In 2015, 42.5 million Americans and roughly 850,000 Canadians per month turned to food banks as a source of nutrients. It is clear that food insecurity is a huge issue that we should all work to solve.

Despite the best intentions, giving away your canned food isn't actually the best way to help out. Of course, donating canned food is better than donating nothing at all, but if you have the choice between donating money or food, food banks would prefer money and here's why:

1. You can help more people.

Photo courtesy of Feeding America

Food banks have the ability to use a dollar to feed many more people than our dollar can. Food banks buy things in huge quantities and they buy at wholesale, meaning they can buy way more food for less money.

A nationwide organization called Feeding America uses every $1 and turns it into 11 meals for hungry people, and Food Banks Canada turns "a few hundred thousand dollars each year into a few million dollars worth of food." With the power of these organizations, donating $5 goes way further than donating $5 worth of food will.

2. You can help to meet nutritional standards.

vegetable, parsley, corn, rice, pepper, legume, cereal, lentil
Katherine Baker

Studies show that people who use food banks as their main source of food for long periods of time show nutritional decline. Of course, this is better than the alternative of no nutrients, but giving money instead of canned food allows food banks to select which foods they provide for the hungry and that gives the hungry population a better chance of being properly nourished

3. Food banks already know what they need.

Kimberlee Bochek

Local food banks understand the specific needs of hungry populations better than most food donors do. When a food bank is given funds, they are able to buy the things that they know are needed and in high-demand, which is better than a food bank receiving a surplus of some food items that are in less demand or things that don't fulfill nutritional needs.

If you donate a box of Kraft Dinner, that's great, but if everyone does the same, then all that the food bank has is KD. Even more, what good does a box of Kraft Dinner do for someone who has no stove or can't afford milk? This problem can be avoided by just donating money instead of food.

4. You can donate money anytime anywhere.

beer, milk
Sophie Pinton

Food drives can require a lot of time and energy for little result. Food drives need volunteers to collect and sort food, transportation (including a truck, a driver, and gas) and storage space. Oftentimes you can donate money at the grocery store, and you can also donate money to Food Banks Canada and Feeding America anytime online.

If you think that meal planning for a university student is hard, imagine trying to meal plan for thousands of hungry people from different age groups, cultures, living conditions and health statuses using millions of canned goods that you didn't choose. It would be much easier and healthier to do that with donated funds, instead of donated foods.  

If you do donate foods, take a look at this list of things that food banks really need. Sacrificing a few dollars—just the cost of one holiday venti Starbucks drink—will provide an entire holidays worth of food for those in need, and that's worth it.