It’s almost that time of year again. The leaves are changing, football season is wrapping up, and everybody is preparing their homes and stomachs for the festivities of the holiday season.

Part of the tradition of American Thanksgiving is the spirit of service — sounding out a call to action  to give to those in need.

One of the most effective ways for people to give back during the holiday season is to donate to their local food bank. In the US alone in 2015, nearly 1 in 8 households suffered from food insecurity.

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Here are some tips about how to find your local food bank, and what items are most in need.

1/ Check Out Feeding America

Feeding America is a nonprofit organization dedicated to hunger relief in the US. They operate over 200 food banks across the country, from Alaska to Puerto Rico. After food is donated to these banks, it is then distributed out to food pantries to be collected by individuals. Each year, their services help to feed over 40 million people by providing over 4 billion meals.

You can use their website to find the closest food bank to your location. You can also make a financial donation directly to their organization, or sign up to be a volunteer at any of their locations.

2/ Donate Nutritious, Shelf-Stable, and Holiday-Themed Items

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What foods make the best contributions to a food bank? Are there items you should avoid donating?

Healthy, non-perishable items are always in demand at food banks. Things like canned vegetables, nut butters, chili and other canned stews, canned tuna, and canned chicken are especially valuable because they last a long time.

Other pantry staples like rice, beans, oatmeal, and cooking oils are always excellent items to donate. Same goes for snacks like granola bars, canned nuts, and trail mix.

During the holidays, when donations and need are at their highest levels, holiday food items make especially good donations. Cranberry sauces, canned pumpkin, stuffing, dry macaroni, and all of the other wonderful dishes associated with winter revelry can help someone in need bring cheer to the whole family

3/ Avoid Junk Foods and Perishable Items

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The main food groups you want to avoid donating to food banks are quite simple: unhealthy foods and perishable food items.

Sodas, sugary juices, highly processed foods high in sugar and fat, and any other generally unhealthy foods won’t give someone the nutrients they need. While a box or two of cookies could make someone’s day, make sure you’re balancing out that donation with any of the more healthy foods listed above.

If you are donating food it’s probably best to skip things that are highly perishable, like fruits and vegetables. Many food banks partner with sponsors in the food and agriculture industries to provide fresh produce that would otherwise go bad on a regular schedule, so focus on donating foods that won’t go bad.

4/ Donate Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

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Food waste in the US is an unbelievably massive problem. It’s estimated that Americans waste billions of pounds of food each year, enough to feed 84% of the country on a 2000 calorie-a-day diet.

If you and your family find yourselves with a ton of leftover food from your Thanksgiving meal, you can contact your local food bank or food charity service to inquire about whether they accept donations of cooked foods. Many pantries and food banks across the country offer these services during the holidays. After all, there’s nothing quite like a home-cooked meal.

5/ Donate Your Money and Time

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If you truly want to help support the food bank system, donating cash can go a long way to ensuring that more people will receive access to the services they provide. Most food banks and pantries have donation portals on their websites that make it incredibly easy to give. During the holiday season some of them may even run promotions where third-party sponsors will match your contribution.

Additionally, volunteering your time to help staff a food bank, pantry, or other food distribution service is a great way to get into the holiday spirit. The reality is that these organizations rely on volunteer support, and without it they would not be able to provide meals to people all over the country. Grab your family, grab your friends, and spend some time giving back to the community.

How To

Demand Equity

Tips for Donating to Your Local Food Bank During the Holidays

By Andrew McMaster