Whether it's an encounter with a homeless person asking for food, a stint volunteering at a soup kitchen, or participation in a canned food drive, most people have a basic understanding that people are going hungry–throughout the world, and even in a wealthy nation like the United States. For a church that feels compelled or called to do its part to eradicate hunger, establishing a food pantry might be an effective way to make a difference. Before launching a food pantry ministry, here are some things to consider:
Does your community need a food pantry? Are there other food pantries in the community? If so, could your church help by volunteering there? What could your church accomplish by creating a new food pantry rather than assisting with an existing pantry? Are there definitely food needs in the community that aren't being met?
Who would benefit from your church's food pantry? Would the food go to people within the church, or others in the community? Both?
LOCATION & STORAGE
Would the food pantry be housed within the church or somewhere else? Is there sufficient storage space on church premises? Is the space conducive for large-scale food distribution? Is the space equipped to safely store food (protecting it from rodents, insects, spoilage, etc.)?
On what days would the food pantry be open? If the pantry operates within the church, would that interfere with other church activities?
FOOD SOURCES & DISTRIBUTION
What food sources are available to you? Are there any food banks in the area? Is your church committed enough to this ministry to donate food and money to purchase additional food items? Does it have a budget to allow for these expenditures? Which distribution model is the best fit for you: standardized distribution or client-choice?
Are you equipped to store refrigerated foods at the proper temperatures? What about frozen foods? Will your pantry distribute any meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, or other foods that are susceptible to spoilage? If so, how will you ensure that these foods remain safe to eat? Will food pantry volunteers be trained to recognize any unsafe food items?
Do you understand the differences between a "sell by" date, a "use by" date, and a "best if used by" date? Will you train your volunteers about these terms so they know the difference between acceptable and unacceptable donations?
These are just some of the questions a church should consider before launching a food pantry ministry. But for those who have the space and the manpower, and are equipped to handle these challenges, a food pantry can be a rewarding and beneficial ministry.
The decision to start a food pantry should not be made rashly. Before you begin, take time to discuss and pray about these things to make sure your church can sustain this ministry, and ultimately, do its part to help erase hunger in your community.
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