First, keep in mind food banks across the country can differ widely on what kinds of donations they will or won’t accept, so it’s best to check your local bank before stopping by. You can find your nearest one here.
Nonetheless, there are often consistencies in which items are almost always needed by food banks, and similar consistencies when it comes to which items they won't accept. To find out more about both, click through our gallery.
Photo: Dan Kittwood/Getty Images
Protein in particular is a crucial staple in most banks and the non-perishable types ensure that when there's an overstock, the extras won't go bad. Cans of tuna, chicken and beans are consistently needed, as are jarred peanut and almond butter, all of which are great sources of protein.
Photo: B2M Productions/Getty Images
Some pantries accept perishable holiday foods like turkeys or hams during the winter season, but not all of them do. Still, boxes and cans of traditional holiday side dishes like stuffing, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes are products that are often very much in demand but also in short supply.
Baby Foods, Formula and Diapers
Food insecurity may arguably be the most frightening for the parents of infants. Banks almost always benefit from more jarred baby food, packages of baby cereal and cookies, and cannisters of formula. And donating boxes of diapers means that the food banks' littlest clients can stay dry and healthy.
Photo: St Francis Food Bank
Snacks for Kids
Snacks for kids are always in high demand. Boxes of granola bars, packs of yogurt, milk boxes, juice boxes and the like remain popular. Anything that a child would be thrilled to find in his or her lunchbox (that's not straight junk food) will generally be received enthusiastically wherever you donate.
Photo: David Buffington/Getty Images
Condiments and Spices
So you've donated all this canned tuna and chicken, but what are people supposed to mix it with? Items like mayonnaise are often forgotten when people are donating food, and the same can be said for other condiments like mustard and ketchup. Salt and pepper are also always appreciated.
Photo: Baretooth Cupboards
Personal Hygiene Products
Even when people qualify for food stamps, they don't normally cover necessities like toilet paper, toothpaste and soap. For that reason, personal hygiene products are especially hard to come by and very much appreciated by food bank clients.
Photo: Hillcrest Christian Fellowship
What Not to Donate
Plenty of well-intentioned people make the mistake of trying to donate alcohol to food banks, especially during the holiday season. Liquor of any kind is never accepted and is best left at the store or enjoyed in your own home.
Boxed Cake/Brownie Mixes
Another product that is accepted by food banks, but is not terribly useful to their clients, is cake mix. Boxed cake mix may be festive during the holiday season, but preparing it often requires so many other ingredients, like oil, eggs and butter, that it's just a not practical choice.
Finally, leave out of your donation bag any packages that have been opened by you (even if it was just that one time!), any with passed expiration dates, or those with expiration dates that aren't easily readable.
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer. In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a webeditor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com.Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com