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What is a Food Pantry?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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A community food pantry is a service that provides food to people in need. It’s run by a nonprofit organization such as a church group. These facilities receive, buy, store and distribute food. A food pantry must follow local, state and federal laws that relate to all aspects of food safety. Many such facilities in the United States apply for and receive 501(C)3 nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The IRS defines a nonprofit group as one that raises funds for charitable reasons without its directors and stockholders gaining any private income. Organizations with 501(C)3 status are tax exempt. They must use all of their earned income toward achieving their charity's goals. Many organizations that operate a food pantry also offer other services to low-income persons such as providing free clothing and job skills training.

Low-income persons who need help providing food for themselves or their families may be referred to a food pantry by another community agency such as a food bank. A food bank is a hunger relief agency that gives food to distributing organizations such as food pantries. They usually must become an agency member of a food bank before receiving any donations of food. The pantry must have adequate freezers, refrigerators and shelving to store food. The location that the pantries use for food storage must be clean and sanitary.

A food pantry often relies on grants. Grants are financial awards that don't have to be paid back. They are given to nonprofits for authorized purposes by organizations that support charities. Seed money refers to grants that are given to help start a charitable project or group.

A general operations grant can be used for anything that directly supports the charity's operations such as office supplies and wages. A general operations grant may be called an operating support grant. Restricted grants are a type of grant that can only be used for a specified purpose such as toward a special project that a charity such as a food pantry is organizing.

Charities must apply for grants in writing. Grant writing in order to fund a food pantry's hunger relief efforts may be done by the person in charge of the pantry. The person in charge must make sure that records of received and distributed food are kept. The recipients of food from pantries may be required to sign for the food since they are often qualified by their income level.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon352019 — On Oct 18, 2013

I run a food pantry and sadly, what we get the most of are those items at the back of the cabinet that people decide they don't want anymore. There's always a surplus of green beans and, yes sorry to say Ubiquitous, canned artichokes. The basics are always needed. Especially when children are involved.

Kids don't always understand that their parents are struggling and it's stressful for parents to have to force their kids to eat something foreign to their diets. People get excited over things like rice, instant mashed potatoes, evaporated milk (taste is better than powdered), tuna fish and spaghetti sauce. Most of the time I only have pasta because it's so cheap. A 20 pound bag of rice and a few freezer bags go a long way in bringing variety to at least five or six families.

By fitness234 — On Oct 21, 2010

From time to time my family goes through some very hard parts. Because my husband is a seasonal worker and labor we have to go with the fluctuations in the labor market in order to find proper nutrition for our children. Because of the struggle that we go through, we will often visit the local food pantry in an effort to fill our pantry backed up with the necessities to feed our children. I am so thankful for people when they make a food pantry donations. These donations are what feed my children we are in time of need.

Without the generosity of so many people in our community I fear that my children would go hungry on some nights. Even if the can of beans and tortillas means that we get to enjoy Doritos, these simple food pantry donations significantly increase our quality of life. I look forward to the day when our family becomes more affluent and is capable of donating directly back to the same food banks that we borrowed from period these food pantry concepts are what makes America America and without them we would not have the same generous spirits that we founded this country upon.

By Ubiquitous — On Oct 21, 2010

whenever I donate to a food pantry I always try and find a unique and exotic items. So many people donate: in a can or other canned goods that are very plain and boring. While these boring items may be the essentials that families need to subsist on the given food, I think it is fun for family to discover a can of something different in their bag. Imagine being a needy family and you open up a can of artichoke hearts.

Other different types of canned good foods can be excellent to give to families. Things like pie filling and other unlikely items defined in the food bank are the kind of things that families will see as a treasure inside of their food donation. It would be very simple for you to spend an extra dollar or two during your grocery store trip to provide to these needy families and get something exciting that the kids can smile about when they see their parents pull it out of the donated food bag.

By ronburg44 — On Oct 21, 2010

Our local elementary schools always hold fundraisers for the food banks in our area. During these drives, parents are encouraged to send their students with canned goods and other dry boxed goods that can be donated to these food pantries. Only when the generosity of the community comes out through these elementary school food drives to the food pantries restock their shelves and continue to provide food to needy.

With such an essential service being provided to the poor in our community, it makes sense that the elementary schools would look to parents of the students to provide this food. Pairings are very susceptible to such calls for generosity because they understand what it means to feed their children. The thought of not being able to feed your child a full bill is a very daunting one and can be averted by the cooperation of elementary schools and food pantries across the nation. Together these two types of organizations can significantly reduce the starving rates here in America and around the world.

By thumbtack — On Oct 21, 2010

I always thought of a food pantry as the cabinet in my kitchen where I could grab food and never considered the fact that it is also another term for a food bank. These community food pantry's our a way that the community can help feed needy. What an incredible concept and I hope that if you have extra time or energy and even extra food you can donate to your local community food pantry.

Often emergency food pantries are available to people who come into a pinch. The only problem with food pantries is that they are very needy in food donations, and if the community is not willing to support the food pantry they will struggle to give food to the needy in their area. Food pantry needs typically include lots and lots of dried goods as well as kids that can stay for a long time. Despite this need for canned foods and dry boxed goods, food pantries also need perishable items and items that are essential to proper nutrition for poor families.

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