As we close out the calendar year, it is a good time to reflect on our blessings and give back to our community. Giving back as a family can be a great way to teach kids about helping others. A great way to introduce helping others as a family is collecting food for your local food bank. In Massachusetts, 12,250 children experience food insecurity [source] meaning many of your children’s peers don’t get enough to eat. I think of this often, as my two-year-old requests his second or third snack in a row! Every now and then, I like to add an extra box of his favorite food to our shopping cart for donation, but during the holidays we like to take it a step further.
In our family, we do a Reverse Advent Calendar. I wrap an empty diaper box in festive wrapping paper and put it under the tree. Each day leading up to Christmas, I take an item from our pantry and hand it to my son, Jack. He toddles over to our tree and puts the item in the box for donation. Last year, Jack was 18 months at Christmas and didn’t yet understand what he was doing. Nevertheless, it helped us set the precedent that, as a family, we help others.
Your family’s food collection doesn’t have to look like ours, or even be more than a handful of items! Talk to your kids about the foods they like to eat and explain that not every child get to choose from a pantry full of snacks. Involve them in picking out items for donation! Ask them what they think other children would like to see on their tables at mealtime. Read some books to help explain food insecurity in a way they can understand.
What to collect for food pantries:
These are typically what you think of when you think about food donations. Canned goods, boxed foods, shelf-stable items that you’d keep in your pantry.
When I contacted our local food bank, these were their most-needed foods this season:
- Gluten-free shelf-stable foods
- Spices and condiments
- Healthy snacks (granola bars, dried/canned fruit, nuts)
- Dried beans
- Low-sodium broth
- 100% juice
- Canned meals (Spaghetti-Os, chili, etc.)
- Boxed milk
- Tea and coffee
- Sugar and flour
- Cake mix and frosting
- Instant potatoes or stuffing mix
Some food banks have the ability to accept donations of perishable goods, but please check if yours does before donating. A donation including fresh produce, a loaf of bread, butter, or eggs would really be special.
Many food banks also distribute non-food items that are in need. Many times, food assistance programs do not allow for non-food items to be purchased with program funds. This leaves recipients with unfulfilled needs for many necessary, every day items. If your food bank will allow it, a donation including some sought-after necessities would be highly appreciated.
Some highly-requested goods include:
- A can opener
- Feminine hygiene products
- Socks and underwear
- Toilet paper
- Diapers and wipes
- Pet food
- Household cleaners
Last year, we brought our Advent collection to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank (735 Broadway Street, Lowell) but there are plenty of area options! If you don’t know of a food bank in your area to donate to, you can look one up here. Please visit the food bank’s website to determine their donation drop-off hours and their specific needs, if any.
How does your family give back during the holidays?