There are a few things in life that make me go from doing great to lump in my throat, tears in my eyes status in zero to 60. One is seeing someone at a restaurant eating by themselves. I honestly don’t know why that scenario bothers me so deeply, because the thought of going to a restaurant by myself and ordering whatever I want to eat while reading a book or enjoying the solitude seems dreamy. But I hate the thought of someone feeling lonely, so my thoughts always go towards inviting them to sit with us and evaluating the odds of my kids not using bathroom humor.
The other thing that gets me is the thought of people, particularly children, having nothing to eat. Food has always been an important part of hospitality to me. Sharing a meal, simple as it may be, with others around a table is so deeply meaningful. So when I think about people struggling to have their needs met, and knowing I have more than an abundance, it impacts me greatly.
Food insecurity is a very real problem, even in the abundance of American living. It’s not just a third world country issue. It’s something that affects families and kids who live down the street from you or go to your kids’ school. This time of year as the holidays approach can be extra difficult for those struggling with food insecurity. Many kids receive meals through their school, but as the holidays come and bring time off from school, that meal stability can be lost.
Many school districts offer backpack programs. These programs help kids without a stable meal supply by sending home non-perishable foods in a backpack for the weekends. There are food pantries in almost every city, and many schools, churches, and organizations host food drives. Donating to these types of programs and ministries can be absolutely life-changing to those in need. Not to mention the way your own life will experience blessing when you give!
One way that I’ve found to stretch my own family’s grocery budget is to shop at a local grocery outlet. I find products I would buy at a regular grocery store for half to 1/3 of the normal cost. I’m talking name brand, Box-Top awarding products that my family regularly eats. I also am able to find gluten-free products, many organic options, and an abundance of food my family can eat even with having several artificial coloring and preservative sensitivities! In fact, most of the time when I hit up our grocery outlet I come home with things I would never buy at the regular grocery, simply because of price.
Utilizing a grocery outlet is a fabulous way to stock up on non-perishable food that can then be donated at a moment’s notice when your child comes home with a flyer asking for contributions to a local food pantry. Or when your doctor’s office hosts a food drive to provide Thanksgiving or Christmas baskets to families in need. What an awesome opportunity to share in the spirit of giving and abundance!
A few tips for shopping at a grocery outlet…
- Remember you are not paying for a fancy looking store or a Starbucks in the corner. Most grocery outlets are bare bones. You can expect them to be clean and well-organized, but not fussy.
- Look at the dates on the food you are considering buying. Many times grocery outlets do receive past-date items. It’s totally okay to acknowledge if that freaks you out a little bit! My rule is to not buy anything more than a couple weeks past date. It also has to be something we will use up quickly (like cereal or crackers) or that I will pass along quickly if the expiration date has passed.
- A lot of grocery outlet products come into the store because a larger chain store has rejected them. Often it is simply because a case or can has been damaged in some way. A corner on a box may have been crushed in transport. Some cans may have been dented in loading. These defects rarely, if ever, affect the quality of the food inside. They just don’t look as pretty on the shelf!
- Be open minded, but also know what your family will or will not eat. It’s easy to snatch up 5 boxes of Organic cereal at $.99 only to realize your kids won’t touch the stuff. Don’t waste your money even for a good deal. Look for products that are the same or very similar to what you would normally buy.
- Last, be picky about perishable foods. Many are past date, and particularly meat, is then frozen to maintain quality. I’m not telling you to avoid it all together because I’ve had some success with finding in-date products that I know we will eat up quickly. But do use caution.
Putting together a basket of food to donate is such a practical, and simple, way to give this holiday season. Plan a trip to your local grocery outlet and see what bargains you can stock up on! As the holidays approach and bring so much sweet time with our families and kids, take a few minutes and consider how your family can be an encouragement and blessing this year. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own responsibilities and desires…baking, shopping, all of it…but when we take those precious minutes in our day to impact another’s life in a way that is meaningful and personal we may never know the full impact of that kindness!
What are some of your favorite ways to spread joy and share in giving to others over the Thanksgiving and Christmas season?