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Category Archives: End Hunger

11 Surprising Things to Know When Donating to a Food Pantry

11 Surprising Things to Know When Donating to a Food PantryHolidays spark the spirit of giving and with Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas around the corner; food donations are in full swing to help fight hunger. Schools are sending flyers home and local grocery stores are hosting food drives. Unfortunately, hunger is silently sweeping our nation with 42 million people struggling to find their next meal and there are ways you can help that cost nothing.

Can I share a little secret with you?

I work at a food pantry. I see donations from well-intentioned people daily. Unfortunately, about 25% of our donations are tossed leaving volunteers aggravated and frustrated. In my six years, I have witnessed jaw-dropping donations such as a can of 1993 expired carrots, opened and used spices, cigarettes, beer and even worse- a garbage bag full of boxed pasta covered in dried animal urine. While the examples are extreme, they are reality. The Al Beech West Side Food Pantry filled a dumpster to the rim with 2000 lbs of expired and damaged food after a Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive.

Food drives are not a time to clean out cabinets. Food pantries cannot accept damaged or expired food and have limited means for disposal. A good rule to follow- donate food you would eat or feed your child.

11 Surprising Things to Know When Donating to a Food Pantry

In the wake of natural disasters across the United States coupled with the fast approaching holiday season, many people are looking for ways to give back. If you want to donate, I put together a list of ideas and most of them do not cost a dime.

1| Ask First

Contact your local food pantry and find out what they need before you donate food. Food needs change daily and are based on past donations or what is available at the local food bank.

2| Organize a #GiveHealthy Food Drive

People facing hunger are at a higher risk for diet-related disease, such as obesity, type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Individuals with chronic disease need access to nutritious foods. #GiveHealthy enables people to donate fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy food by making it easy and fun. Plan your next food drive using the #GiveHealthy organization.

3| Pull Tab Canned Items

Most likely a child might not know how to use a can opener or even worse- the family may not have a can opener. When possible, always donate low-sodium and no sugar added canned vegetables, fruit, meat, soup, pasta and beans with a pull-tab.

4| Money is Better than Food

Instead of buying groceries for the food pantry, consider giving cash. Depending on the partnerships of the of the food pantry, a food pantry can buy more food for the value of a dollar because they usually pay wholesale prices.

5| Consider Toiletries

Many families make the decision between essential toiletries and food to feed their children. Consider donating feminine hygiene products, diapers, laundry detergent, soap, shampoo, razors, toothpaste, toothbrushes and toilet paper.

6| Donate your unique passion

Reach out to your local food bank and pantry to donate your time but more specifically, your passion. While it is great to have people available to pack food bags for client pick up, it is even better to have people with passion. Here are examples of the passionate donations to the Al Beech West Side Food pantry:

  • Elementary students practicing their instruments during client pick up. We have experienced the sounds from flutes, guitars to a Baby Grand Piano while clients picked up their orders!
  • A college student brought her gift of photography to help with social media promotion of our FREE bi-weekly farmer’s market.
  • A senior gentleman built us new shelves to ensure safety of our volunteers.

7| Organize a food sorting play date at the food pantry

Call your local food pantry to determine when the next food donation is being delivered. Let the food pantry know you want to organize a volunteer day for kids. Older kids can inspect the food for expired product and damaged goods. Younger kids can organize the food by product and the parents can carry heavy items to storage.

8| Plastic Grocery Bags

Plastic grocery bags are FREE when shopping. Help us reuse the plastic bags when packing up our client’s food by donating the bags.

9| Donate garden surplus

Even if you have one cucumber drop it off! If everyone gave a cucumber or a garden surplus, there would be more than enough to go around. Remember- very piece of produce counts in the fight against hunger!

10| Unused Hotel Toiletries

Going on a business trip? Save your unused toiletries and drop them off at your local food pantry.

11| Get Social

Use your social media influence to let your friends know the local food bank is taking donations. Call your local food pantry and blast out their unique needs. Make sure to include a day, time and place for drop off.

Clancy Cash Harrison MS, RDN, FAND is a Registered Dietitian, Author of Feeding Baby, TEDx Speaker, and Food Justice Advocate challenging the way poverty is approached in the United States. She speaks to thousands of healthcare professionals, non-profits, and universities every year about food dignity and food access. You can find more information at and follow her on Facebook: Clancy Harrison & Twitter: ClancyCHarrison

18-Day Food Drought Exacerbates Childhood Hunger

18-Day Food Drought Exacerbates Childhood Hunger

18-Day Food Drought Exacerbates Childhood Hunger

Childhood hunger does not take a summer vacation and becomes much worse for 13.1 million children struggling to find their next meal in the United States. In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and many cities across the country, children who normally receive a free or reduced lunch during the school year will experience an 18-day food draught which exacerbates childhood hunger in June.

What would you do for 18 days if you were child without food?

The 18-day food draught is the result of a gap between the end of the School Nutrition Programs (National School Lunch & Breakfast Programs) and the start of the Summer Feeding Program. To compound the problem, food donations are also at an all-time low for food pantries during the summer months.

Hunger occurs 365 days out of the year and is not limited to the holidays.

Unfortunately, only 1 in 6 children who participate in school nutrition programs utilize the summer feeding program for a variety of reasons. The biggest barrier to summer meals is that there are 2 school meal programs for every summer meal program. In addition, many summer programs close or open later in the summer because they have limited staff. Other barriers include transportation and lack of knowledge of programs.

4 Tips to improve access to summer nutrition programs and fight childhood hunger:

1| Know the Location of a Local Summer Meal Program

All children who are 18 years and under can received a free lunch at a Summer Meals Program. To find a site near you, visit Summer Food Rocks.

2| Find Your Local Food Pantry

The absence of free and reduced school lunches in the summer can increase grocery bills by a couple hundred dollars a month. To help manage your food budget, find a local food pantry by visiting Feeding America.

3| Donate Food All Year Long (especially during the summer)

The best food to donate to a local food pantry include canned vegetables, peanut butter, canned meats, pasta, pasta sauce, macaroni and cheese, beans, and rice. Toiletries are great bonus items and include: feminine hygiene products, diapers, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, tooth paste, deodorant, toilet paper and laundry detergent. To learn how to donate healthier food options, visit Give Healthy.

4| Know other Food Resources

There are many local grass-root efforts to fight childhood hunger.  For example, Dinner for Kids  is an organization that delivers hot meals to children in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. You can also reach out to neighboring churches, even if you are not a member and ask for help.

While food insecurity impacts everyone’s health negatively, it is particularly crushing to children. Nourishing foods are critical to a child’s mental, emotional, and physical development.

If we are serious about ending childhood hunger in the United States and improving the health of our next generation, we must dismantle the barriers and stigma associated with food assistance programs. We must shift the way we individually and collectively think and talk about hunger in the United States.

Hunger is 365 Days a Year (not just holidays!)

Hunger is 365 Days a Year (not just holidays!)

Hunger is 365 Days a Year (not just holidays!)

Hunger exists 365 days a year not just during the holiday season. Food donations slow down to dribbles in the spring and then a drought during the summer months. The highest need for food donations occur during the summer months because of the large participation gap between the National School Lunch Program and the Summer Feeding Program.

During the school year, 22 million children rely on the National School Lunch Program for a steady and predictable lunch. In the summer, this daily meal disappears for approximately 82% of those children due to transportation, location of summer feeding programs, unsafe areas, and weather.  Parents are forced to stretch their tight budgets and rely on food pantries. Let’s work together to end hunger all year long.

5 ways you can donate to end hunger today:

1| Donate your passion!

What are you passionate about? Everyone has something unique to offer the world. People come to our food pantry to sort, pack, or distribute food. The Al Beech West Side Food Pantry empowers volunteers to lead with their passion to fight hunger with dignity. When people lead with their passion, dignity is cultivated.

  • Student allowed to practice instruments during client pick up.
  • Photography of our free farmer’s market to help bring awareness to our program and mission.
  • A senior gentleman built new shelves to ensure safety of our volunteers.
  • A retired senior and Master Gardener donated time to teach children how to run our small food pantry garden.
  • A college student helped edit articles for the promotion of the food pantry.

2| Don’t Let Garden Surplus Rot

Consider dropping off your garden surplus. One cucumber can change the world. If everyone dropped off one piece of produce, we would be able to feed many people.

3| Know the Right Foods

Food pantries appreciate nourishing non-perishable canned foods such as tuna, chicken, beef, salmon, peanut butter, beans, fruits, and vegetables that contain no added salt or sugar. It is always best to buy canned items with a pull-tab to open with ease. Plastic containers are preferred over glass. Toiletries most appreciated by clients include: tooth brushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, toilet paper, feminine hygiene, and diapers.

4| FREE Plastic Grocery Bags

Plastic grocery bags are free and needed to pack up the food for the clients receiving the food donations.

5| Spend Time in Parks

Summer Feeding Programs need volunteers. Reach out to you local food bank to find a Summer Feeding Program near you. Without volunteers to distribute the lunch, the programs cannot run and many children rely on this meal.

Hunger is real for 1 in 6 children in the United States. Together we can change the world and be the voice many children need.

Food Dignity Can End Hunger

Food Dignity Can End Hunger Everyday we make choices. Today, I had the privilege to buy hearty whole wheat bread over a cheaper white loaf of bread. Last night, my children decided between broccoli and asparagus. The opportunity to make decisions is deep-rooted in our daily activity. Unfortunately, many individuals may not appreciate the privilege of choice; making it difficult to empathize with people who experience hardships such as hunger.

There are 13.1 million children experiencing food insecurity in the United States putting the health of our nation at risk. Nourishing food is vital for establishing a child’s health, academic achievement, and their economic contribution to society.

Many people who qualify for food assistance programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formally known as food stamps) may choose not receive the nutrition support they need because of the stigma associated with food assistance.

At the Al Beech West Side Food Pantry in Kingston, Pa, our mission is to fight hunger with dignity and the power of choice. In 2015, the food pantry board decided to invest in a $7,000 walk-in cooler for the ability to store and distribute fresh food to the clients of the food pantry. In the first year, the food pantry distributed over $50,000 worth of fresh food such as eggs, produce, milk, cheese, and meat at a bi-weekly produce stand. The produce stand is free to both the food pantry volunteers and clients.

Giving our clients and volunteers the power of unlimited choice of produce has created an unexpected environment at the food pantry. The food pantry has become a place of friendship, recipe sharing, and more importantly a place that cultivates dignity. Food distribution at the food pantry is not seen as a handout but as a resource for everyone, including our volunteers.

If we want to transform the health of our next generation, we must fight hunger with dignity by fostering the power of choice. When people have the liberty to make decisions about food, they have power over their health and future. Fighting hunger with dignity combined with access to fresh and nourishing food is the key in securing a healthier and prosperous nation.

My Hunger & Poverty Misconceptions as a Dietitian

I thought I knew about hunger. I actually considered myself an expert on the topic. After all, I am the President of the Al Beech West Side Food Pantry who has taught for more than 6 years {and counting} at local universities educating students on food insecurity.
Before I started at the pantry, I had my assumptions, ideologies, and even more embarrassing- stereotypes on hunger. What is worse, I did not know I had them. The truth- I accepted the common beliefs on poverty as a truthful reality but I was wrong. Very wrong.


My experience at the food pantry and The Women with Children Program at Misericordia University has given me the gift of self-awareness. I have been able to open my ears, eyes, and heart.

My Hunger & Poverty Misconceptions as a Dietitian in a live talk:

1| I thought people would routinely use the food pantry to take advantage of the program.

I expected chronic users. I thought 1 out of 10 people visiting the food pantry would actually need my help. If I could help that one person, I was fine providing food to the other 9 visitors. I was partially wrong. The pantry does support chronic users but those users are the elderly, mentally ill, disabled, and disabled veterans- not people trying to work the system. In fact, the ratio at our pantry is reversed.

Recently, I met a single mother {in college} who served our country for 5 years in the army. She is still serving in the National Guard but is struggling to receive food stamps. In the state of PA, the GI bill is considered income making it difficult for her to qualify for the programs she desperately needs. Every month she worries if she will have enough food to feed her three-year old little girl. She is not taking advantage of the program but surviving because of it.

To hear her story:

2| I thought many of the food pantry clients would be alcoholics or drug addicts.

Alcohol abuse is actually most prevalent in Caucasian, educated, and full-time employees.[i][ii],[iii] Drug use is also highly correlated with full-time employees compared to part-time employees and the unemployed.[iv] In fact, the Al Beech West Side Food Pantry has approximately 700 families registered at the pantry. I have only met one addict.

3| People using the food pantry will become dependent on the food prohibiting them with their job search.

I met a man in his late thirties. He walked in wearing a suit. He held his head low and softly asked for food. He had been job hunting but had no luck that day or on the previous days. He could not go home empty handed. He could not go home to hungry children and a worried wife. Instead, he politely asked for an emergency supply of food and how he could sign up for future orders. He even inquired about the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)– the food stamp program.

The food pantry has also become an extension of the SNAP program making it a first line of defense for someone struggling to make ends meet. Because of cuts to the SNAP program, participants do not get very much money for food. The average individual receives approximately $125 a month.[v] I don’t know about you but this amount of money and food would not keep me from finding a job.

4| I thought I would be giving food to lazy people.

71% of low-income families work and works an equivalent of 1.2 full time jobs, often patching together several part-time jobs in order to support their families.[vi] I recently met a single mother of 3 who is a survivor of domestic violence. She has a double master’s degree and cannot find a job. She volunteers at my food pantry and many other organizations to keep her competitive in the job market- she is far from lazy.

To hear her story:

My lessons are far from over. Every day I learn something new. In our community, approximately 1 in 3 of children live in poverty. In other words, they do not know where they will get their next meal. These same children struggle at school because they to hungry to think leading to a lifetime of low-paying jobs and possibly unemployment.

I thought I understood the struggle of hunger without ever experiencing chronic hunger itself. I was wrong because of my client truths and many more untold truths:

  • I have never tried to comfort a hungry child.
  • I have never made the choice between gas, medication, or electricity with food.
  • If my child is sick and I have to miss work, I do not have to go without food because of a pay cut.
  • I have never reused diapers because I could not afford fresh ones.
  • I have never had to endure the snide remarks by other customers standing in line at the grocery store as I use my food stamp card.
  • I have never waited in a line for free food just to be turned away because they ran out.
  • I have never eaten paint chips of the wall because I was hungry and thought they were chips.
  • I have never skipped meals so I could feed my children.
  • My children and I have never called our car home because my husband left us.
  • I did not give birth to a child out of rape and left to raise the child at the age of 13.
  • My husband or I have never had to stop working because of an injury leaving us with significantly less income.
  • I am not a disabled veteran trying to reestablish myself into society using the skills learned in the military.

Thankfully, I have never experienced any of the above circumstances. I can only try to understand. If we want to try to understand, first we need to open our eyes, stop, and listen. We need to ask questions and look within ourselves to help find solutions to fight everyone’s local problem.

Article and research assistant: Brianna Winter, Dietetic Student, The Pennsylvania State University


[i] National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2013. Available HERE.
[ii] Keyes, KM and Hasin DS. “Socio-economic status and problem alcohol use: the positive relationship between income and the DSM-IV alcohol abuse diagnosis.” Addiction. 103, 7: 1120–1130, July 2008
[iii] Table 2.41B – Alcohol Use in Lifetime, Past Year, and Past Month among Persons Aged 18 or Older, by Demographic Characteristics: Percentages. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2012/2013. Available here:
[iv] National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2013. Figure 2.13 Past Month Illicit Drug Use among Persons Aged 18 or Older, by Employment Status: 2012/2013 Available HERE.
[v] Chart Book: SNAP Helps Struggling Families Put Food on the Table. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. January 2015. Available here:
[vi] Working Hard, Falling Short: America’s Working Families and the Pursuit of Economic Security. 2004. Available here: