Having a stable diet is a basic human need. However, due to a financial crisis or other emergency, people sometimes find themselves struggling to meet this fundamental requirement. Church food pantries can be a very helpful local resource for individuals and families who are in need of food.
Directories for Church Pantries
Start your search for church food pantries by reviewing national databases that list assistance services. Databases that provide a connection to the local network of churches offering food pantries and other related services include:
The FoodPantries.org website has a directory of food banks available nationwide and offers information on non-profit organizations that are fighting hunger. The majority of the food pantries listed are run by local churches, including Baptist, Catholic and Methodist ministries (among others).
The site provides links to local food pantries and soup kitchens that are searchable by state and then city. There you will find such church pantry names as Daily Bread Ministry, Faith Works, Feed My Lambs and more. Each listing gives a website link with the pantry's address, phone number and hours.
Ample Harvest is a national resource with the mission to eliminate food waste, reduce hunger and improve the environment by donating an excess harvest from gardeners to local food pantries. Ample Harvest partners with the National Council of Churches and has almost 8,000 food pantries in its directory.
The robust website directory is helpful for finding the nearest food pantry by entering your zip code or address. Results are displayed via a mapping tool. Each location is identified by distance and provides a link to the church website for further information, such as hours, address, phone number and contact name.
St. Vincent De Paul Society
The St. Vincent De Paul Society was established in the U.S. in 1845 and is operated by the Catholic Church. It has the mission is to provide for all those in need. The organization provides church food pantries in a variety of communities, as well as thrift stores that provide clothing and a wide range of other services.
The society's website allows for a search by region and state to find links to local services. Alternately, you can contact the parish office of any Catholic church and ask the staff to help you find the nearest St. Vincent De Paul food pantry.
Explore Local Connections
Databases aren't the only option for finding local food pantries and not all options are affiliated with churches.
Other Ways to Find Church Pantries
Information on church food pantries can often be found in local newspapers and church bulletins. Neighborhood social centers, libraries, senior groups and schools can also often provide information on area church-based food distribution services. In general, search for large churches that are more organized and well-supported for a consistent food pantry supply with frequent distribution days.
Additional Food Pantry Options
There may be non-church groups in your area that offer pantry services.
- The United Way has a 'No Kid Hungry' program. Through this program, the organization partners with a number of non-profit organizations to help ensure that needy children have access to food.
- There are also government food programs to explore. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) of the United States Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service is one example.
- There are also resources for families, such as summer meals programs that offer meals for children and teens under age 18 when school is out of session.
Qualifying for Assisstance
Churches with food pantries typically do not turn those away who are not members of their congregation. Instead, they tend to welcome everyone who is in need of help feeding their families. Some food pantries are run on a first come, first served basis, so it is helpful to find out the days and hours of the distribution schedule. Other food pantries may set up a lottery system to distribute the food.
Many food pantries have eligibility criteria. Some food pantries may require families to fill out income verification forms, providing details such as household size, monthly net or gross income and a proof of address. It is not unusual for pantries to use income guidelines similar to those used to qualify for food stamps or other government assistance.
Types of Food to Expect
Food pantries typically stock dry and non-perishable food items. Available items may vary based on the pantry's storage area and if there are facilities for refrigeration. Fresh items such as produce and bakery goods are sometimes available. Some food pantries offer special needs items, such as infant formula and diapers or diabetic food items. Some even provide pet food, paper products and hygiene items. In some cases, pantries may issue a grocery gift card to help recipients purchase necessary items not available from the pantry.
Churches that run food pantries may offer additional assistance to people in need. Some offer hot meals, such as a soup kitchen, on designated days. Often, someone is on hand to help with a spiritual crisis. Other services that may be offered include:
- Support groups for unemployed individuals, veterans, or people with disabilities
- Career or job counseling
- Shelter information for temporary housing
- Public assistance guidance, including help completing forms to qualify for food stamps, rental assistance or utility bills
Ways to Help
Food pantries are always looking for food and cash donations as well as volunteers. If your budget does not allow for giving monetary assistance, consider offering your time to help organize the pantry or fill bags. This may only require a brief commitment of time.