Food Donations: The Best, the Worst, and the Why

Reorganizing your kitchen, holding a food drive, or just want to drop off some food? Here’s a list of the best food to donate and a fast guide to the what, why, and how behind food donations!

Why Give

Giving food is a great way to support a food bank or food pantry because your gift directly helps your neighbors — it goes to pantries in your community! And we are so thankful for your generosity, because no matter the size or quantity, your donations make a difference!

Best Food To Donate

Here’s our South Michigan Food Bank wish list, but food banks and pantries all over are always looking for staples like:

  • full meals like boxed mac & cheese or skillet dinners
  • pasta & rice
  • any canned goods like soup, fruit, or vegetables
  • breakfast goods like granola bars

Skillet dinners and mac & cheese fly off the shelves (because who doesn’t love the ultimate comfort food?), so it’s always a happy day when we get those items. On the other hand, we receive a large amount of dry & canned beans, so, if you’re purchasing for us, try an alternative: canned protein, like chicken, or canned vegetables!

Buying in bulk or holding one-item food drives (like a soup drive or cereal drive) makes your impact greater by cutting down the time our volunteers dedicate to sorting donated items!

What not to donate

Food that’s already open

  • Everything we distribute has to be sealed & brand new to provide families and individuals with fresh, quality items!

Homemade goods

  • We can’t take anything homemade, simply because we can’t confirm how they were made or the ingredients used.

Eggs or meat that isn’t USDA certified

  • Much like our inability to take homemade goods, we can’t take any farm fresh eggs or any meat that hasn’t been packaged in a USDA facility, since we can’t confirm the process. 

Over the counter medicines like aspirin, antacids, vitamins, etc.

Item quality

Cans & boxes

  • They don’t have to be picture-perfect! Cans you donate can have dents, but a can opener has to be able to fit all the way around the lid, and they can’t be rusty. Boxes can be a little torn, ripped, or dented, but they can’t be open or have any product spilling out.

Expiration dates

  • We can’t take anything that’s past its expiration date. However, there are a few surprising things to look for when determining whether or not something is safe to eat (and, therefore, donate):
  • “Best by” or “use by” dates refer to quality. So, items that have passed this date can still be consumed safely (depending on how far past the date they are), they just aren’t at their maximum quality. 
  • “Sell by” dates are less lenient. While products don’t need to be consumed by this date, they don’t last very long thereafter.
  • For more info on how to decipher these dates, visit StillTasty!

What South Michigan Food Bank does with the food you donate

Our volunteers sort through all the products donated to us! They separate every item into different categories so that we can fill, label, and store pallets with the same types of items, rather than having a hodgepodge of cans and boxes of “general food donations” stored in our warehouse! During this process, they always look for products past the expiration date and check the quality of items, tossing things like rusty cans and open boxes. This donated food is then distributed to our 285 partner agencies over our 8 counties!

Want to sort donated food to fill pantries throughout South Michigan? Sign up at smfoodbank.org/volunteer!

Other ways to make an impact

Donate funds

  • Because we partner with national manufacturers and local farms & businesses to buy in bulk, we can stretch your dollars to make the biggest difference possible! To donate funds, visit smfoodbank.org/donate.

Donate time

  • We wouldn’t be able to give out all the food we receive if it wasn’t for the great generosity of our volunteers! Right now, our amazing family of volunteers is packing up 85% of the food we distribute! Learn more about how you can change lives throughout South Michigan at smfoodbank.org/volunteer!