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Originally posted on November 28, 2012 at 12:30 PM

I work quite a bit with low-income folks and am approached fairly often to help fund raise or collect food/hygiene items for charities such as the Salvation Army. Last year I spearheaded a mid-winter food drive, presenting it as a contest between various departments of my agency. Scoring was kept according to numbers of items brought in and cash rated as $1 = one item. I was dismayed to find that the winning department had scored higher than the rest largely because they submitted bottled water and packets of Ramen noodles scoring each bottle and packet as an item.

This year the director of our local Salvation Army post asked me if I’d have a food drive for them again but he asked me “please no Ramen, those folks are Ramened to death!” and he said what folks really needed was canned or packaged food which they could turn into a meal with minimal preparation such as the addition of hot tap water or perhaps heating of a can, but something containing nutrition. I thought about it and decided that the best way I could come up with to illuminate the empty calories and in some cases zero calories would be to rate contributions on Protein content. Protein isn’t the entire story where nutrition is concerned of course but most generally, foods with significant protein content will also include carbs and fats necessary for keeping warm and active during this Winter season.

This year’s food drive therefore is being scored in terms of grams of protein contained in a can or package. This is calculated by multiplying the number of servings, in a can of chili for instance, by the number of grams protein per serving. This total is marked on the container for easier tallying by contest helpers. I’ve provided a list of commodities which would be good protein sources such as canned stew, tuna, certain soups, granola, dry sausage sticks, canned chicken, sea foods, spaghetti with meat balls and so it goes.

I offer this as a new an improved way of collecting food for the needy. Let your potential contributors know that you don’t expect as many cans as sometimes are collected in previous drives but ask them to give some thought to what they’d like to have in the glove compartment if trapped on a mountain pass in mid-winter. Also Salvation Army and other helping agencies love to get can openers. We’ve had folks arrested in my town for using belt knives too publicly in preparing donated meals. (Let those of us who are able to eat well help some others to eat better.)