Can beggars be choosers?

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About Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

Reader Melissa asked a great question recently. I’ve thought about it, too, and think I have an opinion, but I’d love to hear what you all think:

“I want to be generous to those who are less fortunate than me. I really do. I feel that we have a responsibility to care for them. There are lots of web sites out there that point to free or cheap deals (with coupons) at various stores. It’s frequently recommended that you stockpile what your family needs, then give the rest away to those who need it.

“My problem is that, now that I know how many bad things are in most prepackaged products (food and toiletries), I have a REALLY hard time donating things that I don’t consider to be good enough for my own family. I know that ‘beggars can’t be choosers,’ but am I really helping someone by giving them something that has harmful chemicals in it?

“Yet at the same time, I doubt that many homeless folks are able to cook from scratch. I feel badly about not giving more things away, but I would also feel badly about giving people something that I wouldn’t give my own family.”

Is it nobler to pass on buying goods with questionable ingredients, and therefore not affording to give at all? Or do you feel like it’s better to give what’s available, so that those who can’t afford anything at all can have—well, something?

What do you think? Where is that balance between being generous, while not spending money on things you’d rather not?

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Comments

  1. avatar
    Jocelyn Nelson says:

    I think it is much better to have some food, any food, if the other option is hunger. Can you imagine someone homeless turning away food, toiletries, etc because of preservatives or chemicals or not being fairtrade? In fact, I might even say it is better to buy 10 standard apples to give away rather than 5 organic, for example.

  2. I look at it differently, I suppose. I’m fortunate enough to have the privilege of choosing what foods I eat. But if I needed donations, I’d appreciate any food (chemicals or not). To me, starvation is worse than unnecessary chemicals. Similar to how being without warm clothes is worse than wearing itchy, ugly fabrics. I donate the clothes that I don’t wear, and I’d donate the food that I don’t use.

    Plus, I wouldn’t want to deny the food to someone that genuinely didn’t have the same food preferences.

    • “Plus, I wouldn’t want to deny the food to someone that genuinely didn’t have the same food preferences.”

      This is the one that really gets me. For *my* family, I make specific food choices. We have the luxury of choice. But not even everyone in my socio-economic bracket makes those *same* choices.

      I volunteer regularly for a food bank, and those foods that we choose not to eat are often the ones that daycares for WIC eligible children choose. They aren’t trying to make a point, they are trying to make a meal.

      By not donating the food, you are basically removing one more choice from these peoples’ lives.

  3. I have thought about this question for years now. When I lived in California there were frequently homeless people at the grocery who had canned goods but were constantly requesting can openers to be able to procure the food inside. We want to be helpful, but would prefer to give what’s actually needed.

    Who are today’s hungry, really? I think in this economy they might well be neighbors. Do some of them even have a stove, much less access to non GMO/organic foods? What are the best items to donate? Our food pantry has a list of the most needed items, which I find helpful while at the store looking at sales.

    I can see your concern, and have gotten around it some by donating produce from our garden or foods we don’t like from our CSA box to the local food pantry. Still, even though we try hard to eat better foods, we are not anywhere near 100% clean food here, so I figure food that is healthy and simple to prepare is most always appreciated.

  4. I strongly believe you vote for the kind of world you want with how you spend your money (money makes the world go round) so we don’t buy things to give or donate that we wouldn’t buy ourselves, this is includes $1 crap to send in children’s shoeboxes for christmas gifts. If I wouldn’t buy it for my kids I’m not giving junk to someone else. Same goes for food. However, we are not hardcore organic foodies so we buy lots of non-organic etc for ourselves (in terms of the food example).

    If we want to get all spiritual about this, and I’m not saying we necessarily, many religions and belief systems talk about giving the “first fruits” and the best of what we have. The sacrifice of giving. I’ll say right now I don’t live that way to the extent I should but I think the question is not how low can we go but how high can we raise the standard.

    • I agree. I think it is sad to purchase a nice pair of shoes so that I can use the box to send something cheaper than bubble gum to a child in need.
      oh the hypocrisy.

      • Have you ever made one of those shoe boxes to donate? Our family does it every year. We spend about $50+ per box and usually make 3-4 of them. I buy school supplies, small stuffed animals, barbies, toothbrushes, brushes, snacks, matchbox cars, minature car games, etc…even thin blankets that will fit in the box. I have never bought the cheap plastic items that break in 30 seconds. You can fit a lot more into those boxes than you would believe. Every item is something I would buy/give my own children. As a matter of fact, they usually go shopping with me to help pick items out. And, there are children out there with no toys who are grateful to have a matchbox car or small doll to play with. Hypocrisy would be doing nothing and then complaining because nothing is being done…not trying to do something good for others.

        • To be honest I used to and then we stopped because I just couldn’t stomach the dollar store/consumerism mentality of filling them with cheap toys. I’m not saying we were morally right in doing so just telling the truth.

          We decided to give in other ways. In terms of time serving people, feeding people in our home, supporting missionaries and cash donations to missions and causes.

          If I was to do the shoeboxes again I would have to increase the budget per box (I think back in the day I did for under $25/box – because that’s all I could swing) to what you spend. That would allow us to make purchases in line with our values and send give toys.

          I think matchbox cars and small dolls are wonderful and giving toys is wonderful.
          Don’t get me wrong. I love the program (I mean how could you not) but I just don’t like the idea of buying quality that I wouldn’t give my own children.

          • I love doing the shoeboxes at Christmas. But honestly I buy most of the stuff at the dollar store. Unfortunately, that’s the only way I can help. But I don’t buy the cheap toys, I get paper and pencils, toothbrushes and socks and brushes and soap and so on. I think when it really comes down to it paper is paper and toothbrushes are toothbrushes no matter where you buy them. And I would hate to not be able to help some child in a far off land who I know appreciated my kindness…no matter what it cost.

    • Oh true…to give out of our first fruits, aighhh! So hard, when do we have enough???? I blogged about buying One Less Thing and using that to give away or do something for another…the catch 22 of being blessed even as we are mindful of it. UGH.

      • I agree with you. And it’s not just the first fruit, but also the corners of our fields and the wheat that drops on the field while harvesting. We are not suppose to pick the lesser stuff for those who are hungry we are suppose to leave a part of what we would eat and let the hungry pick what they need. I participated in the coupon world for a while and I would “buy” all the free stuff at CVS or Walgreens and then donate it. But when I stopped using the food and toiletries myself I realized I shouldn’t be donating it either. Not just because of the harmful chemicals but because of the consumerism of the whole thing. That doesn’t mean I don’t donate anymore. I donate things that I would use. For me it came down to this: when I was hungry and poor I still didn’t want my children eating hormones in chicken or milk, why would the women in the shelters feel any differently? And when my child is a poor college student I still want them to be voting with their pocketbooks even if it would be easier to buy the cheaper chemicals or shopping at the cheaper big name store instead of the local market. I also asked myself what I wanted my children to see. Me spending hours at Walgreens in order to donate a bunch of shampoo (consumerism) or me giving an hour of my time at a shelter helping?

        • I’m with you Leigh.

          • “I also asked myself what I wanted my children to see. Me spending hours at Walgreens in order to donate a bunch of shampoo (consumerism) or me giving an hour of my time at a shelter helping?”

            I love this! This is exactly what I was thinking while reading the post.

    • avatar
      Carrie Boyd says:

      Beautifully said. I commend Melissa for asking and reflecting on her question.

      Poor neighborhoods usually don’t have easy access to healthy food choices. The healthier the food donated, the healthier the neighborhood. Some communities have started non-profits that make fresh foods more accessible in poor neighborhoods. See if something like that is in your area, and ask about ways to help. Volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen, and talk to people about what they want and need donated. Basic toiletries are always needed, especially, sanitation supplies.

      I would recommend reading “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” by Ruby Payne. This is an eye opening book. People in poverty are concerned that they have enough to eat, where as, people in middle class are more concerned with the quality of their food. That is why fast foods are often the food of choice. I say donate the best foods you can and give people the choice. It would be a beautiful thing to have access to more healthy foods rather than not.

      • Carrie- I look forward to reading this. I just commented about some of the work in Boston that doubles the SNAP money someone uses at a farmers market. It’s a really great program, and there are similar ones in NYC. The best part is that you CAN use SNAP at the farmers markets, but not all of them. Plus most people don’t know about it.

  5. I think this is a valid tension, and it’s a good one to wrestle with. Someone who comes down too hard on either end of the spectrum is probably off-balance.

    Without going into the debate of “harmful chemicals” (I was a chemist for almost 10 years, so I have my own perspectives), like most of the commenters above, I would tend to see the hunger need as primary. In the 3rd world countries I’ve been to (Kenya, Nicaragua), the concerns of families is centered around getting food for their kids.

    But there is also something to be said for personal sacrifice and giving “first fruits,” as Renee said.

  6. Wow this is good food for thought. Even though I cannot relate I guess my thought process is putting myself in their shoes to help make a decision. If I was hungry and had no money for food, would I rather eat a package of processed crackers/snacks or nothing at all? I suppose I would chose the processed. Now my husband and I try to eat clean and minimize a lot of your typical junk food but that said we also buy a lot of non organic food. Hard decision. I guess overall I hope that I would not over think this so much that it prevented me from doing something, anything, you know? I would hate to become paralyzed out of fear of not knowing what to do. B/c that is when (I feel) we get stuck in our own “stuff” and lose focus of what really matters….extending kindness.

  7. I think it’s a good question, but we can’t get caught up in focusing on the food. What’s our goal? Our goal is to live hopeful, purposeful, meaningful lives, and to wish the same for others. That makes the answer easy: any food > no food.

  8. If you are looking at the hungry eyes of your children, do you even have the mental energy to spend on comparing white rice to organic brown? I wouldn’t. And I think, of course, that we should give away the best we can–I don’t buy the dollar-store toys for the gift boxes either. But I can seriously load up a cart with healthy foods at the big box store, and only afford to buy half of that at whole foods. To me, getting more kids to school with a full belly is more important.
    Eating in the expensive, picky, health-conscious way that we do is a luxury, people! It isn’t reality for 90% of the folks out there.

    • I agree! I would love to eat all organic but I’d be homeless if I did. I don’t buy zebra cakes & pop for the food bank, but I do buy off brand canned goods. It’s what my family eats & I can afford to get more that way. More food= fewer starving kids. Could you look a kid in the eye & say “I’m sorry. I couldn’t afford to buy you an all organic dinner so I just got you this one little thing”?

      • So true!!

      • I bet you could afford a lot more than you think! (By YOU I mean the collective You-nothing personal) Just think about all we can cut… Do you pay for internet? Cable/DVR? House phone and cell phone – do you have text message and data plan on the phone? How many pairs of clothes did you buy in the last year? What did you spend on Wrapping paper and gift bags for Christmas and Birthdays? How much was spent on coffee and going out to eat? Do you have a car or do you walk or take the bus every place you need to go? Do you ever rent or buy movies, games or books? Have you been to the movies in the last year? How much did you spend on the popcorn there? How big is your house/appartment? …It’s just holding “stuff” you sepnt money on.
        What is offered at the food bank is year old Zebra Cakes and soda. And those are the ‘healthy’ things to eat vs. the 3yr old can of tuna.
        Give the best…

  9. If I wouldn’t eat it, most likely I won’t donate it. Now if I was on the recieving end I am sure I would accept the chemical food, but I am not going to give it. I don’t think canned beans and rice is that expensive or too much of a health comprimise so I donate things like that.

    • That’s what I was going to say. Our church recently held a food drive for our own members. Those that could afford to brought bags of food to leave in the lobby. Those that needed it took it. I wrestled with this question and ended up buying canned tuna and chili. The tuna I buy for our family, the chili, not so much, but that’s preference, not hunger or lower standards. Both happened to be on sale that week so I was able to buy more.

  10. What a great question! Another saying to throw in the mix: “One mans’ trash is another mans’ treasure”. What is inedible to some (because of chemicals, low nutritional value, etc) is valuable sustenance to another.

    When I worked with families with low incomes, one thing I frequently heard was how tired they were of pasta pasta pasta all the time. That is a frequent donation that ends up with families. What these families got excited about was the pad thai in a box, the stir fry mixes, etc. Variety!

  11. This is definitely a tough one! But I usually end up donating items that I bought for the family that I ended up never using (nothing that has expired, of course). I try to give the best I can, but I agree with some of the others, I don’t think that a hungry family would be very picky about what they receive- better to have something than nothing at all to feed your children.

  12. This is a good question. At the holidays, I buy items for some children at my kid’s school so that they can have new things too. I buy decent items but I certainly don’t buy the expensive, name-brand clothes I dress my kids in. I feel that being dressed in clean, warm clothes should be a right for all, but name brands are a luxury (one that I can afford). Although stickier, I guess the same applies for food. Eating organic is a luxury, food should be a right.
    I was in the situation once where at a sporting event my toddler was screaming for a snack. I had forgetten to restock my diaper bag and didn’t have anything for her. A (very kind) mother nearby offered my child a “granola bar.” (I use the term loosely. I would have called it a candy bar.) Now I would never buy that item for my children, however the kindness of that mother overshadowed the less than stellar food choice.

    • I so appreciate this view point- thank you for not telling this mother that your daughter/family “doesn’t eat those.” You know what I mean, I bet! :) We eat very differently than our family, but if we go over for a family meal, we eat what is offered.

  13. Good question! I’ve thought about that myself, but hadn’t really come to any conclusions. I’m looking forward to reading all the comments!

  14. Something I try to keep in mind when giving anything is that the recipient may have different priorities than I do. I don’t want to give them something that I consider better but that they simply don’t enjoy because of different preferences. For example, when I bring care meals I try to make them as healthy as possible jusy as for our family, but I also remember that some families I know don’t like whole wheat or veggie-heavy meals. I don’t use the expensive sucanat for potluck baking because, not only would most of my friends not choose that I know many don’t like the molassesy taste.

    All tha to say that I do try to give the best. But I know alot of people who just don’t care whether things are organic and would not buy it for themselves, even with unlimited funds. In those cases I try to think about what they would choose and give accordingly, trying to cho wants forose, say, the healthiest option within their preferences and common choices.

    When the time is right I like to introduce friends to really healthy things I’ve made, handmade gifts, wooden toys, etc. But if what their daughter really just wants the cheap plastic barbie for her birthday? Buy it. It is a gift.

    I’ve worked among the homeless and I know that pretty much all of them would prefer the 10 non-organic apples over 3 organic… or put it this way: given the choice between 3 of either, they wouldn’t care which. I, too, want to give the beat, but I try to remember that ‘best’ has different definitions.

  15. Our family went through a really bad financial patch not so long ago. At one point, our funds were so low that I had no idea how we would afford groceries that week. Godly friends came to our rescue with the perfect gift: a gift voucher for a butcher. That way our need was met, and I had the choice of how best to spend the money for our family.

    Vouchers, people, vouchers!!!!

  16. Sorry for all the typos. I am on my (ornery) phone. I meant ‘try to choose’ and ‘choose the best’, among others. :)

  17. The convenience foods are actually needed by some of the people needing donated food..Some are homeless with obviously no cooking facilities.Many live in motel rooms and at the most may have a microwave or a hotplate. People who are poor often to not have a full kitchen of appliances and tools to work with.Many may have disabilities,physical or mental, that may not allow any complex cooking.There was recently an article in our paper requesting easy ways to make beans,since so many were donated and the clients had no idea how to use them. What do you think might happen if you received a bag of dry beans and had no idea how to prepare them and had limited reading skills so you could not read the directions?Really not much of a blessing to receive that “healthy” food.!I give both types of items,more “convenience” type and things like bags of lentils .I figure that covers all different types of needs.

  18. Personally, I compromise. I won’t donate things like sodas, but I do donate seltzer and bottled water. I would never donate chips or candy, but I do donate pretzels, granola bars (kind of like candy, I guess), and dried fruit. I think within the choices you have, there are items that are not all chemicals, but might not be the things you choose for your family. For instance, I purchase the whole wheat pastas for donation when they are on sale (they cost the same as regular), but I don’t buy organic pasta. I don’t buy organic pasta for myself either, though.

    When I donate, I usually buy two of whatever I’m donating. I figure, if I can afford one for my family – I can afford to donate one to another family.

  19. I think this is a valid concern, but it can go too far. Most of my friends (those who make good money) don’t really care about “clean food” and buy whatever sounds good and is convenient. Most of the world doesn’t care about this and I think this is important. If my children were hungry and someone gave me their favorite mac-and-cheese-in-a-box, I’d be thrilled. If I got pasta every meal, I’d be grateful, but maybe not as thrilled.

    All that to say, a little more thought and money should go into your donations (and maybe just your leftovers), but it doesn’t need to be the most expensive items in the store) unless you really feel a burden to buy those items. Also, gift cards would be good to use towards produce, etc.

  20. I have a brother and sister-in-law who are often in need (through no lack of hard work on their part). My sister-in-law has been criticized by many for only taking matching, stain-free clothes for her twin girls. While my opinion about dressing them the same may be different than hers, I do recognize she’s entitled to some say on what happens in her house. I get great joy in arranging my life and home the way I see fit and think she should be allowed some of that freedom, even when she’s the one getting the help. It’s just another angle on the same question.

    • Good for your sister-in-law — sorry that she is criticized. I don’t think many people think about the effect that clothing can have on kids, especially in school. Yes, non-matching clothes that may be somewhat worn are better than no clothes at all, but if she is able to still clothe her children by being somewhat selective, then that is wonderful.

      I am on the board of a children’s clothing charity, we basically just collect clothing throughout the year and have multiple give-away events that we give it all away. We are pretty selective in what we take, because we want the kids to feel good about themselves and not be obviously wearing other people’s castoffs. We re-donate to other charities the stuff we won’t give away, but we only keep things that are in good condition, and we specifically ask for only items in good condition. We’ve been praised for this viewpoint.

  21. When Jesus sThe “chemicals” mentioned are what make most of those foods shelf-stable, and thereby useful for food pantries or homeless bags. Would I buy Hormel chili bowls for my own kids with coupons? No, but the pop-top lids and canned protein make them very popular with the homeless we visit.

    The other alternative is to cook and serve whole foods directly. (For example, we make scrambled eggs over grits in a cup to bring on cold winter mornings.)

    And this is a Christian viewpoint, because that’s where my family comes from, but…Mother Teresa reminded us that when we give comfort to the hungry or thirsty or sick, we do so for Him. I have a hard time believing we would turn Jesus away because the food is not organic.

  22. I’m enjoying these comments! I like hearing all the viewpoints, and it is giving me lots to think about today. Great topic.

  23. Interesting question. I think it comes down to intent. If you’re buying el cheapo things to donate simply so that you have more money to buy nicer items for your own family, I think that’s wrong. If you’re buying items that you may not normally feed or give your own family but know that others would like them (i.e., the “want” list from a food pantry), I think the intent is right and that’s admirable.

    To be honest, I’m not sure a lot of people would like some of the things we buy. :-)

    • I agree. Normally I give off our own shelves – so things we would eat ourselves but still easy to prepare (ex. jars of organic pasta sauce, whole wheat pasta, canned salmon…) I do have a friend who did this special shopping trip recently of a list of things the food bank specifically asked for – not food she’d buy for herself but she was doing it b/c obviously these were foods that were meeting a specific need. I have given boxes of food from our pantry to a family in need but we weren’t sure if they would actually cook brown rice, say, or just throw it away. But we were trying to give of what we had.

      I know that if I had the choice between let my children go hungry or feed them whatever I had access to, I’d choose the latter, no question.

      Like so many issues in life, I think, in the end, it boils down to motive or what is in our heart… which will not end up looking the same for everyone.

    • Exactly! Would I really be blessing someone by giving them food they’re not used to and likely wouldn’t care for?

  24. If I wouldn’t eat it or let my family eat it because I believe it to be poison, why would I buy it to give to a needy family? I think a non-organic apple is a slow death. I wouldn’t do that to someone else.

    When selecting gifts for our giving tree I make sure I select items I believe in.

    I would be a hypocrite if I did otherwise.

    • A non-organic apple is maybe a slow death (debatable), but certainly a much longer one than dying of starvation. And the reality is, we all will die. The attitude that non-organic fruits and vegetables are poison and not suitable for food smacks of elitism and is so far removed from the reality of most poor and hungry.

  25. I’m a “beggar” or almost. BUT I still won’t take food that I consider junk. We don’t eat organic but we eat healthy. Putting junk in your body is the same as starving your body.

    • So, in your case, you are still in a better place than some, in that you have room (or the energy/knowledge) to choose to some degree.

      It does become sticky, too, depending on who the recipient is. For instance, if I send my $ to Africa to my husband’s family, their concern is simply eating (not that they even have packaged/processed options), whereas one of my sisters who has made use of the food bank has come away disgusted with some of the foods offered to her (although I also had to explain to her that the food bank only runs b/c of donations of families who are making sacrifices to give; she has kind of an attitude of entitlement).

  26. From the perspective of one who has been in ‘poverty’ – even on government aid, even as a recipient balance is key. While on SNAP (Food Stamps) my weekly grocery budget was larger than it is today, when I no longer have the benefit. I purchased more whole foods then than I do now. I still try to keep to the edges of the grocery store and quit clipping coupons all together for things that I wouldn’t have purchased without a coupon. So, while my budget requires strict guidelines, I work to make my dollar stretch and have found a fairly limited menu routine that is dependable and we can supplement with a few extras now and then.

    I have a few couponing friends who sometimes pass their excessive booty along to us and I’m just so pleased with the new toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, etc! I am grateful even if they weren’t the brand or scent I may I have selected, they are doing their ‘job.’

    Thank you to those who pass along the goodness and who educate the masses as to the best health. Organic just isn’t really an option for me and my fam, so I wash everything VERY well and limit our consumption of meats.

  27. organizations typically do better when money is given vs. actual food or items. it’s better for the “shelter” to have $100 to spend @ costco than have a bunch of random items for people to pick and choose from. so we like to give $ instead of items and let the choices fall to those who know better than we do how to serve those in need.

    • Good point, but sometimes I hesitate though not knowing where those $$ are truly going since they are still a “business” even though non profit. Is it paying for paperwork, when I’d rather it clothe or feed someone. I guess you just have to research what you can and then trust God to take care of the rest. Better than to NOT donate at all. That is sad to me.

  28. Something to think about in all of this in regards to food. We don’t currently produce enough fruits and vegetables in the US for everyone to eat according to the health recommendations of 5+ servings per day, and that’s with conventionally grown produce, not organic. Is it possible to feed the world through all organic whole foods? Or in other words- is it possible for everyone to attain maximum nutrition standards and health? I’m not sure. In a sense it “should” be, but I have the tendency to believe this to be one of those things marred by the effects of sin in the world.

    • This is a very interesting point. I wonder if our meat consumption was lower, the distribution of farmland might change for the better. We’re definitely a fallen society, as you point out.

    • Do you have a source for this statement? Do we really not grow enough or do people just not want it, whether organic or not? I’m currently trying to figure out how to process 80+ pounds of peaches I was able to pick from a neighbor’s tree because they don’t want them. There are at least 300 pounds still on the trees and this is just one family with a few peach trees. Free fruit, yet if I don’t go pick it, the june bugs will eat it. Same with apples around here. We end up raking them off people’s yards to feed to our chickens and goats because no one wanted to do the work of picking so that they could be eaten by people.

      I don’t have a source for this, but have heard that the US currently produces enough calories (no mention of their quality) to feed every person on the planet with 3500 calories a day! The problem usually isn’t production (whether organic or not), but distribution.

      • I have often heard that statistic in several professional venues (I’m a dietitian), but had to look up a source. I’m sure that much produce gets wasted, but not enough to make up for what we’d truly need.
        http://www.thegreeneconomy.com/the-united-states-needs-13-million-more-acres-of-fruits-and-vegetables-to-meet-the-rda/
        I do think we produce that amount of calories, but most of the production is in grain- soybeans and corn, that are not fed to people, but grown for livestock feed. And it’s not as simple as transferring all that land to fruit and vegetable production. Our current farm subsidy program is only part of the problem.

        • I totally agree that farm subsidies are part of the problem! That’s a different topic for a different post and maybe even different blog though. Thanks for the link, I’ll go read it. 13 million is a lot of acres!

  29. We have to remember that provision and health ultimately comes from the LORD. There may come a day when my family cannot afford to eat the way we feel is best, and if that time should come, I simply will do my best and trust the LORD to take care of what I cannot.

    I apply that same thought to those who are in need. When I can, I cook good food for them, but if all that is available is food that is maybe not all I hope for their good health, I trust the LORD that this is His provision for them at this time and ask Him to cause them to have good health in spite of their circumstances.

  30. Another thought, a lot of homeless are not accustomed to “good” food. I know when I cook for dinners for them, I have always brought my best. What I have found, however, is that they prefer the “junk”. I have no control over this. They’ll pass on the homemade dressing and opt for the boxed stuff full of chemicals. I would rather they eat, so now it comes down to it really being about them and not me. My heart is to bless someone in need, not to force my food philosophy on someone who is starving.

    • I love how you put that Denise ‘My heart is to bless someone in need, not force my food philosophy on someone who is starving.’! So well put!

      I think that people now days get so caught up with being “green” and “whole foods” (which in and of themselves are not wrong) that we forget someone else may not have that choice. They only have the choice of watching their children cry themselves to sleep in hunger. If I were facing that choice I would choose whatever food product stood between my children and starvation.

      And I agree with others who have stated that your heart attitude is what matters the most. If your motivation for donating is to aid them rather than make yourself feel good, then you have the right motives. Too often I feel that we are moved with pity rather than compassion.

      • I like that, “whatever food product stood between my children and starvation.” I think we can think about how our food castoffs, even if less than glamorous, can indeed stand in the gap for someone, and keep them from having to feel the pangs of hunger or starvation, and from having to hear the cries of their hungry children or family.

  31. Love this discussion. It is a subject that I have thought about many times.
    I don’t think there is any “one” right answer to this question.
    In some cases, where there is extreme hunger, anything is better than nothing.
    But, I do have issues with donating “junk” food to food pantries (especially those people who donate long expired things that have obviously been hiding at the back of their pantry for many seasons).
    In my opinion, the money spent on food with little to no nutritional value would be better spent buying more wholesome choices.
    Someone said that people prefer junk, and that may be so … my children will choose candy over real food, too; but obviously they don’t get to choose that option.
    I think that the cost that might be saved over providing less nutritional choices is going to come up elsewhere at some point, like in medical costs.
    For our family, we don’t donate anything that we wouldn’t eat ourselves if we were hungry.
    Thanks for the great food for thought!
    Blessings,
    Catherine

    • I think that hits it on the head. What would we want if we or our children were hungry? Of course we may prefer nutrient rich foods but if it wasn’t available, would we really turn down white rice or white bread? It still has nutrients. In general I am of the mind to buy and therefore encourage organic and chemical free as it’s only through encouraging these types of products that they will become more available and affordable but in reality unfortunately sometimes other things come before my principles. I remember hearing of Haitians mixing dirt into their breads to make them ‘filling’ which was making them I’ll, Wouldnt just more flour whatever it’s origin, be better than this?

  32. The opportunity for wholesome choices is why I LOVE the gleaning program run by church volunteers in our city. Grocery stores donate what they would otherwise toss, and anyone can come to a distribution site and select what they would like.

    Some sites get organic produce and whole grain other specialty items (including gluten-free) that haven’t sold. It’s really a blessing to families with food sensitivities.

  33. I lead a youth group at my church & we have just finished a “Summer of Service” working at a lot of different agencies. Keep in mind:
    -It’s the agency/charity’s job to ensure that their clients get balance – not yours.
    Something that isn’t right for my family (white pasta) may still be healthy enough for someone else when paired with other healthy food (veggies & protein).
    -Everyone deserves a snack. So it’s ok to eat a cookie, or drink a pop.
    - most well-run charities get the majority of their food ‘donations’ through government-run programs. So, while it’s ok to hand over your leftovers during a food drive, what makes the most difference is volunteer time, monetary donations, and lobbying for government changes.

  34. I think if a person has this much dilemma internally, then there is a reason. Maybe she is just not called to give in this way. God loves a cheerful giver, there is probably a different area she is more able to bless those in need. Possibly with her time and skills. Maybe she could work with a homeless shelter or transition assistance program to teach individuals and families how to make a few healthy, affordable meals. Maybe they won’t buy the ingredients organic for now like she would, but then her heart can be at peace while she blesses others. As for the actual issue at debate: while not all individuals in dire need are coming off of drug or alcohol addiction, many are coming from much worse nutrition or lack of nutrition that just eating regularly would be a blessing. Being able to get clean every day may not be possible. I don’t think the use of most available products would be much worse than what many are facing.

  35. We really don’t know the preferences and priorities of those we donate to, unless we know them personally. It’s up to the recipient to decide whether a particular food or product works for them and their family, like we all do when we go to the store and weigh a product’s pros and cons based on health, cost, convenience, etc.

    I believe we should make a good-faith effort to donate ‘good’ (healthy, non-expired) foods and products. But I don’t think that equates to only donating items that we choose for our individual families.

    One thing I do think is problematic about this issue is when couponers get extreme and clear out sale products at the store. That causes others with a tight budget not to have the opportunity to take advantage of a good deal, and they may really need that good deal! Do we really need a years’ worth of any item, anyway?

    • Good point about clearing off sale shelves. I choose not to do this, too, preferring to leave good deals for others behind me.

    • I agree! While I love a good sale I do feel bad taking all of that particular item. Even if I do take a generous portion of a sale item, I always try to leave some behind for others.

  36. if you have the time and this question of what to give really bothers you, why not donate some time at a food bank? see for yourself what kind of things are most appreciated, requested and needed.

    you can speculate, guilt and write about it. or you can do something.

  37. Wow! This really has me thinking. We take the “donate money instead” approach as well – stretches further and is honestly easier than making purchases myself.

    But, how would I answer the real question? I firmly believe in “voting with our pocketbook,” I (generally) won’t purchase products that I would rather see removed from our shelves. On that basis, I wouldn’t purchase something I consider “junk,” just for the purpose of making a donation. But I certainly understand the appeal of being able to give larger quantities. So what would I do?

    With food – I think would stick to products that I support for my own family, unless there is a specific request from the agency you are donating to (like ready meals for homeless camps, etc).

    For personal care products – I think I’d be much more likely to go with what I can get with the coupons.

    Is that a cop out answer? Unwilling to make a commitment? I can tell this one will stick with me for a while.

  38. This should be a no-brainer. People stuck in the forest or caved in or stranded on a mountain cliff have noted eating bugs, grass, moss, even each other. So yeah, I’m thinking crappy chemicals would be much appreciated over complete starvation. By all means, keep your fancy-feast for your bubble kids, but please consider donating what you consider crap to the rest of us. I’ll take your prepackaged macaroni any day. Good grief.

    • I think you’re misunderstanding the heart of the question. People generally want to give their best, both to their families as well as those in need. Right now, our family has the means to eat healthy foods and chooses to spend our money on good food rather than doctor visits. However, there may come a time when that may not be possible and we are forced to take what we can get and thank God for His provision, even if it is prepackaged macaroni.

      We need to be careful about judging people’s thoughts and motives. We often misunderstand when we hear things through our own personal filters and wind up being bitter and hurtful.

  39. I am so offended by your title and use of the word “beggars” that I unsubscribed. Just because someone is in need does not make them a beggar.

    • Cheri,

      I am the Melissa who asked the question in the first place. In my email to Tsh, I quoted a fairly common (at least in my experience) American English idiom: “Beggars can’t be choosers.” I assure you that no offense was meant by me and I seriously doubt that any was meant by Tsh. It’s just a common saying.

      But whether offense was intended or not, you _were_ offended, and for that I’m truly sorry. I hope you will not hold Tsh accountable for my words and sincerely hope that you will accept my apology and request for forgiveness.

    • Cheri,

      Yep… what Melissa said. The title was taken from the idiom, “beggars can’t be choosers;” I was quoting Melissa’s use of the phrase in her question.

      I don’t think she meant any ill will by using it, and I certainly didn’t.

    • I think you jumped to conclusions without actually reading the article. If you had, you would have seen that the only reference to “beggars” was in the common saying.

  40. I spent a year of my life working at a nonprofit based out of Long Island that gave basic pantry items and hot meals to the poor and homeless on the Lower East Side of NYC. We had many wonderful donors – warehouses, restaurants, individuals who gave the food that was not sellable because it was too close to an expiration date. The range of these donors was very broad. I kid you not- on one day a warehouse gave me almost 5000 bottles of blue, squeezable butter and a gourmet eatery in Soho donated about 50 tomato and brie sandwiches. Guess which one was snatched up and which one I couldn’t convince people to sample?

    I choose an almost vegetarian and highly organic diet for my family because I have the resources and the education to do so. Many people I worked with on the Lower East Side would have no idea what to do with quinoa!

    I currently live in a Latin American country. My son’s babysitter refuses to taste blueberries, strawberries, or raw vegetables of any kind. Give her rice and beans, almost exclusively and she is a happy lady.

    All that to say, bless people with what THEY would want. If they don’t want Tom’s toothpaste because they think it’s wierd, give them Colgate. You will be blessing them and they will be grateful.

    • Thank you for this, Jamie. I’ve been thinking the same thing as I have read through the comments. When you truly invest in the lives of people who are stuck in the poverty cycle, you begin to realize a lot about yourself and your assumptions about what “needy” people actually need.

      Excellent point made here.

      • “All that to say, bless people with what THEY would want. If they don’t want Tom’s toothpaste because they think it’s wierd, give them Colgate. You will be blessing them and they will be grateful.”

        YES! This makes sense to me! Most of those I know would want Colgate over toms (not even knowing what Toms was!) and any food over solely organic ( I don’t even eat soley organic). I do tend to donate what we have on hand, therfore what we would use, but if I get a list from the local shelter, it says what they request so I give them what they request. If I knew someone requested natural products, I’d be thrilled to shop for them, but even my friends and family turn down their noses at the natural items I use because they do not understand them, nor care to try to.

  41. avatar
    Leigh Adams says:

    I’m with Andi that this is exactly a ‘No-brainer.” I even chuckled a little bit reading this. Have we gotten so into being “simple” in our eating that it’s become way too complicated!? Not give a hungry person food of any kind or someone who wants a shower can’t have some soap?… sounds very strange to me. This might possibly be a conversation that is had only in places like America where our ignorance of poverty shows in our decisions like these. And our “education” at this point becomes a hindrance. I do understand and applaud people in giving only what they themselves would consume. “First fruits” is a beautiful thing and should be a rule to live by.

  42. I know that in Chicago (where I live) they have a wonderful program where you can pledge to give a certain percentage of produce grown in your own backyard to shelters and soup kitchens… I think that’s a wonderful idea and if I actually had a backyard (instead of being an apartment dweller) I would certainly take part in a program like that.

  43. Part of the problem is, we are supposed to be having these people in our homes, not a food pantry or community foodbank. Biblically OT, the “homeless” would reap grain that is left around the borders of the field to WORK for what they eat, so donations had more dignity than charity, and, BOTH PARTIES THE GIVER AND RECIEVER ATE THE SAME THING. Biblically NT, everyone shared and shared alike, and when there started to be freeloaders who took advantage of that fact, Paul told them point blank: you don’t work, you don’t eat. So they also ate the same thing.

    With the system the way it is now, keep two things in mind. Teach a woman to fish, FIRST, BEFORE you give to the food pantry. We have dehumanized the poverty problem by thinking we can drop off bags of stuff and have done our duty. NO. Change one family at a time, which will take a period of years, serious responsibility, serious mentorship, skill or trade building, getting them in school, keeping them in school, etc.

    Second, yes take advantage of the coupons. Why should a child go hungry just because I personally don’t eat MSG and have switched over to organic? The pop-top lids, yes with the yucko nutritionless processed food inside, are NEEDED when you have zero money. Carbs, with dyes, salt, preservatives, and MSG, are better than starvation.

    Buy the best you can. Start building a stockpile of nonperishable food you WOULD eat, by buying in bulk on sale, even if there is no coupon; and start donating that.

    Third, if you won’t eat it, and it is offending your conscience to donate it, that’s, HELLO, a sign you need to become active in getting this CRAP out of our food chain. Join the thousands of activists already doing so.

    I do drop off bags of stuff at church pantries and I do eat organic when I have the money. I am learning the mentorship program (teaching others to fish) but am myself unemployed right now so have to get a job before I can help others. And I myself cannot afford good food right now. Would I eat stuff out of food pantry right now? Yes, I certainly would.

    Pick ONE thing someone mentioned in not just my post, but in any of the posts, to fix this problem or make it better; and DO IT.

  44. In agreement with Cheri. Surprised no one else is expressing offense to the use of “beggars.” A lot of “we” vs.”they” in comments too. Sometimes hungry people go for the food that is most likely to fill up and take away the feeling of hunger for the longest time. It’s less a brain thing/lifestyle choice than ‘I’m sick, starving, having trouble staying warm, and am accustomed to shelter food and the full feeling it gives.’ People crave healthy food when they’re hungry because they’re accustomed to that luxury not necessarily because they have superior tastes. They have been blessed to be filled with the first fruits and not the dregs.

    • Terri,

      I’m the Melissa who posed the original question. In my message, I quoted an American English idiom which, in my experience, is fairly common, i.e., “Beggars can’t be choosers.” I assure you that no offense was intended by the use of what I consider to be a common phrase.

      Whether it was intended or not however, clearly you _were_ offended by its use and for that I hope you will accept my apologies.

  45. I try to donate things that I would give my own family. It doesn’t have to be organic, but I like to avoid all GMO’s if I can.
    Not only is it great for the person receiving the donation, but also it’s supporting a company that makes a good product. That enables that company (or farm) to make more good products/foods and create more jobs.
    Because non-organic food is so cheap today in proportion to income (because of GMO’s in part), the main problem isn’t that people aren’t getting enough calories. There were quite a few people dealing with obesity at grocery giveaways I’ve worked at. The problem is that they aren’t getting nutrient dense food. A lot of times they don’t have access to it. (no car, no knowledge of how to garden in a small space, etc.)

  46. Maybe that’s why scripture talks of inviting the homeless poor into your home as righteous? Not that I do, yet.

    • I hear you, they had the right idea. But at the same time, most of the time I am home alone with a small baby, and I don’t feel comfortable having a stranger in my house with me.
      I wish that America had more of the family unit thing going on like the countries where extended family lives in the same house or on the same property. It would help for those homeless people too, because they would be surrounded by family/friends who could help them out when they hit hard times.

  47. If it’s something that I wouldn’t eat or serve my family then I won’t donate it to a charity. Most charities have lists of items that they frequently need and I can usually find something on the list that I am comfortable purchasing and donating. Can’t find anything on the list that you are comfortable buying? No worries, donate your time. I guarantee that it will be a transformative experience – for you.

  48. While I’m not going to unsubscribe, I do think “beggar” was a poor choice for this topic. What immediately came to my mind was the image of someone who comes up to me off the street and asks for money. And my reply was going to be, if he/she is truly hungry, then he/she will accept an offer of food. This happened to us recently as we were walking into a restaurant. A man approached us and asked for ” a few bucks” to buy food at the place “over there”. He pointed across the street to where there are 3 choices: Arby’s, a Chinese buffet, and a Japanese sit-down. ( Honestly, we didn’t get the impression that he was planning to eat at ANY of those!) We offered to let him come inside and eat with us. He started acting wishy-washy and saying he “didn’t think he was allowed in there the way he was dressed.” Really? He wasn’t poorly dressed and it was just a regular restaurant. No special rules or anything. DH offered repeatedly to have him come in with us and eat, but he kept refusing and then walked away. OK, so, maybe I’m a cynic, but if he really wanted food, he would have accepted our offer. No, he wanted MONEY and when he didn’t get that, he came up with excuses for why he couldn’t eat with us. In this type of situation, we will gladly offer FOOD, but we will not give money.

    Now, as to the actual topic of your post, it is something I have thought about often. It bothers me to donate food that I wouldn’t eat myself. OTOH, I do think it is much better for people to have any food at all than to have NO food at all. I buy a lot of generic food. As long as I don’t dislike it – and am willing to eat it myself – I don’t have a problem donating it. But, I know others who think of generic food as low-quality. To each his own! At church (we donate food for a local pantry), the general rule of thumb is “don’t donate what YOU won’t use,” but that is about the cost of the food, NOT healthy vs. unhealthy. KWIM?

    I also wanted to point out something in regards to the shoe boxes. Our church participates in a program that sends out shoeboxes. (It’s different from the one most people know about.) I put all sorts of things in those boxes, such as toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, wash cloths, soap, pencils, crayons, small notebooks, write-on/wipe-off items, small books, Matchbox cars, etc. By the time I fill a box – and pay the $7 “fee” for postage – I have spent nearly $20. I often do 2 boxes, which doubles the cost. I am HAPPY to do it. I wish I could do 100 or 1000 of them! But, I can’t. And, when I do put together a box, I try to put in a variety of things. I can’t pay $5 for each thing, so I do buy most of the items at the dollar store, OR with a great price match (coupon + sale). I don’t mention this to be defensive (although I’m sure it sounds that way), but to point out that we have heard PERSONALLY from the director of the program while we were at a lectureship. He talked about how DELIGHTED the kids are to have ANYTHING! He mentioned one boy who was so excited about a toothbrush – a TOOTHBRUSH – that he wouldn’t even use it. He treated it like a treasured possession! That boy didn’t care if the toothbrush cost $5 or 50 cents. He LOVED it! So, I guess my point is, I will pay less if I can get something of reasonable quality. I will NOT pay less, if I think the item is a piece of crap (and I agree that a lot of items at the dollar store are). JMHO!

    • Cara,

      I’m the Melissa who asked the question initially. In the email I sent to Tsh, I quoted what I believe to be a common American English idiom: “beggars can’t be choosers.” I assure you that no offense was intended, but since some was clearly taken, please accept my apologies!

      • Oh, nooo! Don’t feel bad on my account! I wasn’t offended! I do recognize that you were using a common idiom and meant no offense. But, thank you for the explanation and apology. :o) I appreciate your honesty!

    • I’m not trying to be rude, but I think the commenters here need to take notice that the only use of “beggars” is in the familiar idiom. I think we can look past the word itself and realize the article was about people in need, not labeling those people “beggars.”
      I agree with you about the people who want money but not food, even when their sign says “hungry” or “will work for food.” There’s a growing number of scam artists who make their living preying on people’s good intentions. Not to say that there aren’t true homeless people as well, but the frauds make it less appealing to give money to people. I think giving food is a great way to sift through who’s a con artist and who’s legit.

  49. avatar
    Nancy Mosley says:

    I think it is a heart issue. We need to ask the Lord what would He have us to do. I believe in whatever we do, if it is done in His name and to His glory then He will bless it. We need to leave the outcome to Him. The people in need will hopefully be touched simply by the generousity of others. Those truly in need, will hopefully be grateful for what is given and not begrudge the gift and if they do, it is from a heart that needs working on.

    If the Lord is convicting you personally about what you are buying or giving then maybe He is trying to work on your heart and not the person receiving the item. This is a great question and I’ve enjoyed reading the feedback and comments. Again, I have to look inside myself.

    My family just personally went through 2 years of job loss. We were fortunate to have family help, part-time work as needed and then gifts from friends/anonymous, etc. and we didn’t lose all we had. Others I know aren’t as fortunate and find themselves in tougher situations. What was wonderful was the outpouring of love we received.

    One time we came home from church and there were groceries on our porch. Granite they were things I wouldn’t have normally bought for our family when my husband was working full-time, but the thought of someone dropping them off to us touched our hearts and we ate it with a thankful heart. That trial caused us to be refined and molded into what God intended and showed us a heart that wasn’t serving Him as we should have.

    We weren’t the cheerful givers we should have been when we had plenty of money. We sometimes begrudged having to give because we couldn’t have something else we wanted. Those awful thoughts revealed a heart issue. Thankfully, our God is loving and gracious and refined us and now that my husband is working full-time again, we are slowly getting back on our feet and look forward to the day that we can once again give but this time give cheerfully and it might be with something I pick up extra or it might be above and beyond. It’s a blessing either way to give with a thankful heart.

    • Nancy, thanks for sharing your story and personal situation. I agree with yoru statement that we can’t go wrong if we are giving with a cheerful heart and following His direction.

  50. I don’t know if I will be repeating someone else’s thoughts here, but my own personal guidelines for giving away clothing are, no stains, rips or tears in the garment. If I don’t want my family or myself to wear it, I won’t give it to someone else. Depending on the cloth, I might recycle it for a cleaning rag instead.

    On the food issue, our church has a food pantry. We get certain donations from the local food bank to give out to those who are in need. So in that case, there are no choices other than what we can get to give out. Sometimes, we will get “nicer” donations but you have to work with what you have. The people are very happy to receive whatever you give them and many of them will refuse foods that they won’t use so that someone else can have it.

    On a more personal note, if I prepare a meal for someone, I try to be generous and give them a balanced meal. I think about how I prepare food for my own family. In fact, my parents are needing meals these days, so when we are preparing food for ourselves, we are preparing extra for them also (they live next door).

    “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24 This scripture and the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 seem to indicate that our giving to others, is a giving to the Lord. If you look at the parable just before this one, it is the parable of the talents. In this parable I think there is another clue for us:
    “And to one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to another, one, to each according to HIS OWN ABILITY…” (Matthew 25:15)

    What do you have? Do you have good healthy organic food, give from what you have. Do you have a mix of healthy and canned foods, give from what you have. Do you only have canned and processed foods, give from what you have. Do all your giving with a good and generous heart…my two cents! :)
    Great discussion!

    • Great two cents! “…according to his own ability…” what a great reminder, and cut right to the heart of the matter.

  51. I live in the “Developing World” moved here about a decade ago, and poverty stares me in the face whenever I go anywhere by car. In this desert land, there are no such things as “Printable Online Coupons.”
    We make a point of donating all outgrown clothes and footwear to the needy.
    In this country, beggars can’t be choosers, petty theft is common, and I’ve seen the poor empty garbage cans to put a meal together.
    If we go away on business, we usually come back with some toiletry items from five-star hotels. I give them away to the needy. Perhaps they’re not “Organic.” I do know that people who are below the poverty line couldn’t care less about the ingredients of a hand cream, and are deeply grateful for anything. If they can’t use it, they will know someone who will.
    Let the receiver decide that what is one man’s “trash” is perhaps another man’s “treasure…”

    • When my husband goes home to Africa to visit family (which isn’t often as we can’t afford this trip too often), he uses most of his lugage allowance to bring used shoes, balls, sports clothing to his family. Most of the people around us would consider this stuff beneath them but his family loves it. We live frugally to stay within our means and do not have the finances to fill suitcases with brand new/brand name clothing – besides, we have tons of second-hand ourselves…

      Anyways, my sister who often is looking for help here, in Canada, would turn her nose up at second hand. I would buy things (only in great condition) at the thrift shop (which I also do for my own kids) and give them to my nephew but let her think they were hand me downs from my son so that she would accept them.

      Two very different scenarios and both close to home in that they involve our own family.

      • I used to turn my nose up at thrift shops but saw the light after we hit hard times fanancially. Most of the clothing I have for my 18 month old son is either thrift store, hand-me-downs from a friend, or clothing my mom has bought for him. We do have a couple shirts and pair of shorts we bought him at Wal-Mart. I am blessed though, we have all that we need, and I can easily clothe my son without worrying about what he is going to wear.

  52. A couple of things came to mind for me. My husband spent his years from 13-19 homeless. He’s well into his 40s now, and has had a good job (as a firefighter) for the last 15–so we’re not in the same position that he was as a youth, but that experience–as well as his current experience in dealing with a lot of people who call 911 in his station’s area which is a high poverty area–has definitely influenced our perspective about this.

    First, I took the “beggars” part of the title as part of a saying (albeit elitism) in our culture that we were taking a closer look at–I see why it could be offensive–but I think the question of whether or not “we” are being elite in making these food choices for other people makes the title relevant in some way–I mean, that’s the question, right? Do “we” have the right to make food & other lifestyle choices for other families because “we” are the ones with the funds?

    Second, I really, really agree with Alicia M. & Leigh Adams above. The idea that the non-organic apple is a slow death is SO far removed from the reality of so many living in poverty or homeless where they are faced with the VERY REAL possibility of actual death from starvation or exposure and shows our ignorance of the actual conditions people in this country actually have to live in.

    I know that for my husband, he went days and days without food–and to this day, while he won’t feed our kids any sort of “crap”–he’ll eat just about anything if he’s hungry. It’s not a feeling he can really tolerate–which really shows me how awful it was for him, and that if my children were hungry, I would be willing to feed them just about anything rather than let them go hungry. I am just grateful that I don’t have to make that choice. The same with the homeless kids and adults that he sees in his job–people die of exposure regularly–my husband also has a really hard time being cold from his experience as a youth–I don’t think that they would turn down clothes or blankets made from fabrics I didn’t believe in.

    That being said, I really understand the not wanting to support having this food, etc. on our shelves, or support non-organic farming, or support CAFOs (in terms of meat), and not wanting to be part of what keeps these practices going with your money–and for THAT reason, not buying these products even for the purposes of giving. But, I think that to give away things that you’ve already purchased (this came up for me when I was getting rid of my kids’ plastic toys and decided to give them to Goodwill), or that you can get for free with coupons, or that you feel on the fence about–the immediate need out there really outweighs for me the argument about whether these products are “good enough” for someone else’s family. I don’t get to make that decision. But, if it’s a matter of going out to purchase “crap” for someone else–& I’m only spending money on “crap” because it’s cheaper, it might be a better use of my money to give the money to shelters or food banks, or at least use the “we could use” lists they will provide you, to not support practices I don’t believe in.

  53. I live in a town that is seated between two cities on each side. Both of those cities are on the top 5 hungriest cities in the nation. I don’t live near places like LA, Detroit, NYC, Chicago, I live in North Carolina. We have jobs, great healthcare, great education systems, and I am shocked and ashamed for being so naive about the situation in my own towns.

    To top it all off, our local second harvest foodbank will run completely out of food by Thursday. I believe in this situation, any food is better than no food at all. Period.

    Last year we sponsored a child to buy christmas for. Want to know what the first thing on her list was? Shampoo. SHAMPOO. I cried so much over that little christmas list. I seriously don’t think it matters if I buy California Baby or walmart brand shampoo. I’m just so upset by what the children in my area are going through and I never even knew.

  54. this is a fascinating read, thank you for addressing it. I cook 90% of our food from scratch using affordable (mostly non-organic) ingredients. It’s a compromise because we were feeding a family of 6 on one income. Then my husband was laid off and we received food shelf donations for a year from our church so we ate a lot more processed food. We probably didn’t NEED to receive the donations. We could have depleted our savings and not slashed our budget to bare bones but the love and hope that I felt from the body of Christ that came with every monthly box of food was a greater blessing than the food itself during a very stressful time. The items that we just couldn’t eat, we passed along to someone who wanted them. I do have a much more difficult time now choosing food for the food shelf now though.

  55. several thoughts:

    i live and work in a country where people often go hungry… and often have people show up at my door asking for food or money to buy food. we always give out rice, usually a decent amount of whatever fresh veggies i have, beans, canned tomatoes, onions, garlic. we give chicken bones from chicken stock to our neighbors – they love to crack them and suck out the marrow and consider it a treat. most of our neighbors also consider the organs a delicacy – and we only eat them when served at someone’s home. we buy fresh fish – and will give the head to someone for stew – another favorite. at the same time, if i’m in the midst of preparing a meal using tenderloin (one of the more common cuts of meat we get here, believe it or not), i’ll share a chunk of that, too… as one poster mentioned – sharing first fruits and our best just as God gave His best to us.

    when we are back in the States, however, we are the ones on the receiving end of people’s giving. some of what we receive causes me to cringe, not that i am always opposed to all processed foods, but i do tend to cook from scratch because i have no other choice in our country of service and we like it so much better. i’ve learned that there are ways to take processed food and combine it with natural alternatives to stretch budgets and meals for our family of 10. if someone gave me thos food choices, i’d figure that the Lord was using to provide, and who am i to question His provision.

    the other thing, tho – some of y’all who have been working on cooking real food, healthier, more natural choices for your families – have you ever thought about sharing your knowledge… taking in a young mom and showing her how to make some of those better choices when and where she has them… how to cook from scratch? inviting a family you know is strugging to your home for a meal and preparing it together? instead of donating products, invest in teaching someone to coupon, prepare cleaning/personal hygiene products from scratch (which is a huge savings), help learn to menu plan and shop on a budget and prioritize choices?? this may be a great way to build relationships that are outside of a comfort zone, but might have eternal impact.

  56. I read this as I have an open tab on my browser for Angel Food Ministries. I spend so much of our budget on purchasing organic and GMO free food that sometimes we run out of money. I have never been to a food bank but I have donated at holidays and such. I try to make my donations healthy choices but here is how I feel about it. If you are having to shop at AFM and Save a lot, you are not spending time worrying about what is in something. You are trying to feed your family. Eating healthy within a SMALL budget is almost impossible. Ways that we have made it work is just by switching to more whole grains and less meat. When things have been the worst, I would have been happy with a couple of boxes of store brand mac and cheese to make the kids happy. I am thankful for what I have and what I can give. Again things will be tight this month and I might be visiting AFM just one more time. Thank you for all of your donations, they make a difference!!

    • Good post, I think it’s best to live within our means, and if that means sacrificing some of the healthier choices (organic or non-GMO) to stay within budget for groceries, then so be it. It is a luxury to be able to be choosy.
      I myself have used Angel Foods Ministry and have been blessed by their cheap foods. There were sometimes things in the box that neither my husband nor I would eat, such as lima beans, but luckily our neighbor loves them and we passed them on.
      I am grateful for food stamps and ministries such as Angel Foods. God bless!

      • Gotta disagree with the idea that it’s impossible to eat healthy when we have nearly no resources. It takes creativity–but there are lots of recipes online to help with this and beans & rice are some of the healthiest food out there! :-)

  57. As the Melissa who posed the original question, I’d like to thank each of you for your thoughtful responses (please keep ‘em coming)! Many have given me great suggestions and I love having the different points of view to counter my own!

    Right now, I’m thinking about creating meal and/or toiletry “kits” to donate to our church’s food pantry – a bag of rice, some beans, some spices (all still in their original packaging) and instructions on how to cook everything put together in a grocery bag (or similarly, some baking soda, cornstarch, and vinegar with a list of even just a few of their uses). Then, not only is the person/family being given food and/or toiletries, but they’re being given things that I use myself for those purposes (making my dilemma to go away), AND they’re being taught how to use those resources (which are typically cheaper than their pre-packaged alternatives) for the future (essentially teaching them to fish _AND_ giving them a fish at the same time).

    What do you folks think of that? Would your typical food bank accept (and keep together) such a “kit?” Would folks in need appreciate it or would it get passed over for the pre-packaged things? Can you think of recipes that could be presented in this way? (I’m thinking that I’d use McCormick-style seasoning packets or bottled sauces which are often free w/sales+coupons.)

    • Melissa,

      Great question. I have had the same thought process. Just today, I found myself at CVS getting a Hershey chocolate bar because it was “free” with a coupon. I never would have purchased it otherwise, because we’re trying to eat healthy and avoid eating chocolate when possible (otherwise I’d go out of control and have it all the time!), and when we DO choose to eat chocolate, I’d choose to buy higher-quality, fair trade chocolate. So my immediate thought – oh, I’ll just donate it (or, at least give it as a gift). But I’m struck by wondering the same thing you wonder – is that right? I’m choosing not to eat chocolate because I believe it’s really not good for you… so should I pass it along to someone else? And, I believe in not supporting companies that have poor labor practices… but I’m “supporting” them through my coupon purchase. A tough dilemma. Thanks for bringing it up.

      In any case, wanted to comment on your idea mentioned here because I LOVE it. I really appreciate your creativity, and I think, go for it! I think including the recipes would really show some concern for the individual receiving it… especially with some cute fonts and packaging and stuff – I love the personal touch.

      I think you’ve already touched on the only two “issues” I can foresee- one is that the packaging should be sealed (I imagine most food banks wouldn’t accept items that had been divied up into smaller containers). The second is just to be sure ALL the necessary ingredients are included, even what many might consider “basic” pantry supplies. Seems like you’ve already thought of those, though!

      I would imagine contacting a food bank and asking them might be the best option. In fact, it might be that there might be some way to be able to divvy up items if you do it in conjunction with the food bank (just thinking that might make it a little more economical… to be able to use bulk supplies).

  58. I think most people are not as sensitive about ingredients as the core of green folk we probably are. We must be at a certain level of affluence to actively shop for the best of anything, particularly ingredients. As long as it isn’t lead toys or BPA loaded stuff…I think it is better to give than to be too high minded to give ‘the best’. A few years ago I was amused when a friend bought cage free organic eggs for $3.50. I do that now most times without blinking. Ditto $7.00 for a jug of organic milk. BUT when I make meals for folks, I do use ‘normal’ less ‘mindful’ ingredients and I know the love is still there and the meal is still nourishing.

    • I would love to try out raw milk for my son and I, or do things like buy the best juices (not from concentrate) or the healthiest breads, but unfortunately I can’t afford to. However, I feel we still do well, we eat lots of veggies and I always have his favorite fruit on hand. Due to my personal tastes we don’t eat a lot of meat and so I think we save that way too. I’m glad you can afford to buy the good stuff, and I’m glad too that you don’t quibble about meals for others having to be absolutely “green”.

  59. I have never had the misfortune to go hungry…Thank God! However, I do remember a few times when my Mom put something on the table and “wasn’t hungry” so we could eat. My biological father died when I was 2 an my mother had to support us. I am sure that she would have been grateful to eat whatever had been given to her at that moment…regardless of her personal tastes and feelings about the ingredients. As a mother, I certainly try to feed my children with the best ingredients and organic options. However, I wouldn’t care WHAT my children were eating if it would save me from looking into their little eyes and knowing they were hungry and I couldn’t feed them. AND…you never know the situation of some people. 5 years ago, my husband lost 60% of his income through no fault of his own. We did whatever it took to make it and God provided generously. However, if we had needed to get food for our family from a food bank/church/etc., I would have been just as grateful to eat what was provided. Actually, as I sit here typing this, I am remembering that a local church gave us Thanksgiving & Christmas dinner one year. We ate almost everything in the box of food. They even gave us toilet paper and I am super picky about that…but I used it and was thankful. So, I guess it would go without saying that I do look for the free stuff and bargains and pass them along to be used by others…regardless of my thoughts about what whether it is exactly what I would serve my family.

  60. I also think we are over thinking the whole thing. If people didn’t like the junk food available, it wouldn’t be so widespread. There’s a group in my community trying to revamp small farms here and they had land available to do a community garden. The primary targets were WIC and food stamp recipients, all of whom said it was too much work to grow fresh food, they’d rather get the stuff they’re used to. They had the option to get abundant, fresh produce (they didn’t even have to do all the work, just donate a little time here and there) and they chose to NOT take advantage of it.

    Balance is key, as has been said. Just because I won’t eat it doesn’t mean someone else won’t. My family is among the better off in our town and even those with similar (and higher) incomes eat food I’d never touch. I think we can get too philosophical about it, but as long as we do something, that’s the ultimate goal.

    I’d personally rather see my church and others giving away food and do away with public assistance. It’s the churches role anyway, not the government’s.

  61. I’ve recently learned that food banks can purchase large quantities cheaper than we can get it (unless it’s one of our freebie deals!). It may be good to consider just giving part of your savings rather than giving food that you find unacceptable.

  62. This question and the replies are hard to walk away from! I’ve posted my thoughts, replied to others’ thoughts and am still trying to read all the comments, but I don’t have time to do it all at once!

    One thing keeps coming back to me, and while it’s on the same topic it doesn’t answer the question asked. However, it might give help to those that don’t know what to do or give.

    A few years ago my husband and I volunteered at a free community Christmas dinner. While it was open to any and all, most who attended were those that we would consider less fortunate. What caught our attention was the amount of food THROWN AWAY after people ate. Many took so much more than they could eat, and then thought nothing of throwing it away. The amount thrown away could have fed truly hungry people for another few days. It made me question if even the hungry in America are truly hungry or if this was just an odd showing. I do think it shows the too common mindset that there’s always more.

    • That mindset is oh so true in the schools. When I go in to eat with my kids, I’m astounded at the amount of food wasted. A lot of these kids were on the free lunch program and would eat what they wanted and throw away whole apples, rolls, etc. I just wanted to teach them first not to waste and second the importance of good nutrition. Then to think how many hungry mouths the food thrown away could have fed.
      I’m with those saying that it really does take “teaching a man to fish” and I think it starts with the young. If you belong to an organizaiton that reaches out, teach a cooking class or something along those lines. It doesn’t have to be to the stranger at the homeless shelter either. I think we’d be surprised at how many people we know are in need of just a basic meal. I’ve served in the capacity in my church where I accessed the needs of people when it came to food and then helped fill their order from the church run food bank. I would ask them if they knew how to cook with beans or how to make certain things from scratch. When they didn’t I offered to help. Hopefully, I was able to pass on more healthy ways to eat and give them a skill that they could continue to use.

    • Hi Kelly,
      It’s quite possible that what you experienced in people taking more than they could actually eat was part of the psychology behind hunger. I’ve spent a few years befriending and working with friends who are homeless, and many of them are hoarders. There’s something that gets into your psyche when you’re hungry for a while that says take what you can now, because experience says it won’t be there later. Obviously perishable food had to get thrown away in the end, but it’s likely that those who are “truly hungry” have a whole host of other reasons for taking “too much” at the outset.

  63. I’m sorry that I don’t have time to read all of the responses before I share my story but I wanted to share it before I forgot.

    I’ve been very conscious of our food choices ever since I got pregnant with my daughter (She’s almost 5). Unfortunately, the month we found out we were pregnant was the first month we were unable to make our car payment because my husband wasn’t getting paid from the business we were running. It was heart breaking. Among other sacrifices the one I hated most was having to feed the family such “cheap” processed food, but it was that or nothing. I remember my first trip to a food bank. I sat in the parking lot of a local church and tried hard not to cry at the thought of what I was having to do to feed my family. When I walked in I was very happy to see some great options on the shelf. There were some organic products, Whole Foods brand products and blocks of natural cheese. Would I have taken anything? Yes. But it was great to get some products that still allowed my family to eat healthy when we couldn’t afford it.

    The only reason I share this is to say I’ve been on the side of “The Beggar” and honestly, I would take anything but as you are looking to donate to your local food bank you could think about the family that does care what they eat and has just fallen on hard times. There are people out there who might really appreciate it.

    We are now back on our feet and striving to live Debt Free :)

    • Beautiful thank you for sharing your story. I was in a similar situation with similar feelings. We were on WIC and food stamps and I was going to the $1 fill a bag sites and the food pantry. It was heart breaking to me to think about what I might have to feed my children, but I was even angrier that some people must feed their children like this all the time. But I was able to find ways to get wholesome food on the table- including food pantry food and also working for a CSA in exchange for their local organic produce. Thank goodness there are options like that out there, and I intend to work hard to help create more and educate people so that one won’t have to chose between health and hunger.

  64. I believe that something is better than nothing when we’re talking about truly nothing being the alternative for those in need . . . even if the materials aren’t what I would choose. I make the best choices I can (for example, when I go to the dollar store, they always have a food bank box for donations, so I choose the best things from their selection to go in it), but it’s always good to help. It’s like doing your best to speak the foreign language in the country you’re visiting, instead of insisting they learn your language and speak to you, instead.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  65. To those of you who commented on the title of this post… I phrased it this way to quote the original question from the reader, Melissa. I doubt she meant any ill will from it; I certainly didn’t.

    Perhaps I was wrong in thinking it was a well-known quote. For that, I’m sorry if you took offense.

    But I stand by this title, not only because it’s taken from a quote (that I’ve heard most of my life), but because it also speaks to something a little deeper where I think this discussion touches. What does this conversation say about a possible “us versus them” mentality we have in our culture? How quickly can we unintentionally label people or situations, especially if we’ve never been there personally?

    Me quoting it sortakinda reminds me of the predicament John Lennon cornered himself in all those years ago (though I’m not saying this is anywhere near this buzz-generating…it’s just the first thing that came to my mind), when he said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. He never said the Beatles should be more popular than Jesus, nor that it was his goal as a musician to become more popular than Jesus. He was simply saying it as a commentary on the culture. It seemed like the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.

    I’m quoting a reader’s question, and she’s quoting a maxim. What does this maxim say about us as a culture? That’s all.

  66. I know everyone is commenting on food, and to avoid the redundancy I’m going to comment about clothing.

    Where I live there are LOTS of places to donate old/unwanted things. Clothes, furniture, etc. There are rumors that the employees get first dibs on anything they find. Whether they pay for it or not-I have no idea. So when I donate I like to do it to places like directly to the homeless shelter, because I know that they will be grateful for whatever it is and that it will actually make it to people that need it.

    Also, when donating your old stuff find out if where you’re donating it takes things that are for example; missing a button, have a hole, a small stain. Because if they just throw them out you’d be better off finding somewhere else to go. As for the ‘first fruits’ and this, props to the people that are willing to spend their money and buy new clothes for the people in need. I’m just not there yet, so please be kind when judging my hole/stain comment. :O)

    • It is a great comment!! I have been a thrift store shopper and donator for yrs, whether I needed to or not. I just love the re-use idea!! The idea of free-cycle type places have changed some of that for me. I am always very happy when I know that something that I used and loved is going to someone that is in need. I pass on everything to someone else and get many things for my family in this sort of way. I had always feared that some things would be tossed instead of re-used.
      I have donated many things this last month to a hospice store knowing that they will def. get to someone in need :D!!

  67. I was in this position recently. When we moved into our new apartment, the management provided a little wastebasket of amenities – paper towels, dish soap, a plunger, a toilet paper roll, a pen and paper. It was very cute. However, the brand of dish soap was one that I strongly preferred not to use. In the end, I gave it to a close friend of mine who didn’t mind at all and was glad to have some free dish soap.

    I think it’s okay to give such things away if you know (or are reasonably certain) that the recipient will appreciate or use the item. However, if there’s a chance there may be bad feelings, might be better to skip it and donate to a food pantry/shelter.

  68. as someone who has worked in homeless services for many years, and who now is a holistic health practitioner, i can certainly say that i myself remain divided on the topic. the way i have made the distinction in my mind is as follows: i do not donate any foods that would have a harmful impact on individuals suffering from the many physical conditions that can be caused by poverty (hypertension, diabetes, gout, etc.), which includes those with refined starches, sugar, and high levels of sodium. additionally, i do not donate any food with high fructose corn syrup or artificial colorings or preservatives, especially for items that will most likely be served to children. after that, i widen my own purchasing to include non-organic foods or foods in (what i consider to be) disagreeable packaging if that is all i am able to do at the moment.

  69. We live in an imperfect world and we must accept this and work within the confines. So we might not eat as well as we should or we might donate deodorant that has chemicals in it. That being said it is also our responsibility to work toward perfecting the world and through this work “be the change we wish to seek.” To this end I think it’s important to work towards educating people and giving poor people access to fresh food (and a way to cook it) The CSA I work for donates all left overs to local food banks. We also accept SNAP benefits. Many of the farmers markets in the Boston area accept SNAP benefits as well. We are working with organizations who fund doubling programs at farmers markets- doubling the money you spend if you are on SNAP (giving you 20.00 to spend while only taking 10.00 out of your benefits) This not only helps those who are hungry but it helps the local farmers and the environment as well. I spend my energy on this while still donating food that is shelf stable (and therefor perhaps not as healthy) But I never donate junk food or soda or some of the other foods that are contributing to the obesity problem in our country. Too many poor children are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and are malnourished not because they can’t get any food but because the food they do get is so bad for them it’s killing them! The generation growing up is the first generation that will probably not live longer than their parents. I want to make sure I’m not part of the problem.

  70. I thought I was the only one who wondered about this! I tried the whole couponing thing to get free food, but those coupons seemed to be for food I would not normally buy (especially after seeing Food Inc. and reading Michael Pollan’s books). Now, if I see a coupon I know I’ll use or one for decent food, I’ll clip it and then buy the most nutritious foods I can with the coupon. I try to buy more food, though, that I would deem safe for my family and myself (I have celiac) and donate it when I can. I also donate the toothpaste and toothbrushes I get for free with those coupons.
    I’ve learned a lot from the comments. Thanks for your input.

  71. I used to be picky about things like brand-name cheese and peanut butter, but after a few years of living on a tight budget, I have come to appreciate the frugality of one-ply toilet paper, dollar store shampoo, and generic everything when it comes to food. I still can’t bear to do without fresh vegetables and fruits, or to make do without my most used/favorite food items. So I have not had to go without as some have. But I can see the benefit of not being too choosy with food. It’s there to nourish you, of course. Healthy foods can benefit your lifestyle. But if you can save $300 a month by not buying organic everything, wouldn’t that enhance your life too?

  72. As someone who works with humanitarian aid here in the U.S., I struggle w/this question. In my current mindset, I don’t think it is acceptable to give something away that you wouldn’t consider valuable enough for yourself, for two reasons.

    First, I believe that giving should be a sacrifice – the idea that we would actually treat our neighbor better than ourselves, give the very coat off our backs, etc.

    But second, I believe that what we give to someone communicates what we think about them – our gifts reflect our view of the person receiving the gift, and it also reflects what we think is “good enough” for them. By giving poor people low quality food, housing, education, and material goods, we communicate that we don’t think they are worth any more than that. We are not treating them with the dignity that they possess as a human who bears the image of God.

  73. I was just having this internal conversation with myself at the food bank the other day. I have the privilege to help create a community garden to benefit out local food bank. As we met in a room with wall to wall prepackaged food, white pasta, and cheap “juice” I realize how important the garden really is and how much it will not only educate but nourish so many people!

  74. As someone who works with humanitarian aid here in the States, I have wrestled with this question. My conclusion, at this point, is that it is not acceptable to give away what you would not consider valuable enough to keep for yourself.

    First, I believe that giving should be a sacrifice – that we should honor our neighbors as better than ourselves, give the coat off our backs if necessary, etc.

    But second, I believe that WHAT WE GIVE COMMUNICATES WHAT WE THINK ABOUT THE PERSON RECEIVING OUR GIFT. When we give impoverished people poor quality food, housing, materials, and education, we communicate that we don’t think they deserve any more than that. We diminish their dignity and devalue their worth as a human created in the image of God. We teach them that it’s ok to settle for harmful, unhealthy, or unhelpful things because that’s what’s been made available to them.

    This means that even if the person is one day able to provide for themselves, they may still make unhealthy (in all senses) choices because this is what we taught them when WE were providing for them.

    What we GIVE is what we will GET – by giving low quality, less valuable items, we train up low-quality, less valuable citizens.

  75. I’ve worked with a few food banks, and over and over I’ve seen how they can do more with money than with donated foods. So that’s what I give. The services can spend the money to buy the things they know their population wants/needs. I guarantee that if you’re able to buy 6 bottles of toothpaste for a dollar with coupons, the food bank is able to buy it for the same or less. And when the food banks have money, they can also purchase perishable foods (that are less processed) on a schedule that fits their distribution. As for ensuring access to quality foods–others have mentioned good ideas. Donate some of your garden’s bounty. Make sure your farmers markets take foodstamps & WIC. Teach what you know and share skills. In this economy making a home-cooked meal for a friend might easily be saving them a trip to the cans at the food bank.

  76. i used to have the same problem, but have come to discover that most people don’t life the simple things that I like. so, when I get something on sale, I donate it and let them give it to someone who appreciates it. Just because I don’t like canned sweet potatoes or canned peas, doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people out there who do like them and would eat them on a regular basis. When I have money for better things (or when they are on sale} I also donate those. However, sometimes people don’t appreciate the simple things as much as they do the common, everyday ones that the majority of people eat and use.

  77. Oh my goodness…this spoke from my heart!! My opinion is to not give it away, stockpile or anything that you don’t feel is good enough for your family to another family. I always think…just because they are struggling does not mean they are inferior…therefore I will not give, donate, or whatever, that is also inferior. Stockpiling only “votes” to those companies that we want that food produced when in fact we dont so I NEVER buy it no matter how cheap because I will not “vote” for it’s production. I try to set aside some money periodically to use for some type of service where I can…but when I can’t I give my time…and that’s meaningful too!

  78. I just felt to add into the conversation again- alot of this junk food isn’t nourishing. That being said, I think canned beans and vegetables are a step up from something like say, Hamburger helper. I have to add that if you don’t buy processed foods and all organic, it doesn’t cost tons of money to eat ‘ relatively’ healthy. I say relative because to me a plain can of beans and rice and a plain canned vegetable seems healthier than a “meal in a box”. When my son was little we didn’t have much money and we had WIC benefits, and we made do and still ate pretty healthy. Was it decadant? no. We ate alot of the same stuff and sometimes it was bland and boring. Wic has a farmers market program that is wonderful. They also have nutrition seminars!
    Anyway, that’s just my 2 cents.
    Katie

    • Yes, WIC is wonderful. In my state they give Farmer’s Market WIC checks as well as fresh food options with every set of checks for each child! The WIC program has greatly improved lately!

  79. Just to throw it out there… in regards to giving away toys, furniture etc. what about someone else’s trash could be someone else’s treasure???

    Also I understand the point of not giving away what you wouldn’t give to your own kids but what about the thought that everybody has a different standard, so for some it might be acceptable and for others not, otherwise you’re making the decision for them. Everybody has the right choose what they believe is best for them and their family. We are all influenced by all sorts of mediums: our upbringing, religion, books we read, media, friend’s opinions, our standard of living/our budgets, our own experiences etc. which create our foundation, our standard for what we believe is best for us and our families. So maybe I am saying, yes, beggars can be choosers because in the end, when the decision is made, that person is responsible for that decision whether they’ll take it or leave it…

  80. avatar
    Tiffany Larson says:

    Excellent topic, I wish I had enough time to read through all the comments! I’ve often thought about this myself as our family eats a highly organic diet and uses a lot of eco-friendly products.

    I think the bottom line for me is, would I use this product if I couldn’t afford a ‘better’ product? If the answer is ‘yes’, then I would donate it. If the answer is ‘no’, I couldn’t feel good about giving it to someone else.

    Here’s an example: we had a lot of bottles from our first child that most likely contained BPA (bisphenol-A). I do not consider this a safe product so I recycled all of them instead of giving them to someone else or donating them.

  81. I am excited that this post is getting so much discussion. While I read several comments from people who have been in poverty I didn’t read any from people who spent time as ‘beggers’ (I am not offended by this reference–sometimes it’s just the truth). I was homeless for nearly 3 years (yes literally) while in an abusive relationship. During the years I was homeless my boyfriend would not let us access any ‘help’. But once getting free of this relationship I had to use my local food bank every week to get by, since the food stamp allotment we were given (for one adult and two tiny kids) wasn’t enough to supply all our food. (This was back in 2007 before the amounts were increased.)

    I was grateful for anything. AND I wished for more healthy foods.

    At one local food bank they had a marvelous system. Instead of just filling a box with whatever they had on hand and shoving you out the door (as some do) they would ask you what my kids and I would really eat. They cared that the food that left their food bank was something I’d use–to be sure nothing went to waste. Additionally they had a cooperative relationship with local farms etc. so often had fresh foods on hand.

    Personally I believe that ‘begger’s can’t be chooser’s’ (see this phrase referenced in the under idioms on the freedictionary.com) Yet that doesn’t preclude our responsibility to share from the overflow of our own blessing. The very best service/sacrifice is one that meets the truest need in the hearts/lives of those we serve. What does it hurt to ask a homeless person what they need? Or even want? Will our judgement and ‘instruction’ to them change their life as much as our love will?

    Let me tell you the ONLY thing that ever reached me when I was ‘out there’ homeless and lost…the small moments of love I was shown by several domestic violence shelters and the completely unconditional love of my mother. These loving people reminded me that I could return to real life one day. And now I have! (Glory to God.)

    I hope that adds a bit of perspective to this great discussion–thanks for opening this up Tsh!

    • I was hoping you’d add to the conversation here, Elise. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, directly from experience!

  82. I purposely held this post in my RSS feed for nearly a day, so as to see how readers would respond to this topic. I was not disappointed with the number and variety of responses. :)

    I have a number of thoughts on this topic. First, the person who initially raised the topic posed a really great question. Obviously, her heart is in the right place by wanting to be a blessing to those in need, and wondering how best to go about doing it. The many comments posted in response to her question are evidence of the fact that this is an issue close to many people’s hearts, and a topic worth revisiting on a regular basis for each of us as individuals.

    One point that the question reveals, is that she honestly does not know firsthand what the needs and likes are of those who are in poverty (and that is not a bad thing; that is simply the reality of this issue). Her question was answered by others who share a similar naivete. Just a few years ago, I was similarly unaware of the needs of those who are less fortunate.

    And then the Lord gave me the opportunity to experience it up close and firsthand. Not only did I become a member of an organization that concentrates specifically on supplying the less fortunate with exactly what they need (we work closely with local ministries, and we ask them to tell us exactly what the needs are for their clientele), but I personally come in much greater contact with people in this situation. It changed my perspective dramatically.

    I read all of the comments above (whew!), in which some of you stated that you were grateful to have healthy options made available to you at the food bank. I do believe, based on my own experiences, that you are in the minority. The overwhelming majority of people who make use of food banks are not concerned about the ingredients in the items they are receiving, or if they are organic or not. They simply need to eat. The image of the empty shelves at the NC pantry shared by one of the commenters above was heartbreaking. I have seen similar empty shelves at pantries in my own area.

    There is actually a very important issue that is being raised here; that is, there are two types of poverty. Some people can be categorized as being in poverty because their earnings fall below a certain level. Yet others are in mental poverty, where they choose to eat fewer fresh fruits and vegetables, and buy more prepackaged, processed foods.

    This was such a wake-up call to me. Not only was I shocked to learn of the very serious poverty in my own city, I was horrified to learn how some people eat. I now personally know adults who, as babies, were given bottles filled with soda on a daily basis. I think they can be forgiven for wrestling with basic knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating. Yet, here they are are, some of them in need of the provisions offered by a food pantry, freely choosing the boxes of Hamburger Helper because it is what they eat and it is all they know. I believe it was C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, who used the analogy of ghetto children making mudpies in the slums, when the beach was mere steps away (no slight on mudpies!). They simply didn’t know any better. While we could argue about whether or not they need to eat better, and we need to teach them to eat better, they need to eat now. And are you willing to make the effort to teach them–heck, teach just one person in this situation–how to eat better?

    So. My two cents’ on the answer to this question is this. Some of you are guilt ridden about providing anything to food banks but the finest and best quality foods. For you, I believe you should follow your conscience on this, and donate these items. As is indicated in the comments, there are some recipients who will definitely be blessed by this.

    A larger number of you will choose more standard, “middle aisles of the grocery store” fare to donate. There is a much greater need for this type of food (again, go to the pantries/shelters, or volunteer at them, if you don’t believe me–or Google ‘food pantry shelves’ and view the Images to see the food on the shelves). Know that many will be blessed by your contributions.

    Others of you will choose to donate money. While this can be interpreted as being more hands-off and less involved, the reality is that (as some have indicated in the comments) this is of great benefit to the food banks. There does come a time when they must fill in the needs of their clients with items (both organic and non-organic) that were not donated.

    Others here have broadened the topic to include non-food items. I would like to point out that there is also a very dire need for non-food items (i.e., toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, diapers, etc.). While food is a very real need, so is toilet paper, and food stamps do not cover non-food items. If you’ve been stockpiling hundreds of tubes of toothpaste, donate them. People desperately need them.

    This is long enough; I will stop now. Perhaps I will even blog about this myself. More than anything, I am so encouraged to see the real compassion that is evident in your comments here. THAT for me has been the real blessing.

    Laurel H.
    HarperAcademy.com
    Always learning

  83. I have thought about this same topic myself. I choose healthy food for my family (not always organic, but not always packaged/processes either). I occasionally serve whole wheat mac n cheese, and add veggies to it. About once a month I do hamburger helper. And that’s where my dilemma starts. Foods like hamburger helper can be very cheap, and sometimes free. It’s so easy to donate when we know we won’t use the items we are donating, and we know we didn’t have to pay for it. I, on the other hand, would rather not waste the time shopping those deals, because the more processed junk we buy, the less organic/fresh items stores will stock. (Maybe?) While I know all food pantries don’t give out 100% junk food, there are some statistics showing that there is a direct link between obesity and income. While everyone can decide what they want to eat, I feel that we can be hindering some peoples health by only providing the bad stuff. Just because they are in need, doesn’t mean we should have the “beggars can’t be choosers” mentality. My happy-medium is to donate toiletries and baby/children items. And for these, I will donate body wash/baby wash that I would not use on my children. I feel that what we put IN is a little more important than what we put ON. However, there are some times when I will find some great organic toiletries on clearance, and I will donate those. Just a note to whoever might be reading this: keep in mind, “needy” has changed a lot over the years. I know here in california, there are lots of working class poor, families that have taken work at a very, very low pay, and can no longer afford a home, a car, food…some can afford no more than a small apartment, much less the food to fill it. All poor people are not beggars on the street, most are families, trying to take care of themselves. If we got to a place where we couldn’t afford even a simple healthy meal, I would probably cry if I got a donation of anything organic or healthy, out of sheer gratefulness that somebody understood my situation. I think this is a great topic, and I’m going to be writing a post about it as well.

  84. We middle class/upper class Americans are so ignorant of the plight of many in our own country. Sometimes I think our ecucation robs us of our ability to think with common sense! When someone is starving, “artificial” food is better than no food at all.

  85. There is a CSA near where we live (Colorado) that you can join at a “sponsorship level.” They are able to provide someone who couldn’t afford a CSA the opprotunity to have locally grown, organic produce. http://www.urbiculturecommunityfarms.org/index.html I like finding options like this!

  86. Reading through this, had a similar experience once to Cara; offered a lady a granola bar after she asked me for money and she responded, “I don’t eat that kind of (expletive)”
    A number of issues: what are people used to and willing to eat or use ? What can we do about food deserts? What can we do about education? What can we do for single parent working poor families that seriously do not have time to cook from scratch, let alone learn to cook from scratch? Living in motel rooms and cooking on a hot plate or in a microwave without a decent knife, pot or cutting board?
    I walk the line between real and fake in donations. Many of my kids’ friends won’t eat our peanut butter or whole grain homemade bread because it tastes funny. So I’ll donate instant oatmeal, but not pop tarts. Store bought applesauce but not lemonade flavored mix made from sugar. And I try to donate things that don’t require cooking, figuring the person getting it does not have the luxury to soak the beans all day and simmer them gently for 2 hours. Just my personal thoughts.

  87. What a wonderful dialogue unfolding here! While the cerebral part of me could say many things, at the end of the day, I’m left with the reality that there is so much need, around the corner, around the world, and endless venues by which to give. I think its a heart issue: we want to give, we’re called to give, so find a way to give. If you’re not comfortable giving certain food, give other ways. Donate cash to worthy, valid organizations – local and abroad. Give of your time. Give of yourself. I think it’s valuable to hash through these philosophical issues, but imperative that we’re not paralyzed by them.

  88. This is why I give a monthly cash donation to our local food bank. They get the best bang for the buck and can choose the most appropriate affordable food for their population.

    • Oh, and when I want to model charitable behavior for my children I usually just grab cans of beans and some pasta from our latest Costco run.

  89. If choosing what to give becomes paralyzing in and of itself, I’d say decide how much you can donate (monetarily) and give cash to the food bank. No one understands the immediacy of the need and can better help fill it than the folks that are in touch with it daily – the staff at the food bank and pantries.

  90. Reading through some of the responses, I was appalled at some of them. Then I read someone say that some people just may not understand the severity of individuals who are poor, homeless, or in some form of need or assistance.

    If I were in a homeless shelter with my three children and needed milk or food because they were hungry, I surely would not turn away non-organic milk or food. I would greatly appreciate the fact that I’m able to give my children food. People in need are in need, there is no thinking about healthy, organic, or chemicals in food – sometimes its pure survival. I’m also sure that the individual in need of a new toothbrush that they can’t afford to buy isn’t concerned about the brand name on the toothbrush but more concerned with the fact that they now have a toothbrush and toothpaste to brush their teeth.

    One christmas our family struggled and the kids were invited to a christmas party through a local organization. The kids each received a gift from Santa at the party and when we went to leave, we were handed a garbage bag from of wrapped presents. When the kids opened the presents on Christmas morning there were off-brand barbies, no name blue jeans, pajamas, homemade fleece blankets, some plastic trucks, etc. Things that kids their age liked. Now they were not name brand. And you know what…2 years later my daughter still plays with her real Barbies and off-brand barbies. My son still pushes those plastic trucks and tractors in the sandbox. Sometimes what we as adults think of as “cheap” still gives a child such thrills. My daughter has a Build-a-Bear teddy bear and stuffed animals from wal-mart and she doesn’t know the difference.

    We live on a farm and raise our own eggs, chickens, beef plus have a small orchard and a large garden among other things and I’m lucky that we can raise 75% or better of our own food. However, when making donations to church, I’ll buy canned vegetables that are on sale, toiletries from the dollar store, and canned beans instead of dried beans. But I don’t feed my family canned vegetables or canned beans. But individuals living in homeless shelters, low income, etc. may not have the ability to cook dried beans, etc.

    When giving donations, it’s not about the individual making the donation. It’s about the individuals receiving the donation. It’s not about the circumstances of our life or our lifestyle that should dictate the type of donation, but the circumstances and lifestyle of the individual receiving the donation.

  91. The question is not “if you’re hungry would you eat…” Too many comments seem to look at the perspective of the receiver. Yes, of course a starving family will eat whatever they can BUT the question is “would you donate something you wouldn’t feed your family?” We need to look at our own hearts, our own motivation, why would we buy something we ourselves wouldn’t eat and then give it to a family that will have no choice but to eat it??? I love the comment reminding us to give first fruits.

    Also, I will not buy things – even if I can get them free with coupons – that are against my food choices because I don’t want to support those companies! I don’t want them on any grocery shelf for anyone so why we I encourage them to restock!!!

  92. avatar
    The New Me says:

    I’ve thought of it this way…

    Suppose I have in my possession something that I don’t consider healthy enough for my family to eat. Is it wrong to donate it? Well, if I DON’T donate it, is the organization I’m giving to going to spend $$ to get that same “inferior” product? I guess I figure that if they’re going to end up eating that product anyway, I’m blessing them by saving them the expense.

    I agree that we shouldn’t fill our shoeboxes with cheap-o toys that we wouldn’t give to our own kids. And I believe that if you get Crayola crayons (for example) for your children, you shouldn’t get cheap dollar store crayons for your shoebox…On the other hand, if the cheap one is all you can afford for your own children, then it’s fair to give it to others.

    The thing that gets me sometimes is the feeling that if I’m donating something, it has to be “nearly perfect.” Some people can afford that, both for their own uses and for donation. But MY kids wear stained hand-me-downs and play with used toys. Is it OK for me to put a slightly stained shirt in a donation bag?

  93. http://corbynhightower.com/2011/04/09/how-i-stopped-worrying-and-learned-to-love-the-dumpster/

    Ya’ll need to read this post. Seriously. If you want/need perspective on “needy” people then this is a good to get it. And, you don’t even have to leave your computer in the AC either. She went from upper middle class to dumpster diving to feed her family.

    And if you want to really help the food bank – donate money. They can buy more with your money than you can due to deals with food manufacturers AND get more of what they actually need in the process.

  94. Going through the food bank is a painfully depressing and shamefull experience! The food being handed out was Beyond Shocking!!! Veggies and fruit were things that normal people would have tossed Days ago! Eggs a week past experation date. Box and canned goods 1-3 YEARS PAST experation date. You are allowed 4-6 options of cakes, doughnuts, desserts just a few days past experation. (things most healthy families would never put into the shopping cart when you could afford it) Now- it’s the most callories and maybe the Safest thing to eat from the food pantry.
    The people that are using these services are not just people living on the streets like so many people have posted in past comments! It’s your neighbor… the teacher with a College Degree and a husband with a “good job” the familes that your kids play with at the park. Many with the same story as mine! By All Means – give what you can – there is nothing healthy in giving your child an 8 day old a danish for dinner because it’s that or a can of tuna that expired in 2007! It KILLS to not be able to support the basic needs of your child.
    I work 3 part-time jobs (nights and week-ends and some days and full-time mom) my husband is working 40-60 hrs a week and picks up as many side jobs as he can find. Yet we can’t pay for food sometimes during the month.
    We have found ourselves on the other side of giving (every year we adopted a family for Christmas and donated at all of the food drives at work and local stores) and now I am standing in line at the Salvation Army- tightly holding on to our two children Very Closely- for 2 pkgs. of diapers.
    Two years ago my full-time job was downsized and the company is now out of business – like many others across the country. Several months ago the cost of insurance for a family medical plan was no longer covered by company my husband works for. We had a decrease of Over $600 per Check! That’s $15,600 a year Before co-pays and deductables and co-insurance. After needed repairs to the van and a c-section of our second child… our 6mo emergency fund quickly dried up! We did everything right – Saved like Crazy – Now we can’t pay all of our bills of rent, insurance, electric/water, phone and gas for the car and food.
    Give and hug your kids! Be so Thankfull that you don’t know the pain of telling your child that they can’t have the applesauce he’s begging for because there isn’t money to pay for it.

  95. What a great topic! I also agree with all the responses. We have different opinions and point of view regarding this topic. However, the thoughts of love and giving binds us all. :)
    Kariesha´s latest post: classical Hebrew review

  96. For the lady whose sister takes only unstained clothes- she misses out in a way. I grew up with hand-me-downs and one of the great joys was picking the trims. Mom would let me pick new buttons or other trims to make it “mine”.

    Things that were badly stained were sliced to make quilts or rugs or other projects and let me tell you. They were not only beautiful, they were coveted. Sheets and cotton can be sliced and spliced for rugs or quilts and wool clothing cut thin for hooked rugs, velvet and fine fabric for crazy quilts and t-shirts for potholders. Do this all year, bit at a time and I betyour Christmas gifts will outshine anything store-bought . Use it up! Recycle creatively!

  97. I am surprised by almost all of the responses about not buying cheap things, or refusing to buy “dollar store toys” to donate. My family has been all over the income spectrum, sometimes needing food stamps and sometimes being able to shop at the local organic only grocery store, and even in the years when we had very very little for ourselves, I made the choice to donate. Are you suggesting that because I could only afford two or three toys from the dollar store, that the kids who recieved them would have been better off with nothing? I understand that you and your family are too good for those items and I sincerely hope you never find yourself in circumstances where they might recieve gifts from charity or through donations. Although maybe it would be good for you and assist you in getting off of your high horse.

    I would much rather see three children each open a new coloring book, a puzzle or a bottle of bubbles, than see one child open a barbie. I may not always have much to give, but to me the idea of spreading it as far as I can feels better.

    When I have been the person in need, I have always appreciated any type of assistance. It may not be what I would buy if I could afford it, but then again, if I could afford it, I wouldn’t be the one in need.

    I see this often in the blogging and “granola” scene, a complete lack of manners in regards to how you refer to food that others eat. Most people buy what they can afford and its actually very rude to talk down any type of food. If I buy mostly processed and pre-packaged foods, its not because I love my children less than you love yours, its because thats what I can afford. It isn’t nice to judge things that way, maybe people buy the best things they can.

    I’m sorry if it offends anyone, but a lot of these comments appear to be from very snobby people that could really use a serving of humble pie.

  98. I don’t see why you have to choose. Wholesome ingredients are cheaper than questionable ones. Frugal lifestyle lends to a healthy one. Even if you don’t want to give the man a fish because of mercury levels it doesn’t means you cant teach him how to fish anyways.. if you aren’t willing to put that sort of effort into it then something is better than nothing.

  99. I don’t believe it has to be an either/or choice- instead of buying anything processed, just buy real foods. A bag of apples, veggies, bread, beans, rice, etc. While I usually buy these things organically grown for my own family, there are some exceptions. I will buy non-organic bananas and avocados, though definitely not GMO foods. I say skip any junk to donate, but also realize that you may not be able to always buy organic, and that may be the compromise. I can’t stomach giving anyone bags of chemicals and calling it food.

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