For many neighbors, a fresh apple or glass of milk is not always available. One woman served by the Feeding America network even expressed that she hadn't had meat in more than a year because she couldn't afford it.
Many people we serve want a well-balanced diet, but the less nutritious items are often cheaper, have a longer shelf life, and can be stretched over multiple meals. However, healthier food also challenges the food banks and pantries accepting, storing, and distributing the items.
You'll be surprised that the three most requested items are ones you and I likely take advantage of every week.
1. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, or yogurt
Not only do dairy products expire quickly, but they also must be refrigerated, making them difficult items to donate, stock, and distribute. Milk is one of the most requested items at food banks; however, many food banks cannot always meet the demand – especially during the summer when they are even busier. Milk is the top food source for calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, but for many kids and families in need, even basic staples like milk and the critical nutrients it provides are missing. On average, people served by food banks receive the equivalent of less than one gallon of milk per person per year.
To help fill this need, The Great American Milk Drive and Feeding America – alongside America's dairy farmers and milk companies – make it easy for people to donate milk directly to their communities. The Great American Milk Drive has delivered more than 1.8 million gallons of milk – more than 28 million servings – to food banks across the country since 2014.
2. Fresh fruits and vegetables
When food banks and pantries receive produce, they have to quickly get it into the hands of people in need. We all know how fast strawberries or a bag of spinach go bad in our refrigerators – now imagine that times 1,000!
Many vegetables are easily recognizable, but others, like chard or butternut squash, are less familiar, and most don't know how to cook these vegetables for their families. To overcome this challenge and reduce waste, many food banks have created programs where chefs make recipes with unfamiliar produce. Not only do they offer the recipe and education on how to cook the items, but they often also offer samples to give people a chance to taste them.
3. Lean proteins
This includes everything from canned tuna to whole frozen chicken. Many of these items need to be frozen or refrigerated (which takes up a lot of space!) and carefully monitored for expiration. An additional challenge with meat is that many populations have religious considerations. For example, if a food bank only has pork to provide on a certain day, many people might be forced to go without it. Many pantries operate on a' choice' model to avoid waste and be considerate of religious restrictions. This allows the people receiving food to choose their items and decline what they cannot have rather than being forced to take and waste it.
All of these items are ones that we probably don't think twice about when we put them into our shopping carts, but for many of our neighbors, a gallon of milk or frozen chicken is the difference between a balanced family dinner and nothing at all.
Join us in helping hungry families across the U.S. get access to the food they need by donating today. Food drives and food donations are helpful as well, but please be sure to contact your local food bank before beginning to collect food.
Although all donations are good-intentioned, you might inadvertently be causing more logistical harm than good, so consider checking out our list of what you should and shouldn't donate to food banks.
 Fulgoni VL, Keast DR, Quann EE, Auestad N. Food sources of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, and potassium in the U.S. The FASEB Journal. 2010;24:325.1.