How to Start a Clothes Closet & Food Bank

How to Start a Clothes Closet & Food Bank
••• soup ladle image by Mat Hayward from

Providing basic human needs, such as food and clothes, to less fortunate members of the community is the primary goal of many charitable organizations. These items are usually donated by individuals and companies who support your mission of charity. However, to be officially recognized as a charitable organization, there are some steps that your organization must first complete.

Apply for an EIN (Employer ID Number). An EIN, also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number, is used by the IRS to identify a business entity and/or charitable organization. This application is available free on the IRS website.

Apply for a 501(c)(3). This tax code is for recognition by the IRS for tax-exempt status, which allows you and your donors to write off your contributions to the charitable organization to receive a tax rebate. Use Form 1023 and the instructions for completing and submitting the application found on

Find a location. The guidelines for facilities and storage requirements vary from state to state and also depend on the designation of the organization (e.g., church or community outreach). Also, many agencies and services, such as nonprofit food warehouses, may require goods be stored in specific ways and at specific temperatures. For instance, many agencies require that food not be stored too close to the ground or too close to the ceiling. Contact your local public health department and other appropriate agencies for information about proper food and clothing storage.

Ask for donations. Develop a plan for collecting the food and clothes that will stock your clothes closet and food bank. Many of your items can be collected via donations from private citizens, businesses or organizations. You can also host food and/or clothing drives and collect cash donations. Many cities have nonprofit or state-funded food warehouse that allow 501(c)(3) organizations to purchase food in bulk at a significant discount. However, many of these warehouses require an annual fee.

Distribute food and clothes. Many states prohibit food banks and clothes closets from selling their goods; therefore, you must figure out the best way for your organization to give away your food and clothes. For example, some organizations require the recipients to fill out forms and provide legal documentation (e.g., Social Security card) concerning basic information for every family member before allowing access to the clothes closet and/or food bank. However, other agencies don’t require anything. Also, some agencies only allow recipients to receive goods once every few months, while other organizations work strictly on a first-come-first-served basis.