Thanksgiving

Where to Donate Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

Here's how those with leftovers can help those in need this season.

Big Thanksgiving meals with family and friends means leftovers (as evidenced by examples G, O, B, B, L, and E).

But in a season where a lot of us are surrounded by so much, it's important to remember those who aren't as fortunate. In 2020, an estimated 40 million Americans lived in food insecure households. Food insecurity, while a slightly ambiguous term, generally refers to to limited access to adequate amounts of nutritious food due to financial constraints.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

To help, instead of having a pantry full to the brim with cans of pumpkin well into the summer, consider donating your Thanksgiving leftovers. Here are some suggestions:

  • Try donating leftover Thanksgiving ingredients to your local food pantry. You can find a food pantry near you here. We recommend calling your nearest location ahead of time to inquire if there are items that would be especially welcome, like peanut butter, canned vegetables and soups, boxed macaroni and cheese, whole grain pasta, brown rice, and other shelf-stable ingredients for those who may not have reliable access to refrigerators.
  • Call your local food bank to see what their policies are about donating cooked food—some are happy to receive leftovers the day after they're prepared to ensure the longest possible shelf life, and others will only accept perishables like fresh produce, uncooked proteins, as well as shelf-stable items (see above). Here's where you can find one closest to you, searching by state or zip code.
  • Housing shelters and other non-profit charities may accept food donations. Here's a good non-profit directory. You can also use this interactive map to find shelters and service organizations in your state. Again, it's always a good idea to contact the organization ahead of time to see what their donation policies are, as well as to inquire how you can best help out.
  • Some restaurants donate their leftover food every night at the end of service. Contact your local restaurants and, if they do donate their leftovers, see if you can add yours to their nightly donation. You can even make this a regular practice if you entertain often and find yourself with extra food.
  • Pack them to go. If all else fails, use clean takeout containers to pack individual meals, and place the containers in a sturdy paper bag. Label the bag "Thanksgiving meals," add the date, and leave it where someone in need might find it.

By donating your Thanksgiving leftovers (or rehoming them, as we like to say), you can reduce food waste, help out neighbors struggling with food insecurity, and inspire family and friends to follow your lead by being a knowledgable resource for others looking to make the most of their holiday meals.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Instead, why not consider planning a meal such that you do not produce huge amounts of leftovers, and perhaps donating the money you would have spent to a pantry or shelter? If you want to help feed people, join one of the organizations that are already doing this and provide your support. ”
— Oranges
Comment

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4 Comments

Ro November 11, 2021
You can also invite friends the day after, especially friends in need. Or maybe you actually know someone personally who could use that food.
 
rox L. November 10, 2021
The biggest bang for a buck is to donate money to the food bank or shelter. Their buying power is greater when buying bulk.
 
Oranges November 2, 2021
Food pantries are very unlikely to accept any cooked food, let alone home-cooked food, and for good reason. They cannot guarantee the safety of these items. You should definitely NOT sneak food in through the rare approved restaurant or bakery, this completely circumvents safeguards they have put in place for their clients and puts public health at risk.
Leaving food outside "where people might find it" is also a horrible idea. Whether or not you date it, you can't guarantee safe storage temperatures, and it is making a LOT of assumptions about people with food insecurity that I can't even begin to address... Just think about it, would you pick up a random bag of food off a bench and eat it? Why should they?
Instead, why not consider planning a meal such that you do not produce huge amounts of leftovers, and perhaps donating the money you would have spent to a pantry or shelter? If you want to help feed people, join one of the organizations that are already doing this and provide your support.
 
j7n October 26, 2021
Shelf stable items, pasta, rice, canned peanut butter are not leftovers and don't need to be immediately disposed of after a celebration.