Tend to donate items you'd otherwise just discard? Instead, give the goods that are actually most desired by people in need.
Before donating to a school food drive, Reddit user potstickme101 posted a worthwhile question to find out what food pantries really need: "People who work at or have needed to get food from a food bank, Whats the one food that you wish more people donated and why?"
If you're donating this holiday season, heed the advice from donors, formerly homeless people and volunteers on Reddit below.
"Used to volunteer at a food bank for about 6 months. Spices. Seriously. They can kick some flavour into almost anything!"
"My local food bank has currently been urging donations of baby formula. It's pretty expensive but I guess if a mother was, for whatever reason, unable to nurse her baby affording formula would be really tough."
"My mom volunteered with our local Tent City and she says they always need tampons, pads and panty liners. Could you imagine being homeless and unable to buy those? I always buy Costco sized packages of those when I want to donate things."
"Complete meal items or stuff that is ready to eat is great. Soups, chili, ravioli, are good."
"People who come in to the food bank get really excited when there's interesting kinds of canned fruit (i.e. other than pineapple), chef boyardee or other non-gross looking canned noodles, hearty soups, baking ingredients (cake mix, sugar, flour), and things that would be good to put in their kid's lunch bags for school (bear paws, granola bars, etc)."
"I know my mother was always worried about us eating well when we were relying on food banks. She always preferred whole wheat pastas and breads, canned fruits in water or juice rather than syrup, low sodium vegetables and the like."
"Former homeless and food pantry user, and what I loved most about getting my little box of staples was the occasional luxury foods. Food pantries have tons of canned veggies and beans and even salted meats, but getting to enjoy a bit of chocolate or something else I wouldn't dream of buying at the time made my holiday."
"If you're a hunter and your local food bank participates in Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH) you can donate any excess meat you harvest. In some states it enables you to harvest over the limit provided you donate the butchered meat. Food banks love getting fresh venison because it's both versatile and adds some variety to what they can provide."
"As a former homeless person, socks mean the world to you. They keep you warm, make you feel like you have something new, and just comfort you. Also, they get stolen fast when you sleep on the streets. Twice I was beaten up and they took my shoes & socks. It was so cold and embarrassing afterwards."
"I've worked at a few food pantries. A lot of people need/request hygiene items, and (in my experience) food banksdo stock them, though they're not frequently supplied. If you can't afford food, you probably can't afford tampons, diapers, toothcare supplies, soap, detergent, toilet paper, razors, surface cleaners etc."