We have a long relationship with a local food bank that was formerly run by another congregation and was under that church's 501(c)(3). The food bank is now operating on its own—without the church—and its 501(c)(3) letter is pending. Our church agreed to fund the food bank's refrigeration equipment at its new location, but do we need to wait on the 501(c)(3) letter? This is the largest food bank in our county and has long-standing, good leadership, so it is not a question of viability. We are simply concerned that we might be violating our trust of funds by giving before the paperwork is finalized.
This is a very good question about a common scenario. And, yes, your church may proceed with your plans. The church should simply obtain documentation supporting the fact that the food bank is organized as a not-for-profit corporation (articles of incorporation filed with the state should be adequate for this purpose). If the food bank has already submitted its application for recognition of exempt status with the IRS (Form 1023), it would be helpful to have a copy of that as well.