Most people want to feed the homeless out of the true kindness of their hearts. They would never do anything to hurt someone else. You will probably start by taking food off your own shelves and from your own refrigerator. Maybe some of your friends will offer food and, since they’re friends you’ll probably take it and be glad to get it. Your volunteers may have connections with bakeries, delis, grocery stores, etc. The thought of taking something delicious, filling and wonderful to your homeless friends can cloud your judgment.
When you reach the point where you can shop at a food bank they will probably require you to take a “Safe Food Handling” class. Believe me, after you attend this class your days of taking food from unknown sources will be over if you have any common sense at all. Even if your compassion gene doesn’t kick in, because you don’t want anyone getting sick on your watch, your reluctance to get sued surely will.
Be very, very careful with any food you haven’t personally shopped for or prepared yourself if it is perishable. Hot food has to stay hot and cold food has to stay cold. If they don’t stay within required temperature ranges, botulism and other nasty things can occur. Remember, your clients don’t have the medical, financial and transportation resources you do. A trip to the doctor is not a simple thing for them.
As well-meaning as potential food donors may be, this is where you need to be the “leader” and be prepared to disappoint people by saying, “No!” because even the most well-meaning people can have the attitude, “It’s good enough for the homeless”.
It’s your job to keep your clients safe and if it means offending a friend or unknown donor source, then you have to. Explain your position, don’t apologize. If the friend/donor doesn’t agree or understand, you may have dodged a more lethal bullet than you know.
Non-perishable food items such as boxed or canned goods are a bit safer to accept, but always check the expiration dates and check with your local food bank for the procedures they use to determine when something is truly past being distributed.
If the item in question is for a baby or toddler, throw it away if it’s a day past the expiration date. Do not take chances with someone’s precious child. You’ll never forgive yourself if something happens.