Want to help but not ready to start a food pantry?

April 29th, 2013 at 3:37 pm

When a church recognizes that there is a great need for hunger relief in their local community, often their first reaction is that they think they need to start their own food pantry.  However, many churches are not able to take on such a long term, time-consuming, and volunteer-dependent ministry. It is not that they don’t want to—they just are not able to. So what can a church do in such a situation? There’s much the church can do. One great way is to find a food pantry that is already serving your local community and consider the following ways you can provide support and assistance there. Find a local food pantry. Once there, click on your region to find information about that food bank’s partner agencies and discover which ones serve your community.

Examples of how churches minister to their communities without having their own food pantries:

  •  Some churches have a permanent collection table in the church where church members can see a list of the food pantry’s most-needed items and then drop off those items any time they are at church.  Even though the pantry may get most of its food from a regional food bank, there are a few much-needed items that they cannot always get there, so filling in with specific donated food items is a critical need. A volunteer from the church keeps in touch with the local food pantry and keeps other church members informed of immediate needs. Then a volunteer gathers the food donated at the church and drops the items off at the food pantry. At special times during the year, such as Thanksgiving, the church can set goals to gather food needed by the pantry. Church members can include stickers on each donated can or a note with an invitation to the church or a special event of some kind and/or a scripture.
  • Church members often volunteer at their local food pantry. They help with paperwork and escort clients up and down aisles, helping them collect their allotted food amounts.  They sack up the food and help carry it out to the client’s car. Volunteers might also stock shelves, sort donated items, etc.  Most food pantries are heavily dependent on volunteers.
  •  Members of the church might volunteer to serve on the food pantry’s board, so they are deeply involved in seeing that the pantry is operating effectively and efficiently and getting the support it needs.
  • The church might include the food pantry in its yearly missions budget, which is a great help to the pantry, as this provides a reliable source of funds to go along with the ups and downs of having one-time donations from individuals. Of course, some church members will also donate individually beyond that as well.
  •  Throughout the year church groups such as a youth group, a family, or a Bible Study class go together one of the 19 Food Banks across Texas.  At the North Texas Food Bank, for example,   volunteers can donate each volunteer hour to a local food pantry of their choice.  When they do so, each hour credits that designated food pantry with $1.80 toward the purchase of food the next time they come.
  • In one community in North Texas a group of men and women from local churches gather early in the morning every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the local WalMart, loading donated canned foods, fresh produce, etc., into their pickups and a trailer and delivering those items to their local food pantry.  This donation is possible because of an agreement between WalMart and the North Texas Food Bank that allows NTFB-affiliated food pantries to accept these donations. Other regional food banks often have similar arrangements. The donated food is free, but getting the sometimes thousands of pounds of food from the business donating the food to the food pantry would be a serious problem if churches and others did not step up and volunteer to handle the transfer.  Arrangements like this are common across the state.  Food pantries often need help with the transportation of donated food, and churches can check with their local food pantries to see what transportation needs they might have.
  •  Some church members also donate funds directly to their regional food bank, knowing that the food bank can purchase food at much, much less cost than individuals can.  For example, the North Texas Food Bank has announced that every dollar donated to them provides three nutritious meals to a person in need. A great way churches can make a huge difference to hungry children is to help their families sign up for a government benefit program called SNAP that can provide them with money specifically for paying for groceries.  Through the new Community Partner Program, church staff and volunteers can connect struggling families with a new online benefits enrollment system.  With just an hour or two of assistance from a church volunteer, a struggling family can use that system to get the resources they need to put food on their table for months.  To find out how your church can become a Community Partner, contact Linda Wear at

Do you know of another way a church can minister to the food insecure people in your community?  If so, please share that with us. Send information to:

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