February is National Canned Food Month and food banks in the area need donations of canned food year round to meet the needs of many hungry children and adults in the area.
In Mercer Island, residents can donate food to the Mercer Island Food Pantry, a program of Mercer Island Youth and Family Services.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are “more than 50 million Americans, including nearly 17 million children, that are food insecure, meaning they live at risk of hunger,” said Shannon Traeger, spokeswoman for Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity.
And the face of hunger is changing, she said.
“Just because a person has a job, does not mean he or she has enough money to put a meal on the table, and, in fact, 36 percent of client households served by the Feeding America network have one or more adults working,” Traeger said.
On the Eastside, the nonprofit Hopelink is providing solutions to hunger, often utilizing canned food donations. Debra Grant, director of client services, manages Hopelink’s five food banks, which serve almost 7,000 people a month.
“The biggest need is for protein items such as tuna and canned meats. Also canned meals such as chili and spaghetti are always welcome. Other needs are canned fruits and vegetables and canned tomato products. Tuna and peanut butter are also always in demand,” Grant said.
Keep in mind when donating canned food that “unfortunately we can't use unlabeled cans or home-canned products or cans with large dents. Very large cans from the warehouse stores can be difficult to use in our food banks, as we aren't able to open the cans and divide them between families,” Grant said.
In Detroit, MI, the nonprofit organization Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan has five distribution centers located throughout Southeast Michigan that distribute food to more than 550 partner agencies that serve hungry people, according to marketing manager Natalie Fotias.
“The number of kids in our region growing up in poverty has more than doubled in the past decade. A hungry child can’t focus in the classroom and are likely to fall behind their peers—and stay behind,” Fotias said.
Canned food donations, Fotias said, “allow people to plan meals across weeks, better stretching their food supply and managing their food budget. Our highest demand is for canned protein, including beef stew, tuna fish and peanut butter. These foods really help to nourish our hungry and are things people know how to prepare. Also helpful are canned vegetables, rice, noodles and cereal.”
Smaller, specialized nonprofit programs also use canned food goods to feed their clients. Pantry Packs, based in Redmond, works to alleviate food insecurities for almost 500 students in need, from preschool through high school, by providing weekly food packs via student backpacks.
Every week, volunteers fill packs with kid-friendly food for the weekend. Packs are distributed each Friday via school staff and/or PTSA volunteers. Kids are able to take the packs home to help supplement what their family has on hand. Potential clients for the program are identified by school counselors or the families themselves and the confidentiality of students and their families is protected.
Founder Shauna Yusko said that canned food donations are an important part of the mix of food provided to Pantry Packs’ clients.
"Our students often have both parents working outside of the home, leaving older siblings to cook for younger ones, so we look for food products that are easy to open and prepare, such as easy pull lids on cans of prepared ravioli. Canned food donations that are needed most include: chicken noodle soup, ravioli, chili and canned fruit/veggies,” Yusko said.
How to Help
Donations of food to the Mercer Island Food Pantry are accepted at the following locations:
- The MIYFS office in Luther Burbank Park
- Banner Bank on 78th Ave SE
- Community Center at Mercer View at 8236 SE 24th
- Albertsons Grocery Store at 2755 - 77th Ave SE
- Mercer Island Thrift Shop at 7710 SE 34th Street