Can I donate a Thanksgiving turkey to a food bank?

A man holding a Thanksgiving turkey over his shoulder.
November 20, 2023
by Feeding America staff

A common question we hear around Thanksgiving is, “Where can I donate a turkey for Thanksgiving?” We are always thrilled to hear folks are interested in supporting their local food banks’ efforts to brighten the holidays for neighbors facing hunger, but the reality is, donating a turkey is not the best way to do that. Unless your local food bank has asked explicitly for frozen turkey donations, consider another way to give back during Thanksgiving.

Why not all food banks accept turkey donations 

Food safety 

Feeding America takes food safety incredibly seriously. All the food distributed across the network of food banks, whether perishable or shelf-stable, has been appropriately checked and is safe to eat. Those same standards must be met by any food you donate, too. 

When you donate a frozen turkey, there’s no way to guarantee someone kept it at a safe temperature or that manufacturers followed proper food safety protocols. And because of that uncertainty, food banks may not want to risk distributing them.

Not enough storage

Turkeys are big. The average Thanksgiving turkey comes in at a total of 15 pounds! That means they’re not easy to store, especially because they require freezer space.  

Just think about keeping a turkey in your own refrigerator. With all the other food you might buy for Thanksgiving – stuffing, potatoes, collard greens, cranberry sauce – it can get crowded in there fast.  

Food banks often deal with the same situation. During the holidays and year-round, food banks distribute a lot of food that needs to be refrigerated or frozen. With cold storage space already at a premium, many food banks would be hard-pressed to find space to store turkeys if individuals donated several. 

Purchasing is more efficient

Food banks purchase a lot of food in bulk and at reduced wholesale prices. So, the money you would spend on a turkey might be more efficiently used as a donation to the food bank since they could buy a lot more food with it than an individual could at a local store. 

So, do food banks distribute them if I can’t donate a Thanksgiving turkey?

Yes! Food is such an essential part of holiday traditions. And we want to ensure our neighbors facing hunger can have those experiences with their family and friends during the holidays. Many food banks and meal programs provide free Thanksgiving meals.

What you can do to support food banks during Thanksgiving

There are plenty of ways to get involved this holiday season beyond donating a turkey! 

If you’re set on donating food, check out which items food banks need, and start your food drive

Want to get more hands-on? Try volunteering at a food pantry. Or, host a virtual Thanksgiving food drive to spice up your next holiday party.