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What to donate this holiday season? Depends.

Rachel Krantz opens the refrigerator that holds much of the JFS food pantry's perishable food. (Photo by Bridgit Bowden/Hale Center for Journalism) Rachel Krantz opens the refrigerator that holds much of the JFS food pantry's perishable food. (Photo by Bridgit Bowden/Hale Center for Journalism)
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Before you put together a donation for your local food pantry, take a moment to consider which items are needed most. It’s not the classic stuffing, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie you might find on your own kitchen table this holiday. The biggest needs, local food pantry organizers say include more practical items: canned vegetables, proteins, toiletries and, surprisingly, adult diapers. And food pantries say the needs for these practical items don’t go away during the holidays.

Jewish Family Services in Overland Park manages a local food pantry, which is only one of the range of social services the organization offers.

JFS said it gives out more than 10,000 pounds of food each month to local families, and Rachel Krantz, development director for JFS, said that its most needed items don’t change just because the holidays come along.

top pantry needs

The top pantry needs at JFS include canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter and adult diapers. (Photo by Bridgit Bowden/Hale Center for Journalism)

“We always need protein items like tuna and peanut butter, and there’s always a high demand for hygiene products. People can’t use SNAP (food stamps) for hygiene items like toilet paper, toothpaste, diapers and adult briefs,” she said.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, SNAP benefits can’t be used to buy non-food items like toothpaste and toilet paper. Krantz said people don’t usually think to donate those items to food pantries, but they are always needed.

“It’s not a luxury for us to have toilet paper or toothpaste, but that is a luxury item for someone on food stamps,” she said.

The JFS pantry is set up like a small grocery store, allowing clients to choose what food items they want. “They don’t have to take green beans if they don’t want green beans,” Krantz said.

Krantz said there’s often a misconception that there’s not a hunger problem in Johnson county, which is typically seen as a more affluent county. “The need is actually growing,” she said.

food pantry

The food pantry at Jewish Family Services in Overland Park is set up like a small grocery store. (Photo by Bridgit Bowden/Hale Center for Journalism)

And, according to the most recent data from the Kansas Hunger Atlas, there are more than 62,000 people who are food insecure in Johnson County, meaning they don’t have reliable access to nutritious food.

Johnson County is one of 26 counties in the Harvesters Community Food Network.

The network includes more than 620 kitchens, shelters and food pantries, including JFS, across northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas.

Each month, Harvesters serves 141,500 people. Sarah Biles is a spokesperson for Harvesters. She said the holiday season is always a heavy donation time.

“This is when people are typically thinking about giving back, most often,” she said. “Particularly with our financial donations, we do get a big chunk of those during this part of the year.”

Biles said a cash donation to Harvesters will actually go farther than a food donation.

“We’re most efficient with the money because with every dollar given to us we can provide three meals,” she said.

But, she said, many people see a huge value in buying and donating food, and that’s OK too. “Especially for families, it’s the visual touch being able to take the can and put it in the barrel,” she said. “It’s more real.”

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