A few days ago I got an invitation to an event from a Facebook friend. I’m notorious for seeing it on my phone, then overlooking an event or forgetting to respond, but the name of this one stood out. The 15 Can Challenge. I like challenges. I mean, just recently I posted about why the Ice Bucket Challenge was important to me, and I think challenges are a good way to push ourselves.
I clicked over, and saw a description that made it clear I needed to participate in this, but it also tugged at my heart to the point that I felt a need to share it with my readers, as well.
If you have heard of it (and there’s a chance you already have– at the time I’m writing this, over 32,000 people have pledged to be a part of it, and 445,500 more have been invited to join in), this will be a refresher. If you haven’t, here’s what it’s all about:
Each week, when you purchase your groceries, buy one extra non-perishable item. Maybe it’s a can of beans or a can of soup or a jar of peanut butter. Just make sure it’s non-perishable and will last well past Christmastime.
Get one item per week for the next fifteen weeks. If you’re doing the math, starting this week would put you at 1 week before Christmas. If you’re starting later, just grab an extra can to make up for it.
After your 15 weeks of collection is finished (you’ll have 15 items for 15 weeks), deliver your items to the food pantry or charity of your choice.
Finally, the last instruction is to invite all of your friends to participate in this cause.
Basically, the impact could be enormous– all you’re doing is setting aside that one extra item per week. This is great for those of us who want to do service, and give, but don’t know how to get started. And now, I’m about to make it even easier for you– I’m going to give you some ideas of how you can use your 15 can challenge to feed families and give more.
Spaghetti Night Spaghetti is a great, affordable option that is shelf-stable. You’ll want to spend 5 of your weeks buying Spaghetti Sauce, 5 weeks buying Spaghetti, and 5 weeks buying canned fruits and vegetables that can pair with spaghetti. If each family were given a jar of sauce, a package of spaghetti, and a can of fruit or vegetables, you would have provided 5 meals to those in need by adding just one item to your cart each week.
Chili Night Growing up, my mom always made the best chili, and it turns out, it’s really easy. My mom’s chili consisted of a 2-3 cans of beans, a packet of chili seasoning, a can of diced tomatoes, and a can of corn. Obviously, your target items to buy here would be canned beans, diced tomatoes, and chili seasoning to provide families with the items for dinner. If you went this route and a family didn’t like chili, at least they’d have beans and tomatoes, which can be used in a multitude of other recipes.
Just for Kids In the past, when I’ve volunteered with food bank sort of programs, one big concern that always crops up is families who want to make sure their kids’ needs are met most of all. Who doesn’t want to keep their kids happy and healthy? One great way to handle this is to have your kids chip in on the planning of this one… some ideas of how to use your 15 weeks of gathering items? Pick up Juice Boxes (look for 100% juice!), granola bars, pudding and applesauce cups, mac and cheese, and graham crackers. These are items that have some nutrition (a lot of pudding now has more calcium than ever), but still make kids feel special.
The Most Important Meal of the Day A lot of times, kids will get their lunches provided at school, but many kids and adults go hungry when it comes to the most important meal of the day, Breakfast. Some options you can purchase here include just-add-water pancake mix, syrup, juice (again, 100% juice varieties are best), instant breakfast drinks, low-sugar cereals (like Chex or Cheerios), and oatmeal packets.
Protein Lovers It can be especially hard for food pantries to keep stock of protein items. While many people donate canned vegetables or fruits because it seems like a natural item to buy, products like beans, tuna, canned chicken, bean based soups, and canned nuts are often forgotten entirely. Almond butter and peanut butter are a good source of protein, also.
Tis the Season Many food pantries cannot accept perishable items, or they get those items from another source around the holidays (like cash donations or turkeys purchased by a corporate donor), but nearly all food pantries can accept donations of seasonal items like shelf-stable stuffing, canned cranberry sauce, and canned sweet potatoes. These seasonal items can help make the holidays a little brighter, even if your food pantry doesn’t accept other perishable donations.
Forget Ramen Sodium-laden foods like ramen are often over-supplied at food pantries, and for the same price you can get a box of ramen, you could get a box or bag of rice, which has less sodium and will provide more meals. Consider donating rice, beans, and pasta instead.
Top It! Often, food pantries will be able to provide actual food, but have no condiments to go along with it. Sometimes, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, salt, pepper, honey, jelly, and salad dressing can make some ordinary cans and boxes into a much tastier meal. Consider using your 15 items to get condiments.
The Littlest Needs One of the most heartbreaking struggles is when a family with a young child worries about being able to meet their child’s needs. Food pantries are often short on formula, baby food, baby cereal, and special treats like teething biscuits. These are very important donations that can help provide both food and peace of mind for a worried mom.
Clean Up Your Act There is often an overlap between people who are getting food assistance and people who need additional assistance from local community resources in emergencies. But here’s the deal: their food needs may be met, but many of them are struggling to meet basic needs that food stamps don’t cover, like toiletries. Toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, and feminine hygiene products may be items that your local food pantry accepts (call in advance and ask), and, in a season of giving where many are buying canned goods, these items may be in shorter supply– donating them could make a huge difference to someone who doesn’t have them.
The bottom line is one product a week for 15 weeks, 15 non-perishable items total, can make a huge difference. But it makes an even bigger difference when thousands of us nationwide band together to donate and put our efforts together to get something big accomplished, like feeding a whole lot of people. Think outside of the basic canned veggies (not that these are not also important donations), but find the many exciting things that you can donate that will help someone have a better day, a better start.
Finally, please don’t forget that food pantries sometimes get a rush of help at Christmas, but then are left struggling to meet needs during other times of the year. I want to personally challenge my readers and myself to get into the habit of picking up canned goods and donating them year-round. My challenge to you is to do the 15 can challenge, buy one item a week for 15 weeks, donate it… and then do it again immediately after, go for 15 more weeks of buying one extra item, setting it aside, and donating it. Make it a habit that you do in your every day life, and I promise, you’ll be making more of a difference than you realize.
And also, if you absolutely can’t participate in the 15 can challenge because you don’t remember to pick up a canned good each week, consider your average grocery bill, and donate money to a local food pantry. Many food pantries can use cash donations to purchase perishable items for families, so cash donations are often equally necessary to operation.
Will you be participating in the 15 can challenge? What items do you think are important to donate? Let me know in the comment below, and RSVP to the Facebook event here.