Congregational, faith, and community based organizations
desiring to provide outreach services through food pantry projects may choose to
proceed from one of two perspectives: initiating a new food pantry service or
supporting an existing one. Key to the decision is the organizationís ability
to foster and sustain the necessary financial and volunteer resources. Note:
References are to the USA, but the principles expressed could be applicable in
many cultural settings.
When starting a new food pantry, forethought and planning are
extremely important for a sustainable project. Such planning should include, but
not be limited to, the following considerations:
- What people are interested and committed to the project for the long
- Who is qualified and willing to serve as the authorized
decision-maker and legal signee of documents?
- Who will keep the records accurately and what records will be required?
- Be realistic. How many people are needed to maintain program continuity?
- If a grant is needed for start-up costs, who can write the grant and
what is required in the grant documentation?
Food Access and Distribution:
Is there a need for a food pantry in your local community? Explore services
that already exist to determine the level of assistance being provided by other
organizations and if there is a gap in services that your group might fill.
What distribution agency is available from which food can be purchased? Consider
the distance to an agency and whether mileage is prohibitive in starting and
maintaining such a ministry over time.
- What are the requirements imposed by such a food distribution agency?
- What will be the cost of food per purchasing period? (In most cases,
food is purchased weekly.)
- How will ongoing operational costs be covered?
- How will food be obtained and delivered to the church facility for
- How will storage and preservation of food be handled? Investigate state
and local laws regulating food handling and storage.
- How and when will food be dispersed to people? It is important
to track distribution and become familiar with the demographics that
determine eligibility and frequency of distribution allowed to recipients.
There should be a Food Bank (Manna, Second Harvest, World Relief, or some
other organization) that receives, sorts, and warehouses donated food items
within the local area. Food bank organizations obtain food items from
supermarkets, wholesale warehouses, farm cooperatives, etc. These items may be
surplus from harvesting, damaged containers, items nearing expired shelf
life, and so on. In large metropolitan communities, there may be a USDA outlet
or brokerage organization for USDA that handles commodity food items for which food
pantries may qualify to receive meats and canned goods.
It is important to contact one or more of those agencies mentioned above to determine
the requirements and cost to become an agency member of the food bank, and establish the cost to purchase food items. Some food banks charge a
yearly fee to maintain membership and charge for food items purchased
from them. All of those agencies require a letter or statement indicating the
church or start-up group has Internal Revenue Service 501 c3 status. Typically,
an onsite inspection of the purchasing organizationís storage and food
preservation capability is conducted and continues on an annual basis.
In order to receive perishable and frozen foods, refrigerators and
freezers must be in place. The number of such depends on the quantity of
frozen or refrigerated foods purchased routinely. As an example, if a group
qualifies for USDA monthly commodities, the meats obtained are frozen and
usually weigh several hundred pounds. Of course, the amount of food obtained
depends on the number of families/people regularly receiving food. Shelving
for proper storage of canned and dry foods allows food items to be stored in an
orderly fashion. The premise must remain free of insects and rodents.
Boxing or bagging the food for distribution requires a good working area.
Again, the level of effort is dependent upon the number of families/people
receiving help. To facilitate the process, heavy items are put in the box
first and damageable items last. It is helpful if there are several people to
fill the boxes. After the boxes are prepared, place in the storage area until
pick-up. Perishable items are not put into the boxes until people actually
arrive to pick up the food items.
An organization distributing food to the needy cannot impose requirements of
religious involvement or attendance to receive food. Only those qualifications
imposed by federal, state, or local agencies determine who can or cannot receive
food. The distributing group can set the day, time, and place for food to be
Good record keeping, accurate and up-to-date, is a must. USDA and
other food bank agencies require certain records to be maintained. Typically,
the agency provides guidelines as to what income level qualifies a family/person
to receive food. Signed qualification documents are required from the families/people
receiving food, which must be kept on file for the
distribution agency to review, if they so choose.
II. Develop a Relationship with an Existing Food Pantry