Food pantry recipients need healthy food, not empty calories
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent December 16, 2011 10:30PM
Volunteer Janet Johnson of Hobart wears gloves as she makes individual servings of baby carrots at the Hobart Food Pantry in Hobart, Ind. Thursday December 8, 2011. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
What to give
Low-sugar cereal, such as Cheerios or Chex
Cans or plastic containers of 100 percent juice
Light or low-sodium canned vegetables
Bags of pinto or black beans
Canned tuna fish
Powdered milk fortified with vitamin D
What to avoid
Foods high in sodium, fat, oils or sugar
Chips, candy, cookies and crackers
Items in glass bottles
Items that are expired or in damaged packaging
Updated: January 18, 2012 8:02AM
As folks turn to food pantries during the holidays to make donations — and others turn to them for much-needed assistance — officials at those pantries said much of what they receive is healthy.
Donors seem to give what they themselves would want to receive, focusing on low-fat and low-sodium products and other nutritious products, a boon for recipients, particularly those with health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure, which can necessitate special diets.
“We do pretty good on getting food with a good nutritional value,” said Megan Sikes, communications and advocacy manager with the Gary-based Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, which provides goods to pantries throughout the region.
About 70 percent of what the Food Bank receives is of high nutritional value, as opposed to candy, pop and other junk food, Sikes said.
Because people are shopping more healthfully for themselves, their donations to the Food Bank are healthier as well.
“It doesn’t have to be high-end food, but think about what you would want to eat and what you would want your kids to eat, and donate that,” Sikes said.
At the Hobart Food Pantry, which does not receive items from the Food Bank, director Theresia Larimore said donors are mindful of nutrition. The pantry serves about 150 households each week.
Even less-healthy donations can be modified. Recipients who receive ramen noodles can skip the high-sodium seasoning packets and mix the noodles with canned peas or chicken, Larimore said.
“We are able to give a nice balance each week, and that comes from our donors,” she said.
Immanuel Lutheran’s food pantry offers a client-choice program, where people can select the foods they want, though how much they receive is based on the size of their household, said pantry director Kate Schultheis.
The pantry, one of four in Valparaiso, serves about 150 households a month. While the number of households has remained about the same, the number of individuals has gone up.
“A lot of the clients we’re seeing don’t cook a lot, so they’re going to pick the prepared food,” Schultheis said. “We have whole wheat products, as well as sugar-free Jell-O. It’s really up to the clients.”
While the pantry has canned tuna packed in water, healthier than that packed in oil, it also offers beef stew, provided by the federal government, which is high in sodium.
Through the Food Bank and other donations, the pantry receives ground turkey and chicken for the clients who want that healthier choice.
“It’s strictly up to our clients. We no longer fill a bag and hand it to them,” Schultheis said. The pantry went to the choice program five years ago.