist, and every month I was handed a box full of food by volunteers at my local food bank. It was mostly staples: items like dried macaroni, eggs, pancake mix, powdered milk and peanut butter, which helped me stretch my meager paycheck further at the grocery store and keep my son’s stomach full.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
These donations were especially helpful when unexpected expenses arose, like car repairs or a higher-than-normal utility bill. For me, the assistance I received from the food bank was no more vital during the holidays than it was the rest of the year.
“The vast majority of our customers are regulars,” says Marelle Habenicht, executive director of the White Center Food Bank. “There’s no particular time of year that we need more help than others.”
According to Northwest Harvest, a nonprofit food bank distributor that provides close to 2 million meals a month to hungry Washingtonians through their network of 275 food banks, high-need schools, and meal programs, 1 in 9 Washingtonians are fighting hunger.
If you’re in a position to support your local food bank, Habenicht says cash donations are the best way to help: “With the cooperation and partnership of many local vendors, White Center Food Bank is able to stretch a dollar much further than the average person.”
If you prefer to donate food, Northwest Harvest suggests “shelf-stable foods with the lowest saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar.” Since they buy oats, white rice, beans, tomato products, and pasta in bulk, they encourage the public to donate other nonperishables instead.
The Northwest Harvest website lists the following items they most urgently need, ranked by importance:
- Beef stew, chili and similar meals with low salt, sugar and saturated fats
- Canned fruit, especially with low sugar (but not artificial sweeteners)
- Canned fish or meat
- Peanut butter (plastic jars are preferred)
- Canned vegetables (low sodium)
- Brown rice
- Whole grain pasta
- Canned tomato sauces
- Shelf-stable milk
Infant and baby foods:
- Baby formula
- Jars of baby food
- Powdered or canned milk
- Infant cereal
They also accept baby diapers. This holiday season, it’s important to remember local families in need, and to keep remembering those families all year round.