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These Are The Items Food Banks Really Need Donated This Holiday Season

Eric Risberg

Many workplaces, businesses, places of worship and schools have food donation drives to help those less fortunate during the holidays. For those of us who want to help, what should we give?  

I sat down with Kurt Reiber, CEO of the Freestore FoodBank, one of Ohio's largest food banks (it distributes over 27 million meals each year). During the holidays, the Freestore serves 18,000 families at Thanksgiving alone, and will serve needy families on December 19 and 20 with everything they need for a Christmas dinner.  

What Should You Give During Food Drives? 

"Give whatever you like to eat as a family," says Reiber. "We suggest that, when you shop for your family, you pick up one item for you and one for the Freestore."  His suggested shopping list includes:

  • cereal
  • jars of peanut butter
  • canned chili 
  • canned tuna
  • canned vegetables
  • soup 
  • macaroni and cheese
  • condiments
  • gluten-free, nut-free and other low allergen foods for those with food allergies

What Should You Avoid? 

"Don't clean out your pantry," he says. (This video cheekily explains why.) "When you invite someone to your house, do you share what you like to eat, or what you don't? We try to put a face to hunger. Look in the mirror. It could be you."


  • Expired items
  • Items that you don't personally like (so that weird canned meat you got in a gift basket should be tossed, not donated)
  • Items in glass
  • Items that are homemade, due to federal regulations around ingredient lists in donated items
  • Items with high salt, fat or sugar content, as many families have members with health issues such as high blood pressure or diabetes, and often have gluten allergies as well

If you are wondering if something has expired, check out this brochure that covers the guidelines the Freestore uses when sorting food.

What Other Items Are Needed? 

There are lots of items Freestore can't buy at the same discount they can purchase food, and there are items that SNAP benefits (also known as food stamps) do not cover. These include:

  • baby formula
  • personal hygiene products (toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo)
  • feminine care products

Families are allowed to shop the Freestore and pick the items they need.

What About Cash? 

Cash donations are always welcome. Ninety-four cents of every dollar goes directly to families in need, including those who are asset-limited or income-constrained, but employed (or ALICE). This food goes to more than 20 pantries across the region, and during the two days before Christmas, more than 300 families an hour will be served not only food, but supportive services like rental and utility assistance, or signup assistance for Medicaid or SNAP.

For more information about the Freestore Food Bank, whether you want to give or if you need assistance, . Holiday meal distribution is on December 19 and 20, and volunteers are always needed. Want to volunteer? Register here

Copyright 2021 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit .

Julie Niesen has been covering local food since 2008. Her award-winning blog, , has been featured in The Washington Post, USA Today, Serious Eats, The Cincinnati Enquirer (and its former weekly, Metromix), WCPO Digital, City Beat, WCPO-TV, Fox19, and many more. She is a longtime resident of Over-the-Rhine, where she lives with her menagerie of pets. When she's not eating food, thinking about food, cooking food or writing about food, she runs a thought leadership program for a technology company in Chicago.