Recently, I had the opportunity to learn more about Pennsylvania’s Agricultural Surplus System, or PASS, program. The purpose of this program is to help the agricultural industry bridge the gap of taking those surplus food items from harvesting or processing, and connecting them to charitable food distributors across Pennsylvania.

Even in the world’s greatest food-producing nation, children and adults face poverty and hunger in every county across America. What does food insecurity look like in the United States? According to the 2021 article, “Facts About Poverty and Hunger in America,” by Feeding America, these are the statistics:

• 34 million people lived in poverty in 2019 in America. For a family of four, this means earning just $25,000 per year.

• Over 35 million people, including more than 10 million children, struggled with hunger in the United States before the coronavirus pandemic.

• A food-insecure household has limited or uncertain access to enough food to support a healthy life.

• Children are more likely to face food insecurity than any other group in the United States.

• The coronavirus pandemic has left millions of families without stable employment. This has resulted in more than 50 million people, including 17 million children, experiencing food insecurity.

What Can I Do?

Consider how you can support the local food bank or food pantries within your community with donations of food from your household. Donating unused food to feed those in your community facing food insecurity can be a very satisfying and rewarding experience. If you are unsure what foods will be accepted, contact your local food bank or pantry. They may suggest their greatest needs.

In general, donated food items should be safe to eat by having not been subjected to conditions that would place the food at risk for causing a foodborne illness.

Most food banks and pantries will accept commercial, shelf-stable, canned and dry foods, which have use-buy or sell-by dates reflecting quality and not safety. Before donating those unused food items, check with the local food bank or food pantry on their policies for accepting expired food and refrigerated/frozen foods. The following food items should not be donated due to safety issues:

• Dented/rusted canned foods — the integrity of the packaging may be compromised and lead to the spoilage of the product.

• Home-canned foods.

• Expired baby formula or baby food.

Do you have a green thumb and like to grow produce? If so, there may be an avenue for you to donate those extra vegetables to a food pantry. Contact your local pantry early in the growing season to find out what they will accept. According to the 2017 article, “Top 13 Vegetables to Donate to Food Pantries” by Iowa State University Extension, here is a list of preferred vegetables which are easily recognized and can be used in multiple ways in the preparation of meals and snacks: tomatoes, zucchini, winter squash, potatoes, onions, peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, cabbage, sweet potatoes, carrots and beans, all of which are popular with many food bank recipients.

Help feed someone in your neighborhood or community by taking the time to donate foods.

Richard Kralj is a Penn State senior Extension educator in food safety and quality in Jefferson County.


What To Read Next