We are taught at a young age that we have a civil duty to aid those facing hardships like disease, poverty, and food insecurity; but it may slip our minds that the quality of donations matters just as much—if not more so—than quantity.

Growing up, my grade school’s biannual canned food drive was one of the warmest and most rewarding times of year. It gave my fellow classmates and me a chance to contribute to hunger relief programs across our community. We even hosted class contests to see who could donate the most pantry items, which always resulted in a large can pyramid that was twice my height.

Today, the University of Georgia offers a ton of organizations and programs dedicated to providing relief to those facing food insecurity regionally and nationally. Many organizations are awesome about giving a list of suggested items to donate, but without guidance, some innocent do-gooders may donate food that has no nutritional value.

food insecurity

Photo courtesy of hungernwnc.org

The Starving Issue

Think about this: Over 46 million Americans make just over $2,000 per month each. With other essential finances in mind, it’s difficult to afford spending $8.99 per pound on Whole Foods’ glorious, healthy hot bar or to prepare a cute mason jar salad.

Finding healthy pantry items to donate can be a difficult and expensive task, especially if you’re not completely sure what’s healthy (we can’t all be nutrition majors).

This got me thinking about what I take for granted each day. My stomach does not digest dairy, meat, and heavy carbs well. Thankfully, I have access to substitutions and know how to ask for accommodations when I go out for food. Someone living in poverty, whose plate relies on donations, will take what they are given without question.

Food allergies will go unaddressed. Veganism may not be an optional lifestyle. Digestive disorders, Celiac, diabetes, or any condition that requires a special diet, are not always properly accommodated.

food insecurity

Photo by Michelle Lin

And don’t even try to be “on a diet.” If you’re living in a shelter, and the night’s meal is a cheeseburger with fries and a cookie for dessert, guess what you’re having?

A Call to Action

Donators and volunteers in shelters and kitchens, or really anyone who’s willing to help the community, deserve praise and recognition for their humble service regardless. I just wish that the people they were serving could have a little more choice in what they eat.

I understand the economic and political roadblocks in seeking a mass change in aid, but let’s all start with the little things.

We can (1) be mindful of what we donate and (2) give options.

Start Small for a Big Impact

I decided to make some changes to how I was approaching hunger relief in my community.

I went to my local homeless shelter to prepare a wholesome, vegan-friendly meal for the residents.

food insecurity

Photo by Samantha Fehd

It was super fun, because I used some “spoon-power” to teach an amazing team of volunteers—shout out to MedLife UGA for making it possible—how to cook roasted chicken and vegetables, sweet potato mash, and vegan banana-oat cookies.

There was actually a little girl who was vegan, and she was surprised when she could actually eat a vegan-friendly dessert with the other kids.

When it comes to donating, I make sure to choose low-sodium canned goods, with a low sugar and preservative content. I try to choose items that are high in protein, complex carbohydrates and vegetables.

I am sure there are more ways to make such changes, but it all starts when we think about the person behind the plate (or pantry item).