It's usually an afterthought. Walking out the door at the grocery store, you see a cardboard box serving as a catch-all for donations to the local food pantry. You throw in whatever non-perishable food items you have in your cart, without thinking about whether your donation is helping or hurting the people who need it.
How can it hurt? It's free!
Put yourself in the shoes of the people receiving the food. Yes, free is great, but free nutritious food is much better than free food loaded with salt, sugar and fat. The less processed, the better, but that's difficult when the main requirement for donations hangs on one word: "non-perishable."
Gail Kissel of Lake Placid helps other volunteers put Thanksgiving meal boxes together for families in need on Nov. 23, 2015 at the Lake Placid Ecumenical Food Pantry in the basement of St. Agnes Church.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)
We've compiled a small list of healthy food options for your convenience. Please add some of them to your shopping list and drop them in the food pantry box on your way out of the store.
Let's consider the needs of the people who receive the food. Fruits, vegetables and protein are needed because they are more expensive than the quick-and-easy processed foods loaded with carbohydrates.
But remember, you're not on a mission to change people's eating habits. You're simply giving them more options. Think about what kinds of nutritious food can be whipped up quickly or cooked in a Crock-Pot or electric skillet.
-Grains: brown or wild rice, quinoa, bulgar, whole grain pasta, whole grain cereal, rolled oats
-Fruits and vegetables: canned fruit in 100 percent juice (no added sugar), applesauce (no added sugar) canned low-sodium or no-salt-added vegetables, dried fruit (no added sugar preferred), dried peas
-Protein: canned tuna, canned salmon, canned chicken, unsalted nuts and seeds, dried beans, dried lentils, canned low sodium beans, non-hydrogenated nut butters, shelf-stable milk and milk substitutes
When considering donations of food in bottles - such as olive or canola oil or honey - please buy plastic instead of glass, as the glass bottles may break.
There are plenty of people who clean out their cupboards and donate outdated food to the food pantries. Really? If you won't eat the food yourself, you shouldn't be giving it away to others. Food pantries are not dumping grounds.
Please, put some thought into your food pantry donations.
We encourage you to take the extra step and call your local food pantry to see what they need the most. Different food pantries have different needs.
"Coffee, tuna fish and peanut butter are the three items I can't keep on the shelf," Keene Food Pantry coordinator Carolyn Fish said last year.
Some locations, such as Keene, even take non-food necessities such as toilet paper, soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
There's always the question, "Why donate food?" One in seven people in America struggles with hunger, according to Feeding America, which serves about 46 million people each year, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors.
Based on the interviews we conduct every year with food pantry coordinators, the need never goes away, especially here in the Adirondacks where the cost of living continues to rise.
There's a unfounded belief among many Americans that the people who use food pantries don't have jobs. That's not true.
"Most of our recipients are working," Fish said of the Keene Food Pantry, where the number of people she serves has increased in recent years. "There are all kinds of reasons people use the food pantry."
While most have jobs, many are minimum-wage jobs, and some people have financial problems because of health issues. The cost of fuel oil in the winter also contributes to drained bank accounts. Many are living paycheck to paycheck.
People should also consider donating money to their food pantries. For more information, contact the coordinators below to see how you can help.
Lake Placid Ecumenical Food Pantry, basement of St. Agnes Catholic Church, Hillcrest Avenue, Linda Young (coordinator), 518-523-9620
Jay/Wilmington Ecumenical Food Shelf, Haselton Road, Wilmington, Don Morrison (coordinator), 518-946-7192
Town of Jay Food Shelf, Supervisor's Office, Jay Town Hall, 11 School Lane, AuSable Forks, 518-647-2201
Town of Keene Food Pantry, Keene Library (use back door), Route 73, Keene, Carolyn Fish (coordinator), 518-576-4405