Now, let me start by stating that donations are always needed and always appreciated. If the only thing you can afford to give happens to be listed in this post, by all means, give it anyway (with a few exceptions).
I should also state that every place you may be thinking of giving a donation to probably has different needs, so it's always best to check with them to see if they need that particular donation. Most places even have their "wish lists"(or something comparable) on their websites. Keep in mind that most of these places may have limited storage space, so having "too much of a good thing" is simply not always possible. If one place doesn't need your donation, another place might need it.
With that said, here are some (very general) guidelines you may want to think about when deciding what to donate. [NOTE: If you are donating to a food bank, these guidelines won't necessarily be the same, I'm talking more about donating to shelters or other such programs.]
- The vast majority of donations we get come in during the holiday season. While there are a few (very much appreciated) people who will give donations throughout the rest of the year, most of the donations we live on throughout the year are given to us during November and December. So milk, eggs, cheese, fruit, and meat are always appreciated -- but we also need things that are still going to be good next October.
- If the expiration date has already passed, please don't donate it. I know Kraft Mac & Cheese never really goes bad. And I know the people who use the donations are often in a desperate situation. But no one really wants to eat Mac & Cheese that was supposed to be used by May 2001.
- Mac & Cheese and Top Ramen can be good food -- they last a long time and they're cheap. But people like variety. Try to be a little different when thinking of donations. When everyone gives the same thing year after year, it leaves people with very little choice and very little variation in their meals. Their lives are already in crisis, we shouldn't force them to eat such a limited menu on top of everything else. And, btw, milk and butter may be hard to come by in these situations, so boxed Mac & Cheese will only get someone so far.
- Sugar is good -- it can be used on cereal or in coffee or what have you. Flour, not so good. Let's face it, these people are in crisis, most of them are not going to be baking. Besides -- in order to bake, they'll also need milk and eggs, and the proportion of flour to eggs and milk is incredibly skewed.
- Speaking of coffee -- coffee and tea are always good. Those are probably the most used donations we get. Also considering adding some non-dairy creamer to that list.
- Canned goods are a good donation. But again -- variety!! Most people don't want to eat canned beets every night.
- Baby formula is always good. But, maybe mix it up with different types of formula (I don't know why, but we seem to get an exorbinant amout of soy formula). Also, other kinds of baby food would be nice once in a while.
- Used clothing is always good. It doesn't have to be trendy or expensive. But please, stained clothing and clothing with holes is really not needed. Women in crisis are not going to want to sit down with a needle and thread and mend clothes; nor are they going to want to walk around with stained clothing. And please, always wash the clothes before you donate them.
- Socks and underwear: always needed, rarely given. Now, used socks are okay (so long as they don't have holes in them). Used underwear -- think about it -- would you want to wear underwear that has been previously worn? EWWW! Also, if you are donating to a women's shelter, think about donating women's and children's underwear; we really don't need men's underwear.
- Stuffed animals can be okay, but please, they should be new. We really can't use someone's childhood boo-boo bear.
- Games are even better. Or play-dough. Or paint sets. Things that older children can actually use.
Most importantly, think about donating at other times of the year. We greatly appreciate the huge number of donations we get during the holidays. But by summer, it's slim-pickins.
UPDATE: Now that I'm here at work, there are a few other things I thought of, and figured I'd go ahead and them here, since I'm sure that most shelters around the country are also in need of similar types of products.
Things that we are always in desperate need of, but never (or rarely) seem to get them as donations:
- African-American hair care products (shampoo & conditioner made for A-A hair, straightening or curling products, etc.)
- Toiletries, such as tampons and pads, deoderant, toothpaste, toothbrushes
- Gift cards for grocery stores, Target/K-Mart/Wal-Mart, etc.
- Movie passes
- Passes for the zoo
- Bus tickets
- Cell phones (even without a service plan, they can be used to call 911)