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Business Ideas: How to Start a Food Pantry Business



A food pantry gets food supplies and other types of donations for those who can’t afford them. From generous individuals to established corporations, there is no shortage of support for food pantries. Starting a food pantry involves some important steps and there are some key aspects that can influence the outcome of a food pantry; read further for all the details.

Why are food pantries important?

Food pantries play significant roles in building communities and enriching lives. They are a source of hope and help struggling people and families during harsh times. Some people completely depend on food pantries for their daily bread and the list is endless.

Food banks and other donors cannot get to the needy directly

While it is no more news that food banks house large quantities of food to be distributed to those who cannot afford it, they have many responsibilities that might not allow them to reach out to the needy. And if the needy had to go to food banks directly for food, it would also be difficult for food banks to attend to them while sorting other important things out. Likewise, it would be too much trouble for well-meaning donors to go around distributing food when they could just take them down to one location for mass distribution.

For these reasons, food pantries serve as the middleman to bridge the gap between food banks and those who need the food. A food pantry is a solution for both parties as they take from the banks to the target consumers. Some food pantries go as far as taking food supplies to the homes of some people in need who due to one reason or the other are unable to leave their homes or shelter.

It reduces the crime rate in the neighborhood

When people are hungry, they can do anything. People get aggressive and defensive when they have no food to eat and they have no idea where their next meal will come from or when. A starving neighborhood would see an increase in the rate of petty crimes and felonies. Extremely poor neighborhoods record numerous cases of breaking and entering and grocery stores get robbed often. The introduction of food pantries will lessen the rate of these crimes as more people will be fed. When people have little to worry about in the way of food, it helps them save money. There are cases where those caught in petty crimes say they only wanted to feed their families, and desperate people go from petty crimes to joining gangs. Some older citizens and those with health challenges who can no longer work to support themselves rely heavily on food pantries.

Where do food pantries get their food supplies?

Food pantries are focused on getting food to distribute to the needy which is the primary supply they aim to acquire. Food supplies will not fall on the laps of those at food pantries, they’d have to go out of their way to secure them. While these food supplies can come from various benevolent sources, some sets of persons or organizations top the list of food supply donors among other essential things. The primary sources of food provision are the following:

Food banks

The first place a food pantry organization goes in search of food is a food bank. Even though some people still find it difficult to differentiate between food banks and food pantries, they function differently but have a common goal- feeding the needy. Food banks set themselves up to be, as their name suggests, a bank that collects food in large quantities for those in need. Food pantries act as middlemen between food banks and those who need these free food items. Food pantries are one of the few trusted organizations that food banks give out their food items in large quantities for further distribution. Food banks are more funded, more recognized, and they have more capacity to give out food which is why they are the go-to place for donors to give out their foodstuff. Food banks have more sources of food donation than food pantries. The availability of food, coupled with the cordial relationship which can easily exist between food banks and food pantries makes food banks a primary source of getting foodstuff for the needy.

Donors from the food industry

Although donors who are businesses in the food industry usually support food banks more, they also help food pantries from time to time. These organizations range from supermarkets to food production sites; they all have reasons to sponsor food pantries. Canned foods are some of the “easy to get” foodstuffs due to the fact that any slight deformity a can of food suffers might see customers refuse to buy them. For this reason, supermarkets and grocery stores donate canned food to food pantries with ease. In some cases, when they order too much foodstuff or they have over-stocked their stores, they tend to have more than enough to give out. These kind donors include those who produce the food items; they also don’t find it difficult to give out some of their produce. Farms are a good example of these sorts of donors; they get meat and other dairy products to a food pantry for further distribution.

Well-meaning organizations

There are certain organizations that have been massive supporters of food pantries for a long time. In some cases, a small group of persons with a common goal comes together to assist food pantries in different ways- from volunteering to donating foodstuffs. These groups are sometimes a charity organization that focused on feeding women and children, while others are just a group of concerned citizens. Religious groups, especially churches, have been known to not only support food banks and food pantries but go as far as opening soup kitchens where homeless or struggling people can get a hot meal. In many neighborhoods, churches have helped food pantries (and still do) with all the support they need. Institutions like schools have also been huge supporters of food pantries, especially those that are heavily concerned with feeding children. Other firms, especially those in the vicinity of food pantries, also help with donations of different kinds which food help pantries cover many costs.

Generous individuals

Organizations and those in the food industry are not the only ones who donate food to food pantries; individuals and small groups also assist in many ways. Small groups of individuals, like families, dedicate themselves to help provide food for those who can barely afford it. Some families help volunteers and also give out some of their home equipment like tables and chairs to enable food pantries to focus their attention on getting food. In many cases, certain individuals load up their vehicles with food items and take them to food pantries. There are also influencers and activists who support food pantries by spreading the word on their exploits and soliciting support for them. Popular figures in different sectors are also lending their voices, which is helping food pantries get more support from organizations and companies.

What a food pantry needs to run smoothly

A food pantry needs all the help it can get. The support a food pantry needs ranges from material to human resources. Some of these include;

Food supplies

This is probably the most important need of every food pantry. Food pantries are all about providing food for those who can’t afford them which is why they encourage food donations. Without food to give, it’s pointless to have a food pantry. And since the demand for these food items is very high, the only way to ensure that they never run out id if they have support form external bodies to provide food. Food supplies can be canned or fresh, and with time, food pantries will have ways of making sure they have the capacity to store them so that they don’t go bad before they’re distributed. Also, food pantries will do well to check the food items to know which ones they can take and which ones they cannot based on different factors best known to them.


A food pantry’s job is never done. When a food pantry starts to make a difference is when their responsibilities begin to increase and without adequate support, they’ll never be able to continue. Apart from foodstuff, food pantries need other forms of donations. They’ll need to have a space to run the food pantry, some materials to store the food, and even pay some people for their work; these and more cost money. Food pantries also need cash donations to run smoothly. They would have to pay for rent, gasoline to travel to and from their sponsors, especially food banks, among other things. Also, every food pantry or soup kitchen would attest that although they appreciate food donations, cash donations go a long way in providing food for the needy. With a dollar cash donation, a soup kitchen can provide up to six meals, while a food pantry would purchase more foodstuff.


Opening a food pantry is a big deal and the demand for your services will only keep increasing. The influx of needy people will mean that more workers will be needed to attend to their needs. A food pantry depends on donations of different sorts and they hardly have enough to afford the rent and pay other bills; this lack of sufficient funds means they won’t be able to pay all the workers they need. In order to be ready for what’s to come, they have to recruit workers that won’t request to be paid. Volunteers are the heart and soul of most food pantries because they do so much while they seek nothing in return. Some volunteers come in group- friends, families, an organization- and they put in shifts to help run food pantries. Apart from manual labor, volunteers also support food pantries with donations of food, furniture, and cash.

Other important staff

Having volunteers is a huge relief for food pantries as it will help them save money and other resources but there are only so many volunteers can do.  Volunteers have their own responsibilities and jobs to go to, which means that a food pantry cannot totally depend on volunteers to run successfully. Also, there are some vital skills that a food pantry might need and none of their volunteers possess such skills. In cases like these, food pantries would have no choice but to hire skilled personnel for the position and pay them. Even if they did have some of those skilled persons they need in their ranks as volunteers, these volunteers would not always be available to do the job.

Vehicle for transport

Food and other essential materials will be needed by food pantries to function properly and in some cases, they have to go out and get them. There are days when people drive in and donate food items along with other essential equipment a food pantry needs, while some organizations would go to food pantries in-person to pledge their support. These acts of solidarity will not always happen and in rare cases, they could cease for a long period. When such occurs, food pantries would have to go out and solicit support. Also, food pantries compete with each other to get food supplies and they’d have to go fetch food at food banks. They’d need a transport vehicle to take them to and from where they go for assistance and such vehicles must be spacious enough to contain large quantities of food. Food pantries also use vehicles to distribute these goods throughout the neighborhood when it’s absolutely necessary.

What to consider before starting a food pantry

Before you start a food pantry, there are some aspects that you should consider. The success of your food pantry establishment will be determined by these factors:

Your capacity

There is nothing wrong with starting small. As long as it serves its purpose, food pantries both small and big food pantry establishments contribute immensely to the growth of the society. Start your food pantry based on what you have at your disposal. Consider how large a space you can afford to rent before making further plans. The capacity of your storehouse will determine how much food you can collect. Be sure to have enough space to contain the number of food items, shelves, and other essential equipment you need. Your budget is also important; you have to work within your budget to avoid setbacks. There will be some equipment you’d desire for your food pantry and you might not be able to acquire them. You must consider what you can afford before starting a food pantry.

In addition, your availability matters. Some food pantry founders and workers work elsewhere to make ends meet, which means that they would not always be available to operate a 24/7 food pantry. You must be sure of your availability and that of your workers, especially the volunteers. If you’ll be relying heavily on volunteers and you’ve built your food pantry around them, then you must be sure to create the opening and closing hours when they’re available.

Your food pantry style

Over the years, food pantries have developed ways of operating and satisfying those who go to them for food. Some of the methods they’ve adopted stemmed from their past experiences- mostly unpleasant- which they wouldn’t want to be repeated. At food pantries, people go in, see what they want, and take them. In an attempt to make the process fair for everyone, some food pantries already place food items in a package so that everyone gets the same thing and all seems fair. On the other hand, some food pantries allow people to go in and take whatever they like. As a result, some types of food items would quickly run out while there might be an excess of some food products with no one looking to get them.

Both methods have their pros and cons; while the former proves fair, it gives room for wastage as some of the items in the package might not be what some would like or deem healthy for them. People could throw away foodstuff they don’t want in this case. The latter ensures that people get what they actually want and can eat, which means that the chances of wasting food are very slim. However, this method will mean that many other people will miss out on some of the best foodstuffs which wouldn’t be fair.

How to start a food pantry

It takes a couple of steps to establish a food pantry and they are all vital. These steps are to be well-planned and thought-through before they’re carried out. You can start your own food pantry by doing the following;

Planning the food pantry

The best thing you could ever do for your food pantry is to take it as seriously as any other business. The way one plans business and sets it up is the exact same way he or she must approach a food pantry. It must start with a concrete plan. State the essence of the food pantry and what goals you want it to achieve. Define every aspect of your idea and make sure to include all the possible setbacks that could come and the rewards that are there for the taking if all goes well. All you’ll need- materials, resources, time- to make the food pantry a success, and how to make it happen must be clearly stated in a plan. Just like a business plan, you must also include how you expect to generate provisions, your budget, and more, so that interested organizations or individuals can support you in areas where you are lacking.

Register the food pantry

Food pantries have to be registered before they begin work. The government must be aware of its existence and have it registered before it can be a recognized entity. Also, food banks need to be able to trust those who take food from them, which is why a food pantry will have to be registered by a food bank as one of its partners to avoid fraud.

Food pantries have a big effect on the communities they’re in and it could draw attention sometimes. There will be a need for a food pantry to be permitted by the government before they begin operations. A food pantry could result in rowdiness and that could have an impact on people in the neighborhood. The food pantry in question will also be checked to see how they operate. If food pantries can fulfill the basic requirements, they would be granted a license.

Sort out your food pantry

Food pantries need good structuring to function properly. You must determine how you want it to work and what shape it takes. Your availability and that of your workforce determine when you’ll be around to run the food pantry; so, you must figure out your opening and closing hours. If you won’t be able to function all day, you could make it part-time provided that you make everyone aware of what times you’re open.

You can have a stationary food pantry where those who need food go to you, and you could also have a mobile food pantry where you would distribute food to those who need it. A mobile pantry will give you flexibility but not enough storage for your food supplies, while a stationary pantry will have all the necessary space you need but you won’t be able to go directly to people if you wanted to. Go for both if you can.

Seek support

There will always be a need to ask people and organizations for donations. Looking for support comes with the territory and you must always look for better ways to get it. Use what’s available to you and spread the word. Talk to people and see how they can help. Reach out to corporate organizations, especially those in the food industry, for support. Talk to religious organizations, schools, and even the government to assist you. With excellent presentation and persuasive skills, you’ll make good impressions which would help you get the assistance your food pantry needs.

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