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How to Help Your Local Food PantryOver the weekend I saw a Facebook post about a reverse advent calendar. The premise was quite simple. Each day in December gather up a specific food item on the list and then on Christmas Eve drop off your donation to your local Food Pantry.

While this is a wonderful idea, and I know the suggestion is coming from a good place, there is a major flaw in this plan and it's pretty important.

Please don’t wait until Christmas Eve to donate to your Food Pantry.

Many local food pantries are only open 1 or 2 days a week and most are closed on holidays so at the very least, donate a week or two before.

Something else to consider: food pantries plan holiday meal donations well in advance and distribute the food a week or two before the holiday. If your intention is to donate to help someone have a holiday meal then you need to plan ahead and donate in early- to mid-December.

How to Help Your Local Food Pantry

Don't get me wrong, this reverse advent calendar is still a beautiful idea; a way to make it better is to replace “December” with any other month. Do this in January, February, heck do it every month of the year! Collect an item every day and then pick a date to drop off your donations.

You don’t need to limit giving to just the holidays. Actually, it’s MORE important to help January through October. So many businesses, churches, and schools hold food drives in November and December and then don't think about it again until the next year.

The thing is, there are hungry people all year long.

How else can I help?

Great question! Plan regular donations, not just in November and December.

You know what else you can do? Donate taxable items that can’t be purchased with SNAP Benefits (food stamps). These are the things that most people don't think about, but everyone needs on a daily basis.

Toilet paper, hygiene items (soap, shampoo/conditioner, feminine hygiene products, toothbrushes, toothpaste, lip balm, lotion, etc.,), cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, dish detergent, pet food (donate a 50-pound bag of dog food or a case of canned cat food and it will be divided up to help multiple people), diapers (both child and adult—you can even donate open packages you no longer need), new or gently-used small toys like toy cars, stuffed animals, or kids' books (but please check with your local food pantry first). The trick is to donate something your own family would or could use.

Other things often omitted when making a food pantry donation: Party supplies like cake mixes, frosting, cookies, cooking oil, sprinkles, candy, juice, greeting cards, gift cards, candles, etc. Hungry people deserve celebrations just like you.

Did you know…?

You can even donate fruits and vegetables from your own garden. Many food pantries also accept dairy items and frozen food. Milk is always in short supply. Pick up an extra gallon or two the next time you are at the store to donate.

Are you a hunter whose freezer is full of deer meat? You can donate that, too (as long as it’s processed professionally and labeled).

Aren't sure what you can donate? Simply call your local food pantry and ask what they need.

How to Help Your Local Food Pantry

Or do one better, volunteer at the food pantry. People of all ages can volunteer. It’s a popular service item for high school kids. It really does make you feel good to help someone who is less fortunate. And it's a great way to teach gratitude.

To get started, locate your local food pantry here and find out how you can be of service.