How to Donate Food to Homeless Shelters

How to Donate Food to Homeless Shelters
••• Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Food is a welcome donation at many homeless shelters, as the need to feed individuals exists on a continual basis. While all shelters use food, the types of edible donations they accept varies from one organization and location to the next. Call in advance to ask a knowledgeable shelter representative whether they accept the types of foods you wish to donate and to get information regarding the proper time and method for getting the food to them.

Non-Perishable Product Donations

Of all the types of edible donations accepted by homeless shelters, non-perishable products are the most widely accepted and used. Non-perishable products include those in boxes, cans or sealed bags, such as uncooked pasta and canned fruits and vegetables. All non-perishable food items can be stored in a pantry without requiring refrigeration or freezing. Check the dates on all packages before donating the food. Discard rather than donate expired or damaged items; food safety is of the utmost importance.

Fresh Fare

Fresh produce is a welcome yet rare treat in some shelters, as many serve meals comprised largely of non-perishable food products. Not all shelters accept fresh produce, such as homegrown vegetables or items left over after a farmer's market. Call the shelter in advance to inform them of exactly what and how much you intend to deliver so they can plan its use accordingly. Since it's perishable, a shelter may accept it only if they know they can use it right away. In other words, 150 pounds of yellow squash requires a bit of creative meal management on the part of the shelter's chefs, so they need to approve the donation. Produce on the verge of spoiling should not be donated to a shelter, as there is little likelihood it will be used before going bad.

Cold Cuisine

Items requiring refrigeration or freezing may not be accepted by a shelter, as refrigerator and freezer space is often limited. Call several shelters in your area until you find one that accepts such donations. If your donation amounts to a large quantity of food, you may wish to offer it to a food bank or food-pantry program that distributes food to numerous shelters. Not all food banks accept cold or frozen foods either, so call ahead to ensure your donation is welcome.

Tips for Successful Food Donations

Group together multiple food items to donate, rather than offering just one small package of pancake mix which will not go very far if the shelter feeds more than 100 people per day. If you don't have much to personally donate, ask friends or neighbors to pitch in, or organize a food drive among like-minded folks at a church or coffee shop you frequent. Several large boxes of assorted items can come in handy to a commercial-style shelter kitchen. Unopened cans or bags of coffee are almost always welcome at shelters that accept food. Many shelters receive a bulk of their donations around the winter holiday season and go in need during the summer months, so consider ramping up your donations during the summer season.