Can I donate a Thanksgiving turkey to a food bank?

A man holding a Thanksgiving turkey over his shoulder.
October 26, 2021
by Paul Morello

Ahead of Thanksgiving, food banks and Feeding America get many questions about food donations. And that’s great! Donating food can help food banks make the holidays brighter for our neighbors; as long as you follow their food donation guidelines. 

However, the most common question we get is, “Where can I donate a turkey for Thanksgiving?”

The short answer is: you probably shouldn’t donate a turkey to a food bank. Unless your local food bank has asked explicitly for frozen turkey donations, it’s best to consider another way to give back during Thanksgiving.

Why not all food banks accept turkey donations 

Food safety 

Food banks and Feeding America take food safety incredibly seriously. All the food distributed across the Feeding America network, whether perishable or shelf-stable, has been appropriately checked and is safe to eat. We apply those same standards to the food you donate.

When you donate a frozen turkey, there’s no way to guarantee someone kept it at a safe temperature. Or to confirm that manufacturers followed proper food safety protocols. 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. 

Just think about keeping a turkey in your refrigerator. With all the other food you might buy for Thanksgiving – stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, pies, etc. – 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 a number of them.

Purchasing is more efficient

Food banks purchase a lot of food in bulk. And that means they’re often able to secure wholesale prices on that food. So, the money you would spend on a turkey might actually 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, if I can’t donate a Thanksgiving turkey, do food banks distribute them?

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 then 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.