Over the summer, I had the great experience of volunteering some time at Mary Brennan INN Soup Kitchen in Hempstead, NY. I was there on a Friday, which meant that the pantry was opened and visitors could shop the pantry to take home in a grocery bag. This practices is to sustain the visitors through the weekend while the INN is closed.
My job was to stand in the pantry and help visitors select their items and ensure they follow the rules. The main rule is one item per shelf and no one wants to follow that. I was often pressured and guilted into turning the other way for someone to break that rule. It was a quite an experience! But I did learn a lot about what visitors most value at the pantry:
Soup Kitchen visitors love canned tuna. And why not? Each can packs a belly filling serving of protein. Every visitor wanted the biggest can they could find and they preferred Bumblebee brand. In fact, the tuna had to be kept separately and watched by a volunteer so that visitors only selected one or else the pantry would have run out quickly. The more tuna cans a soup pantry has the better. When donating, always include at least one can of tuna.
Chicken Noodle Soup
Soup was also a popular item. There was a wide selection of soup ranging from Seafood Bisque to Tomato to Chicken Noodle. The most popular was Chicken Noodle. Visitors would ask me for help in finding a large can in the back if they couldn't find one in the front. When donating, choose a can with a self open tab instead of one that needs an opener.
Peanut Butter was another popular item. Again, packs a lot of filling protein in one small container. Added bonus...you can eat it right out of the jar if you want to! When donating, choose a regular peanut butter brand such as Skippy.
Treats for the Kids
There were a surprising number of women with children (maybe 25%) at the pantry and they had first pick of the lunch line and of course the pantry. These kids were delighted and the mothers seemed relieved to take home something fun when I was able to find something sweet or salty to add to their bag. When donating, consider a semi-sweet cereal like Honey Nut Cheerios, fruit snacks, or pretzels. These kids are aware of where they are with their mother and it will brighten their day to see something fun to take home.