How to Start a Food Pantry

How to Start a Food Pantry
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When the economy dips, unemployment rises. Workers who previously supported their families with ease and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle find that their new unemployed status brings financial stresses and worries. Money woes in the family can have a disasterous effect on the family's food budget. In addition to food stamps and other governmental support, many families find themselves relying on food pantries to provide them with the needed food to get through the week. Starting a food pantry in a new area provides tremendous service to people who find themselves struggling to put food on their tables.

Collect information about existing food pantries in the selected area. Start a food pantry in an area where no food pantry exists or where a pantry runs only part-time. The local Department of Human Services/Human Resources (DSS) can provide a list of operating food pantries in the area. Check the website to pinpoint operating food pantries in the selected area. Visit the operating food pantries to consult with them about what they see as the area's needs. Existing food pantries often find themselves overwhelmed and will welcome the additional services of a new food pantry, especially one that can provide supplemental services.

Contact the state Department of Agriculture to ascertain which State office administers the State's Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). The TEFAP acts as the intermediary between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Support program and food pantries and food banks that distribute the food to the community. Once registered with the local state program, the food pantry may acquire USDA supplies for distribution.

Locate a site to establish the food pantry. The site must comply with the state Department of Agriculture guidelines for distributing TEFAP supplies as well as all municipal food storage/handling regulations, health codes and fire safety standards. Research state health codes regarding food distribution from the State Department of Health. Obtain municipal regulations and restrictions, including fire codes, from the local municipality or county clerk.

Insure a good refrigeration system for foods that need refrigeration.

Obtain zoning approval for operating a food pantry from the local zoning commission. The zoning commission works with the municipality or county clerk's office.

Obtain funding to operate the food pantry. Rent, utilities and staffing involve expenses. Fundraise within the local schools, churches or community centers and clubs (the Kwanis Club or Rotary Club assist community projects like local food pantries). Locate organizations or foundations which allocate grant monies to food pantries and write grant proposals to them. gives grants to food assistance programs. lists foundations -- look at their list to find foundations that give grants to food pantries.

Look for additional food sources for the food pantry to distribute. Approach events halls to ask if they will donate uneaten food to the food pantry for distribution (if so, the food pantry must insure that the food will be picked up immediately after the event, usually in the wee hours of the morning, and immediately refrigerated until distribution). Speak to local supermarket managers and restaurants about receiving their leftovers and unsold food. Obtain USDA Emergency Food Assistance supplies for distribution through the state's TEFAP program.

Announce the food pantry's operation in the community. Place fliers in schools, clinics, hospitals churches and community centers. Contact local religious and community leaders to alert them to the existance of the food pantry.

Set up guidelines for food distribution at the food pantry. Some food pantries demand to see proof of need before allowing clients to take food from the food pantry while others hand out the food to anyone who expresses a need. Establish the guidelines under which the food pantry will operate.