How do I start a church food pantry?

How do I start a church food pantry?

Open a food pantry to serve the hungry!

The Church Food Pantry is a staple ministry for serving the poor. If you work in a church, you know that it’s not uncommon for people in need to gravitate towards churches. Let’s be honest. This is a good thing. This means that they see a church as a place where they might find the help that they need.

The food pantry is a simple but effective way to meet this need. A food pantry is a ministry of a church or organization that provides food to people in need. It is open on a regular schedule based on the resources of the parent organization. For instance, the food pantry might be open every third and fourth Friday of the month.

A good way to set your food pantry schedule is to pay attention to the frequency of requests for help during the month. In a lot of cases, you’ll see that you have the most requests near the end of the month, when people tend to run out of money.

A church food pantry consists of three basic elements: storage space, volunteers, and food. You might add a fourth, money, but only because it’s needed to get food.

Storage Space

You will need a place in or close to your church that will serve as the food pantry. The following are the food storage safety requirements for food storage at Golden Harvest Food Bank . They will vary from food bank to food bank, but they are good general rules of thumb.

  • Store food at least 6 inches off the floor, 4 inches from the wall, and 2 ft. from the ceiling
  • Maintain a cool, clean, dry, place for storing food.
  • The food pantry should rotate products at facility. Remember, FIFO (First In, First Out). Food must be stored in a locked and secure facility to protect against theft.
  • Food should NEVER be stored at a private residence and can only be kept at an approved location.
  • Store cleaning supplies in a separate area or on the bottom shelf to prevent contamination.
  • Do not stockpile products. All food and or non-food items should be distributed in a timely manner.
  • All freezers, coolers, and refrigerators must contain a thermometer.
  • Maintain adequate temperature control and logs. Temperatures should be checked weekly.
  • Baby food should be discarded after the expiration date.
  • Refrigerator should run at 40 degrees or below and freezer should run at 0 degrees or below.


You will need volunteers to fulfill a number of different roles.

  • Leadership – The food pantry will need someone who coordinates the activities of all of the volunteers. They’ll be responsible for the financial management of the food pantry, recruiting and managing volunteers, and making decisions.
  • Food procurement – A group of dedicated volunteers will take responsibility for getting food for the pantry. Food can come from a number of sources… a food bank, retail rescue, food drives, food purchase.
  • Ministers – When a person comes for help, the volunteers who serve them make all of the difference in the world. You need someone with compassion and patience who will treat your guests with dignity and love.
  • Fundraising – Some volunteers love fundraising, though they might be a bit rare. When you find one, get them involved and quick. These volunteers will help you get the resources you need to get the food and equipment you need.


It should go without saying that you’re going to need food for a food pantry. How much food will you need? You can figure this out by calculating the amount of food you would like to provide to each guest and multiply it by the number of guests you anticipate.

You might start with your budget and determine how many people you will be able to serve, but I prefer to start with the number of people you need to serve and then build your budget. As you’ll see elsewhere, your biggest assets as a fundraiser is a demonstrable need and a thoughtful plan of how to meet that need.


Money will enable you to get the food and equipment that you need to help people in need. When you are starting your food pantry, it is absolutely essential that you have an idea of how you are going to raise money to support your efforts. Failing to do so is like going on a road trip without putting gas in the car.

There’s no single best way to raise money for your ministry. Look at the people you have and their gifts, and then find a strategy that matches them. Try something, and if it works, look for ways to fine tune it so that it works better next time. If it doesn’t work, try something else. Failure is not an option. It is mandatory.

Looking for more articles on ministry models? Try this one:

Check out The Fundraiser’s Playbook for a full list of fundraising articles.

Would you like to learn more about raising money for Church and Ministry? Check out Letters From The Almoner, now available on

Image courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil, via Creative Commons License, some rights reserved.