Y  ou almost certainly have read notices in The York Dispatch -- especially at this time of the year -- where some group, club or organization is having a fundraiser for the benefit of those who must depend on the generosity of others for something to eat.

Maybe it's a social club dance, basket bingo or a concert, the price of admission being a couple of cans of fruit or vegetables that will be donated to one of the York area's many food pantries.

Consider this from last Thursday's newspaper: "Creative card party (last weekend) ... Donation: $5 to benefit Zion Church's Mission Fund or bring five food items for Zion's Food Pantry."

You get the idea. Food pantries throughout York County need tons of food leading up to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, and this is just one way they get it.

So people dig into the back of their cupboards and pull out a half-dozen cans of a vegetable or fruit they bought at the grocery store about six months ago, but never used because no one living in their home would be caught dead eating it.

I'm talking about the canned rutabagas or turnips or artichokes or okra or mustard greens or endive or yucca or anything that sounded like a good idea when they bought them, but not so great anymore.

And that becomes their contribution to the cause of feeding the hungry and homeless of York County. Makes them feel all warm and gooey, too, thinking they did something nice for some less-fortunate soul. And they did.

Except for one small detail -- it's probably the least cost-efficient way of providing food pantries with the food they need to feed the poor and hungry.

Think about it for a minute -- how much sense does it make for the average shopper to go to the grocery store and pay full price for a few cans of this and a few cans of that, and then later gift those same cans of this and that to a food pantry?

Not much.

It makes much more sense, and is more cost conscious, to purchase almost anything in bulk. That applies to food, too.

How does that happen? Well, it happens when we contribute money to the food pantries instead of canned goods. Because then, the pantries can take the lump sum of money and buy food at one-tenth of the cost of consumers paying retail.

So instead of one can of corn for $1, maybe the food pantry can purchase 10 cans of corn for $1. The purchasing power of buying in bulk would provide food pantries with twice the amount of food to work with.

Plus, with donated money, the food pantries can buy exactly what they know people will eat and want, which means less waste all around. It makes no sense to give people foodstuffs we know they're probably not going to eat even though it's free.

Don't believe that? Well, talk to Eileen Rodgers, manager of the Harvest of Hope Food Pantry, 4485 Wolf's Church Road, York.

"We'll accept cans," she said, "but cash would be preferred. It's hard to say 'no' to people when they're trying to be generous, so we never say 'no.' But the truth is we get two or three times more food when we buy it."

Same goes for Eleanore Eyster, food manager at the Dover Area Food Bank, 1832 Industrial Court, Dover. "It's definitely more economical if we have the money. At the same time, though, the local churches hold Harvest Homes where canned goods are collected, and the Dover Township held a Halloween Party for the local children where they could use canned goods to purchase a hot dog, so at this time of year, we receive a lot of canned goods. And it's always welcome."

So no one is turning away canned goods -- not even cans of rutabagas, beets, turnips, jicama and the like.

"We take the oddball items," Rodgers said, "and believe it or not, we'll eventually get rid of it. We have a room out front with all the odd stuff -- sauerkraut, for example, -- and let people take six cans at a time if they want it. So it does get used."

"Right now," she said, "our shelves are full. But that won't last long because in addition to the people who come here for food every week, we'll be trying to put together 300 or more food boxes for families to use at Thanksgiving. And we could certainly use cake mixes, Jell-O, frosting and canned sweet potatoes at this time."

"Six cases of canned sweet potatoes will be accepted with enthusiasm," Rodgers said. But the truth is, the money spent by the average consumer to purchase six cases of canned sweet potatoes, could magically be turned into 12 cases of sweet potatoes, if they donated the money to the food pantry and let them do the buying.

It's the economy of scale at work. Food pantries have access to food at a fraction of the price regular consumers must pay. So why not take advantage of that?

"Cans are accepted with a smile," Rodgers said, "but money is preferred."

If you think about it, it does make a lot of sense.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.