I'm a student council adviser at the middle school where I work, and every year, we organize a food drive to benefit our local pantry. Last week was the big drive, and it was our best yet; we collected 1206 canned goods, plus a little bit of cash. One of the motivations we offered kids for bringing in food was raffle tickets (one for each item) for chances to win daily prizes that had been donated. Obviously, that little motivation helped.
Each morning, student council members came in early to help set up our collection tables. On Thursday, a 7th grade member "Kelly" breezed through the doorway with a big paper bag obviously full of food. She gushed,
"I brought a ton of food; we will never eat any of this stuff!"
The way she said it implied that the food was less than desirable stuff. I asked,
"Would anyone eat it?" and she quickly replied, in a Duh!-Are-you-insane? sort of tone, "No."
"You should think about what you just said," I suggested gently, and she shrugged her shoulders. Then we got busy on our task at hand, so it went no further, but I couldn't shake the conversation.
I'm ashamed to admit that before I became involved in the food drive, I, too, gave little thought to grabbing only the stuff we didn't want from our pantry for food donations. I could tell myself that I was helping out; that some people like lima beans, sauerkraut, olives, and some people don't care that cans are dented, but what I was really doing was giving for me; giving only what would not inconvenience my shopping schedule, so that I could tell myself I was a good person without having to go out of my way for anyone. Like Kelly, I was giving no thought to my shallow contribution, yet I was taking credit for being generous.
If you are feeling good about cleaning out your pantry of things neither you nor your family members would eat, that is not noble; it's cheap and selfish. If you truly want to feel good about yourself, take from your pantry items that you'll need to replace, not just those you don't want. Give conscious thought to what you're choosing; is it going to truly help the pantry, or is it just going to collect dust there, too?
If you really want to help, add desired items for your local pantry to your shopping list. If you cannot afford to buy a lot, try buying just one needed item, like a jar of peanut butter, canned tuna or other protein, 100% fruit or vegetable juice; or better yet, donate cash. Your time is worth something, too; consider helping out at your local pantry.
Because it feels good to clean out your pantry, but it feels even better to know you are making a real difference.