How to Dazzle Your Local Food Bank

Susan Kelley
5 min readNov 22, 2021

…By Not Being a Jerk

Photo by Nico Smit on Unsplash

It’s Giving Season. The Salvation Army is ringing bells all over town. The turkey drives are happening. The fliers are coming home from schools and community groups to “fill the basket” and help those less fortunate.

It’s a wonderful thing about humankind, that we want to lend a hand and be good to our fellow man. It truly is.

But recently, I’ve seen a couple of handy-dandy lists in circulation about what is and is not appropriate to give to a local food bank or pantry, and it kind of weirds me out. I suppose it didn’t dawn on me that we needed such a list. But, alas, we did. Except that when I read some of the lists, they were WAY off-base.

How do I know?

I know because starting in March of 2020, and lasting all the way through today, I’ve been volunteering, at first daily (you read that right) and now weekly, at a great little place here in Baltimore that serves up hot meals and bags of groceries to 150 families in the Southeast neighborhood.

I’ve gotten a really cool close-up view. I don’t just get to see what goes out the door arbitrarily; I get to see what families actually want.

We partner with Amazon, who is partnered with Whole Foods, and we take delivery of their unused items, which vary week to week, and we try to make healthy, mixed bags of groceries to distribute evenly among our constituents. This means that some weeks we have a fair amount of meat and fish, paired with a smaller amount of cereal, produce, pasta or cheeses. Other weeks, we are slim on meat but have lots of juice, pasta, whatever. So how do I know what people desire, rather than just what they get by random distribution?

I have a small crew of ladies who help me sort and divide the goods we receive, and those ladies get “first pick” to stock up their own grocery bags, to choose what they want ahead of those who are waiting in line outside. This is their “pay,” if you will. They help sort out all of the things we get ahead of time, they help pack the individual grocery bags and prepare them to be handed out. In exchange, they can choose whatever they like, rather than get a random assortment.

Susan Kelley

Susan is a runner, a mom of 3 grown children, and an avid traveler. She writes about humans, and wrote a book about false accusations of sexual assault.