Doing Good While Cleaning for Passover

Canned food including preserves from fruit grown on the Blevins 's property is seen in a pantry December 5, 2012 in Berryvill
Canned food including preserves from fruit grown on the Blevins 's property is seen in a pantry December 5, 2012 in Berryville, Virginia. Jay Blevins and his wife Holly Blevins have been preparing with a group of others for a possible doomsday scenario where the group will have to be self sufficient due to catastrophe or civil unrest. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

The Jewish holiday of Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) occurs this year in late-March. During the eight days of the holiday, we remember the iblical Exodus from slavery in Egypt, have long, drawn-out storytelling dinners, and try not to count the hours until we can stop eating lots and lots of matzah (unleavened bread with the consistency of cardboard, eaten in remembrance of the unleavened bread consumed during the Exodus from Egypt) and make our glorious return to pizza, ciabatta and panini.

To prepare for Passover, we clean our homes to get rid of our leavened foods. Jewish law dictates that we neither eat nor own anything leavened during the holiday, requiring us to remove from our homes all traces of foods not kosher for Passover. We are even specifically commanded to search our homes for leavened foods to ensure that none is left unnoticed. Finally, for any leavened foods that we prefer to quarantine, out of sight and out of mind for the entire holiday, we engage in a ceremonial sale of the food to a non-Jew; and thus avoid discarding some leavened food by technically not owning it. Still, it is common to throw out large volumes of non-Passover food in preparation for the holiday.

Throw out food? Really?

Yes. Unfortunately, too many families throw out most or all of their leavened food rather than doing something constructive with it -- by either giving it to a local food pantry or giving it directly to someone in need.

Especially with the recent significant cuts to government funding for faith-based food pantries and other hunger-fighting programs, these vital services need any assistance that can be offered. While donations of money can be used more efficiently, donated food (especially if sealed) is often appreciated. Additionally, many homeless shelters will accept open spices, offering a prompt to buy fresh each year. And, of course, food that an organization cannot accept will still be valuable for direct donation to a hungry individual.

Too often in today's world, our willingness to give to those in need is inhibited by reluctance to part with items of financial value. Passover thus presents a special opportunity to give. The food is already paid for and has been deemed of no further use by its owners. Giving it away doesn't impose any cost upon the giver: it's an expense-free but valuable gift. What could be better than doing good at no additional cost?

(For those who would also like to donate money, you can donate to your local food pantry, or fulfill the Jewish law to help other Jews who cannot afford Passover preparations to buy matzah; most synagogues will spend your tax-deductible donation accordingly.)

So before you start emptying your cupboards and fridge directly into a garbage bag, consider the people who search through garbage bags like yours every day in search of scraps to ward off hunger. Acknowledge their hunger and your cost-free ability to help. Why would anyone then choose to throw out food which could help sustain a person in need?