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Season of giving extends past the holidays: Food donations needed year-round

Give the gift of health by providing nutrient-rich, non-perishable foods to people in need.

chicken soupReleased: Jan. 21, 2016

MANHATTAN, Kan. – While many Americans are anxious to find out what football teams will play in the upcoming Super Bowl and plan their watch parties, the Souper Bowl of Caring plans for its annual event to help end hunger. The event, hosted nationwide leading up to the crown football event, engages youth to support people in their local communities who are in need of a good, nutritious meal.

It comes naturally for many people to give to their local food pantries during the holidays, said Sandy Procter, human nutrition specialist for Kansas State University and K-State Research and Extension. But, it’s important to remember that “hunger knows no season.”

“Just as we are willing and apt to give around the holidays, continue thinking of giving at other times,” Procter said.

Take the Souper Bowl of Caring as one example to mobilize giving once again; young people – perhaps some in your community – take up a collection by asking for $1 or one food item for people in need and give 100 percent of their donations directly to a local hunger-relief charity.

Canned soups, particularly low-sodium varieties, make for great non-perishable donation items. One can of soup often contains multiple food groups, but it typically does not substitute equally for prepared meals that include all food groups, said Procter, who also is a registered dietitian.

Considering the five food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy – is important before making that food pantry donation. This allows food panties to provide families with balanced meal choices, based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate dietary guidelines.

Fruits and vegetables

A person should have at least six servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and Procter said having variety is important.

“(Fruits and vegetables) come right to the surface when we think about making a healthy contribution to the food pantry,” she said.

She recommends donating shelf-stable fruit such as peaches, pears, pineapple and fruit cocktail packed in 100 percent fruit juice or light syrup. Unsweetened applesauce is another good option.

Canned vegetables such as corn, peas, green beans, carrots, beets, asparagus and potatoes are nutritious options, especially the low-sodium or “no salt added” varieties.

Also think about donating various types of juices that are bottled, canned or in packs, Procter added. Tomato and vegetable blend juices are often used in cooking. All 100 percent fruit juices are also highly nutritious but should not be overserved, especially to children.


A person should also have six servings of grains per day, according to MyPlate.

“A lot of times food pantries will get breads from local stores, so they’re probably needing pastas and other packaged grain products,” Procter said.

When buying these shelf-stable grains, think whole grain, she said. For example, instant cooking rice can come in whole grain or brown rice varieties. Pastas, crackers, and pancake and baking mixes also come in several different assortments. Oatmeal, corn meal and flour are other good donation options.


MyPlate recommends two servings of lean protein per person each day.

“I think sometimes we don’t think about all the ways we can supply protein, but with the way food has been packaged in recent years, it’s even easier than it used to be,” Procter said.

Canned and shelf-stable packets of tuna, chicken or other meats are good traditional choices to donate. Beans, in canned or dry form, can add protein to soups or casseroles. They also stretch to feed a lot of people, Procter added. Peanut butter and other nuts provide even more non-perishable protein options.


A person should have three servings of dairy per day, according to MyPlate.

Procter said dry packaged nonfat milk is a great option to donate, and she offered a few tips for people to use it: mix it with cold water, add a touch of vanilla to it or use it to stretch fluid milk.

Also, shelf-stable ultra high-temperature processed milk has been made more available in the last few years, she said. Some packaged shelf-stable cheeses would also keep well at the food pantry.

More tips

Procter said it is the day-to-day thoughtful continued giving that helps a local food pantry serve those people who are most in need, particularly those who are unsure of how to get that next meal. They often ponder if that next meal will be enough to feed their family and keep them healthy.

“I think a good rule of thumb is if you would serve your family this food, then it’s a good food to consider contributing to a food pantry,” Procter said. “Look at those use-by dates, and make sure you’re not giving foods that are completely out of date.”

“Also consider giving some of the single-serve, pop-top-type containers for people who may be beyond hungry,” she added. “They might be homeless or living in circumstances where they have no kitchen.”

Other things to consider donating are inexpensive can openers and reusable grocery bags that families can use again, Procter said. Cash contributions to food pantries are important so organizers can purchase fresh items, such as fluid milk, fruits and vegetables, meat and bread.

Procter and her colleagues recently developed a flier and other handouts that address how to contribute to a local pantry while giving consideration to MyPlate. The materials, funded by the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, are available at local extension offices throughout Kansas.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Katie Allen
K-State Research and Extension

For more information:
Sandy Procter – 785-532-1675 or procter@ksu.edu