Let's be clear up front: Food banks appreciate every bit and type of food that is donated.
But since this is the time of year for food drives and donation pleas, it's a good time to consider making smart choices when you shop for the hungry.
That means adding protein- rich foods such as beans or canned meat and fish to the bag you are dropping off for your local food bank.
"Any of the dried beans and peas are powerhouses for nutrition," said Rebecca Gilliam Wrenn, a registered and licensed dietitian with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
She also suggested including canned fruits, which most people will eat and which are easy to chew, along with canned soups, tomatoes and other vegetables.
"If you get noodles of some sort and a cream-of-something soup, you can take any kind of meat - chicken, tuna, hamburger - and make a casserole that will go a long, long way," Gilliam Wrenn said.
She suggests people think about using coupons or taking advantage of deals such as the weekly penny items at Publix when they shop for those in need.
"It may not be the peanut butter my family likes or the cereal your family likes, but somebody will enjoy those Frosted Flakes," she said.
"We're happy to have anything and our clients are happy to have anything," said Elizabeth Quackenbush, chief development officer at Harvest Hope. "Our mission really is to feed hungry people. We're not at the point where we're turning things away."
And the need is definitely there.
Harvest Hope acts as a clearinghouse for food for the needy in 20 counties. It serves 400 member agencies from soup kitchens to shelters to food pantries. From January through June, Harvest Hope served 1.7 million people, including 339,000 families. "And we're expecting to serve another half million before the end of the year."
The main location on Shop Road includes an emergency food pantry, which originally was expected to serve 50 families a day. It now serves 500 each day, Quackenbush said.
At that food pantry, a family receives enough food to last 10 to 15 days, including meats, vegetables, drinks, bread and other items.
When it opened in its new facility in 1999, Harvest Hope's warehouse expected to move 6 million pounds a year. Last year, 30 million pounds moved through it.
"The demand is up 100 percent from this time last year," Quackenbush said. "Over the last 24 months the need trajectory has gone straight up."
The economy has forced some families - who used to donate to the food bank - to become clients in search of food.
"The food and financial donations are steady. But the demand is so much greater than last year," she said. "The holiday season is always a busy time. People think about other people typically at that time. And you think about food and family gatherings at the holidays. "
WANT TO DONATE?
At USC, food-collection bins will be placed in front of the Russell House on Greene Street from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. today and 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Thursday. The university community will use the donations to "stuff a bus" for Harvest Hope. (USC is also trying to set a new Guinness World Record for largest food drive by a non-charitable organization in a 24-hour period in several locations. The current record stands at 388,381 pounds of cans.)
Items can be dropped off at Harvest Hope, 2220 Shop Road, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays.
Also, churches, schools, civic groups, businesses and local food pantries hold food drives. To arrange collection of items or schedule a food drive, contact Harvest Hope's Ambra McGuinn at (803) 254-4432, ext. 2105.
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