Cold, hard cash and volunteering your time helps much more
EC: Don't Donate Canned Food This Holiday Season 

Thanksgiving is the time of year where everyone kicks off their holiday displays of good will. Whether you volunteer at a soup kitchen, give to charity, or decide to be a nicer human being just for the hell of it, you're on the right path. But if you really want to help, don't donate canned food. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, give to charity, or donate canned food to local pantries. But it turns out that donating canned goods around the holidays can actually do less good than one might think. In fact, a few bloggers even suggest that canned food donations are harmful, cause heaps of waste, gum up the work of volunteers, and prevent charities from getting the real assistance they need. Not quite the jolt of positive vibes you thought you were in for when you chose to donate canned food to a local shelter.

The logic behind not donating canned goods to charity actually makes a fair bit of sense, when you think about it. First, unless you've got cans of food stockpiled in your house, you're more than likely going to the store to buy food that you're going to turn around in donate—thus paying retail for food that pantries get for much less than the average sticker price at a grocery store. Most pantries pay 10 cents for a pound of food that costs the average consumer two dollars per pound to purchase on their own. So not only are you paying more than you should for food that pantries often get for much less, you're also sinking costs into cans of veggies when those dollars could have done to other worthy initiatives.

Plus, there are hidden costs behind sorting, shipping, and storing all of that canned food. For starters, the majority of donated foods are either castoffs that people donate in order to clean out their pantries. People donate food they don't want, rather than food they know will go to good use. And going through all of that food doesn't come cheap, even if labor is free. Volunteers are forced to sift through piles of donations to remove items that are expired, unusable, or unnecessary—taking them away from other, more meaningful kinds of work that have a greater impact for the needy. And lastly, shipping heavy cans of food isn't cheap. Soup kitchens and other outreach organizations still need to buy gas, pay for van rentals, and rent storage space. Throwing that old tin of canned pumpkin in the donation box doesn't sound so appealing anymore, does it?

But don't lose faith—there are other things you can do this holiday season that will go a lot further than donating canned goods. The one thing that non-profits and food pantries need more than anything else is money. That's right—straight cash, homey. When you donate money instead of canned food, you give these organizations a more economically sensible way of buying what they need. Whether that's food, clothing, or even paying off their utility bills, cash donations go much further than any old can of creamed corn ever could. So if charity is your thing, open your pocketbook instead of your pantry this year.