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How To Donate Healthy, Useful Foods To Your Local Food Bank

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Juan Osuna from Second Harvest Food Bank in Manteca backs up a truck full of food donated to the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services.

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

It’s nearly Thanksgiving, and food banks are working hard to collect staples that will last Sacramento-area families through the holidays. But they’d like do-gooders to think twice about what they’re donating.

Eileen Thomas, executive director of River City Food Bank, said people have a tendency to just clean out their pantries and fill a donation box with expired foods, or odd foods that most people wouldn’t be able to cook with.

She said food banks need long-lasting healthy foods that can work in lots of different types of meals.

About 17 percent of people living in Sacramento County and 14 percent of all Californians experience food insecurity, according to Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services. Many of them live in ‘food deserts’, or areas with little access to affordable nutritious foods.

“When people donate food to food banks or food distributors, it’s going to go to a population that has a difficult time accessing healthy foods,” Thomas said. “They get foods that are sugary and highly processed. Our whole goal in healthy food banking is to provide them with foods that are nutritious and will give them the vitamins and nutrients that they need as opposed to the calories.”

Here are a few things to consider:

If You Wouldn’t Eat It, Don’t Donate It

Expired, damaged or partially eaten foods usually have to be thrown out - which takes up staff’s time and resources.

Thomas said she’s gotten jars of caviar, as well as unlabeled homemade foods.

“Everyone sort of thinks, ‘well this will help’ - but the standard we try to go by at River City Food bank is that if you wouldn’t serve it to your family, then probably another family can’t use it either.”

Think in Meals

Thomas said she never has enough produce. Canned corn, carrots and other veggies can be combined with rice, whole grain pasta and other bases to create lots of different meals. Tomato sauce and diced tomatoes are especially versatile, she said.

If you want to donate canned fruit, Thomas recommends buying fruit that’s in its own juice, rather than fruit cups with sugar added.

Go For Protein

Raley’s dietitian Emmie Satrazemis said people struggling economically have a hard time getting enough protein. She recommends nuts, nut butters and legumes.

Thomas said you can also go for canned tuna and canned chicken, as long as they’re canned in water and not in oil.

Don’t Forget Kids

Kids often come to the food bank hungry, Thomas said. Granola bars make a great snack, as do whole wheat crackers and peanut butter. Fruit juices made of 100 percent fruit and not-too-sugary cereal are in high demand.

It’s Not Just About Food

Lots of food banks also collect toys, reusable shopping bags, hygiene products and clothing. Call your favorite local organization to find out what they need most.

Here are a few organizations collecting food this year:

River City Food Bank

Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services

Elk Grove Food Bank Services

Central Downtown Food Basket

Placer Food Bank

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