Arts & Culture News

Hamburger Helper Without Hamburger? How To Make Your Donations Count.

Thanks for the cans, but, um, how do we open them?
Thanks for the cans, but, um, how do we open them? Mukhina1/Getty
The seasonal serenading of bells belonging to Salvation Army door greeters serve as our annual reminder to give to those who are less fortunate. As we shuffle in and out stores avoiding contact with greeters, we make a mental note by guiltily adding “check pantry and closets for donations” to our never ending to-do lists.

And while those boxes of cereal your kids refused to try or that unopened jar of peanut butter would be appreciated by food-insecure families, we often fail to consider that they could also use some of those little luxuries and necessities that make life worth living and which we often take for granted.

The art of giving is simple and boils down to really making your donations count during the holiday season and onward.

Some Scrooges may cling to the view that those in need will (and should) be grateful for whatever they can get. But who are we to police another person's desires or needs?

“It's not our job to question if they need it or not,” says Carolyn Benavides, owner of Carrollton’s Joe’s Pizza, Pasta & Subs. “We have an abundance, and we need to pass it on to people that can use it.”

Joe’s Pizza, Pasta & Subs doubles as a Thanksgiving soup kitchen. But the restaurant takes care of those in need throughout the entire year in more ways than one.

The restaurant provides food staples to give away to those who need it and provides cooked and fresh foods for them to take home. Approximately once a month, the pizzeria opens its doors for seniors to enjoy freshly made meals.

On the Joe's Pizza's Facebook page, Benavides has posted lists enumerating their most needed donations: plastic storage bags, foil, plastic ware, Styrofoam trays, butter, milk, seasonings, degreaser, dish soap and trash bags. All of these items are overlooked by donors.

From schools to libraries and store fronts, everyone seems to be collecting canned foods and other useful donations. Nonperishable foods are flying off the shelves at food pantries, but there are hardly ever options of fresh foods, meats, utensils and cookware.

Common donations at most food distribution charities often require additional items or specific cookware to make a complete meal. Bread, meats, pans, milk and butter are requirements when trying to make a sandwich, pasta, rice and to fill families' nutritional needs. While donors are well-meaning, Hamburger Helper with no hamburger isn't exactly helpful.

Likewise, canned foods are a long-lasting, practical staple, but how are those canned goods going to be opened? Pop-top cans are preferred, unless the donation of cans comes with a can opener. For this same reason, food pantries are also in need of utensils to go along with the food they're giving out. There is also a strong demand for paper towels, pans, pots, foil, oil, flour and sugar, which are staples needed in every kitchen.

Small household appliances that are often overlooked as donations can have an impact on the quality of life and nutrition for those who have been displaced. An item such as a crockpot can afford them the capability to make a warm meal.

To maximize on the nonperishable donations, think outside the can. Consider donating the fresh food items needed to make a full meal that will fill in nutritional gaps, the household items required to cook them and supplies to clean up after the meal.

Soup kitchens and community organizers such as Benavides cultivate relationships with those in need, helping to get donations into the hands of those who could most benefit from them. Benavides also serves as a contact for school counselors, coaches, churches and community leaders to fulfill varying community needs.

Aside from food, the soup kitchen redistributes furniture, booster car seats (used car seats are not recommended for infants), work tools, bikes, clothing and home appliances. They also provide financial aid for bills and rent. Donations to Joe’s Pizza, Pasta & Subs Thanksgiving Day Soup Kitchen can be made on their website or can be dropped off at 1904 E. Belt Line Road.

“I have never once thrown anything away someone has given us, never,” Benavides says. “We are always able to get it to someone in need. It's so wonderful to have an engaged community.”

Another often overlooked donation, Benavides says, is laundry detergent. Beyond sanitary reasons, clean clothes allow people to maintain work opportunities and for children to not get bullied at school.

Say It With Your Chest DTX (SIWYC), a Black woman-led leftist community organization, organizes weekly wash days for individuals without homes. The organization visits homeless camps and collects dirty clothing. Alongside volunteers and other community organizations, SIWYC members gather on Wednesdays to collect, wash and bundle clothing and then return the fresh bundled clothing to its owners.

“We are doing it because we also need our laundry cleaned and we recognize that, we understand what it's like to not have clean clothes and how crucial they are,” SIWYC organizer Danielle said to Fox 4 News in November. “We are just helping our neighbors, really.”

“It's not our job to question if they need it or not. ... We have an abundance and we need to pass it on to people that can use it.” –Carolyn Benavides, owner of Carrollton’s Joe’s Pizza, Pasta & Subs

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SIWYC organizers say there's an overwhelming need for clean clothing and apart from food donations, donors should consider clothing care items such as detergent, fabric softener and laundry bags. Donations of the sort provide individuals with the ability to care for the few items they do have. Volunteers are also needed to help during wash days. Those who are interested can contact SIWYC through their Instagram page to make a donation or to volunteer.

For the Genesis Women's Shelter’s 2020 Holiday Program, the nonprofit requested gift cards from donors in order to adhere to pandemic safety protocols. The program was especially effective because gift cards allow families the autonomy to choose the gifts they place under the tree, giving them a chance to play Santa to their children.

“When you give a gift card, you provide a woman in need with the power to choose, a luxury that has repeatedly been stripped away from her by her abusive partner,” Genesis Women’s Shelter says on it website.

The shelter retained the gift card concept for the 2021 Holiday Program, collecting Visa and Amazon gift cards which they distribute as $150 worth of gift cards per mother and $50 per child. Mothers are also given wrapping supplies so they can participate in those small traditions that make the holidays special. Donations can be made on the shelter’s website.

If you're giving to a shelter or an individual, consider donating a gift card — the gift of choice provides families with a sense of normalcy. But every nonprofit has its wishlist. It doesn't hurt to call ahead and find out the best way to help so your do-gooding does the most actual good.
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Desiree Gutierrez is a music and culture intern at the Dallas Observer. Equipped with her education from Dallas College Brookhaven Campus and the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism, Desiree has transformed the ability to overthink just about anything into a budding career in journalism.