(Originally posted on the Chicago Metroblog)
Shaun and Jin just got back from Baton Rouge, where they were volunteering in an impromptu food bank. They were organizing incoming pallets of donated food into a grocery store-style arrangement (they were, in fact, in an old grocery store space). They were receiving donations collated from individuals, like when you put food in that pile at the grocery store that they say will be shipped to the Gulf Coast, and came back with some gentle suggestions for people donating in that fashion:
Don't donate single servings. Many boxes of food seemed to be packed on the assumption that they would be handed to a single family. They're not -- someone is going to have to sort your box out into general categories of food. And a single pack of peanut butter crackers is, at best, going to end up crushed at the bottom of a pile of snack foods or, at worst, just be thrown away. A single Slim Jim or a tea bag? WTF, my friends, WTF?
Don't donate "fancy" foods -- Trader Joe's Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Roasted Red Peppers are much less useful than peanut butter or mac & cheese. Which segues into -- people may not be able to cook the food -- so microwave popcorn is pretty useless. Shaun says, "I found dry lasagna noodles. I love lasagna, but good luck finding hamburger, sauce, ricotta cheese, etc here at the food bank."
Don't donate your left-overs. That half-bag of popcorn may be "perfectly fine" but we don't know where it's been and volunteers are told to just throw away opened containers.
Oh, and don't donate your unopened leftovers either. There's a reason that pumpkin pie filling is still in your cabinet, so no one else is going to want it either. The same goes for canned sliced carrots and lima beans.
This would seem obvious, but don't give perishables. Shaun opened up a pallet from California that was half-full of bibles (OK, sure) and filled the rest of the way with bread. Well, it had been bread when it left Cali but was a bunch of bags of mold by the time it got to Louisiana.
And, dear god, do not donate prescription medication. I'm looking at you, Mr. A. Pena of Houston, TX.
Do give in bulk. And things that can be eaten straight out of the can and that make a full meal are encouraged. And do donate -- I snark because I care.