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Natural Awakenings North Central New Jersey

Sharing Our Bounty: Food Drives Need Healthy Donations

Oct 30, 2015 08:31AM ● By Avery Mack

What’s on the table can help lower risks of stroke, heart attack, cancer and diabetes, according to the American Heart Association. Not all families are able to afford the healthiest foods, but fatty, high-sugar options can be avoided. The most-needed donations are nonperishable and high in protein, but low in sodium, sugar and fats.

Give the best, most affordable products, according to these tips and the food drive’s guidelines. Organic and non-GMO (genetically modified) foods are welcome. Note that not all pantries can store fresh produce, glass containers or personal hygiene items.

“Pantries rely on informed community support,” explains Jim Byrnes, director of Pennsylvania’s Nazareth Area Food Bank. “Area churches, schools and businesses keep us supplied. We’ll help 300 families this year, compared to 100 in 2006, balancing nutrition with practical needs.”

California’s San Diego Food Bank feeds better choices to 370,000 people each month, including military families, seniors and children. Such community efforts change lives.

Meat: Tinned tuna, chicken and salmon store easily for use in salads or casseroles, on a sandwich and in whole wheat pasta, brown rice or low-fat stir fries. Avoid the bisphenol-A (BPA) associated with cans and plastic containers. Instead choose BPA-free pouch packaging and cans with BPA-free liners (see

Soup and Stew: Containing meat and veggies, soups and stews provide filling, hearty comfort foods.

Please be generous at the holidays and year-round.

Vegetables: Yams and whole-berry cranberry sauce turn dinner into a holiday feast. Add color to the plate with mixed veggies. Lentils, pinto, black and kidney beans in stew, chili or salad provide fiber, calcium, zinc and iron. Spices add zing. Tomatoes, sauce and salsa add flavor; choose glass jar products only in order to be BPA-free, due to the acidic effect on cans.

Pasta, Rice and Grain: In Kansas City, Missouri, Katie Thomas, owner of Crazy Daisy Cleaning, regularly organizes food drives. She says, “Pasta and sauce make a variety of dishes and extend the number of meals.” Whole grain pasta, brown or wild rice, quinoa and couscous are better choices than white pasta. Bulgur provides nearly 75 percent of a day’s fiber requirement when added to soup or salad.

Cereal: Steel-cut or rolled oats, farina (Cream of Wheat) and grits are low-calorie and nutritious options for a warm start to the day. All can be found as organic; farina in whole wheat or white wheat that is certified kosher. Cold cereals should list whole grains as the first ingredient and be high in fiber and low in sugar, like organic Oat O’s.

Snacks: Unsalted nuts, full of fiber, protein and vitamins, are highly prized at food pantries. Packed in juice, fruit cups make a healthy treat. Dried fruit and sunflower seeds are another favorite. Low-salt, low-sugar peanut or sunflower butter packs protein. Honey is a healthy sweetener.

Collecting Party: “A group of us collected and donated 600 pounds of food for babies, pets and adults to Extended Hands Food Bank,” says Dee Power, in Fountain Hills, Arizona. For babies, include food without added sugar or salt and single-grain cereal.

Search for a generic food item at to see how brand-name products rank in nutritional value.

Alternative Giving: Especially popular during the December holidays, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank offers prepacked bags to grocery store patrons, paid for at checkout. Customers can see what’s included and the food bank picks them up. (Tip: Cash donations allow lower cost bulk purchases with no need to transport or sort items.)

Non-Food: Make sure the food pantry has storage space before donating wet or dry food for cats and dogs and birdseed; baby wipes, shampoo and soap; and adult soap, deodorant, shaving supplies, toothpaste, shampoo and toilet paper. “A $5,000 grant gave us added storage space,” says Byrnes.

The bottom line is what food pantries need is much the same as what’s found in any healthy home pantry—comestibles rich in flavor, vitamins and fiber and free of unhealthy additives. Please be generous year-round, sharing well beyond the holidays.

Connect with the freelance writer via [email protected].


Holiday Healthy Food DriveAnnual Food Drives

Local Boy Scout troops remind us to prepare for their annual food drive. On November 7, be on the lookout for a door hanger reminder; on November 14, they’ll pick up food for delivery to local food banks.

The National Association of Letter Carriers’ (U.S. Postal Service) annual nationwide food drive is May 14, 2016. Since 1992, they’ve collected more than 1.3 billion pounds of food.

Feeding America’s drive benefits from a matching gift from motivational speaker and author Tony Robbins through December 3, aimed to provide a total of 100 million meals for the 49 million Americans that struggle with hunger. Each $1 given and matched helps secure and distribute 20 meals through its network of food banks. Donate at


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