Viral social media post highlights 'real needs' at food banks

As the holidays approach, a viral social media post hopes to fine-tune donations to food banks and shelves. 

But as the Twin Cities face a record level of need, the widespread post may not totally apply here.

"We're on track for the hungriest year in history," said Second Harvest Heartland CEO Allison O’Toole.

A load of fresh produce bagged up by volunteers at Second Harvest Heartland will eventually help keep a family fed.

It’s an operation fueled mostly by financial donations, buying groceries at a discount and distributing them to Minnesota and western Wisconsin food shelves.

So when O’Toole read a viral social media post about what food banks really need, she pointed instead to smaller partners.

"I think getting the word out about the high need right now is always helpful," she said. "I think making sure you have accurate information about what your local, your neighborhood food shelf needs is even more important."

The list suggests donations you might not consider — like spices and a can opener to go with all the canned food.

But the post doesn’t necessarily reflect what your local food shelf really needs. As the post mentioned, food shelves are frequently short on coffee and tea, and the shelves at Prop in Eden Prairie are nearly bare. 

But the viral list also discouraged donations of pasta sauce and spaghetti noodles. At Prop, they don’t have much spaghetti in stock, and they’re completely out of pasta sauce.

"We do have enough mac and cheese," said Prop Food Shelf executive director Jennifer Loon. "So that was one of the items on that viral post. We don't need it. We're good on that."

And further down the list are some non-food items, which food shelves do try to give out.

"A lot of people don't think about paper goods, toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissue as we go into the cold and flu season," Loon said. "Those are expensive items. We always need those and personal care, feminine hygiene products, very important."

Prop keeps a list on its website of its Top 5 items of need. But what’s really at the top of the list of desired donations is time and money. Prop needs volunteers to serve its 4,000 guests. And Second Harvest volunteers work three shifts a day, six days a week.

Food banks and shelves can often buy staples at a discount, so a dollar in cash goes farther than a dollar’s worth of canned beans. But if beans are what you have, food shelves will take it.

"Whatever it is, we need it," Loon said.