How to Create a Food Pantry

If you long to do more than write a check to feed the hungry and believe it's more important to care for community members than the world, you're the ideal person to launch a food pantry serving families in your area. Organizational skills will serve you well--in addition to the generous neighbors to whom you'll turn to help feed those who can't do it on their own.

Things You'll Need

  • Building
  • Racking system
  • Food
  • Boxes and bags


    • 1

      Read about America's food banking pioneer: the late John van Hengel, whose idea to feed the hungry (link below) started the revolution known as Second Harvest, currently running 94,000 soup kitchens, food pantries and emergency food assistance plans. Solicit start-up funds to underwrite the launch of your pantry by seeking cash and food donations from churches, businesses and consumers.

    • 2

      Find a building to headquarter your pantry if a church, community or charitable organization hasn't offered you space. Appeal to skilled tradespeople and home improvement stores for labor and materials required to build a sorting, storage and distribution racking system. Conduct a needs assessment inquiry to make sure there aren't already adequate numbers of food banks so you don't duplicate efforts.

    • 3

      Seek volunteers via churches and social organizations. Hang flyers and posters in public places. Assign volunteers to specific jobs: record-keeping, sorting, stacking, boxing, quality control and donations.

    • 4

      Contact your area legal aid society for help obtaining the 501(c)3 charitable tax status that will permit you to accept donations. Start a dialog with residents, grocers, food purveyors, restaurants, banquet halls and facilities likely to have surplus foodstuffs. Find additional resources by contacting your state's Department of Agriculture or the USDA.

    • 5

      Establish a list of nonperishable foods sought by families: canned vegetables and fruit, cereals, instant rice and potato products, pastas and boxed entrees, crackers, soups, canned fish and meats, juice--and don't forget jarred baby food and formula. Advise volunteers that donations of perishables can't be accepted unless you have access to refrigeration facilities.

    • 6

      Organize donations by category for fast shelving and retrieval. Obtain health department guidelines on the storage and handling of food to avoid pest infestations. Draft policies and guidelines on how donated food is to be distributed---delivery, pickup or both---and establish a verification method, if any, to ascertain family need (e.g., welfare card, letter of referral). Solicit donations of boxes, bags and other items needed to keep the facility running.

    • 7

      Submit grant proposals to obtain funds that will allow you to expand your pantry's reach. Gather documentation to support your grant appeals--goals, objectives, statistics on the number of people you're feeding and plans for fund raising as grantors tend to be favorably disposed to food banks following the philosophy "the Lord helps those who help themselves."

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