Starting a Food Pantry

Alex smiling, giving out fruit.JPGSo You Want to Start an Emergency Food Pantry...

Look Into Local Resources
Storage Site
Client Eligibility
Record Keeping
Getting Started

Individuals seeking food for their families may have approached your church or
organization, and you want to respond. Meeting the needs of the hungry is a noble and
wonderful ministry. If you do want to start an emergency pantry, perhaps with the plan of
becoming a partner agency of Island Harvest, here are some hints to help you succeed.

Look Into Local Resources

Before investing your organization's resources in starting up a program, investigate the
local food resources. Island Harvest can tell you of our
partner agencies that already exist in your area. Call (631) 873-4775 for more
information.  Learning about your neighborhood and what services are available
will help you decide when and how you want to become part of the hunger solution.


Have a mission to feed the hungry. Identify the population you expect to serve and learn
the level of need in your area.


To be a partner of Island Harvest, your agency will need a 501(c)(3) Letter of
Determination from the IRS. To get this, you will have to contact the IRS and request
Form 1023 ("Application for Recognition of Exemption") and its instructions. You may call
800-829-1040 for information or 800-829-3676 for the form. The application, and process,
are also available on-line at It will take at least six weeks, if not considerably
longer, to receive the Letter of Determination once you have filed for it. Note: 501(c)(3) is
different from the New York Certificate of Tax Exemption.

Storage Site

Island Harvest requires its partner agencies to be able to store food safely and securely
on the premises of the agency. Locate a room with adequate shelving for accepting food
by the case quantity. This room must be able to be locked. If you want to distribute frozen
or refrigerated food, the storage units for these must be able to be locked as well. Food for
your pantry should not be accessible for general church or agency activities. If you wish to
learn more about the specific storage guidelines for the Emergency feeding Site, check out the Basic Food
Storage Guidelines


You will need a budget to pay for your pantry expenses. Your budget may come from a
community fund, donations, grants, or other sources, but you will need a regular source
of money.  In addition to the costs connected with getting donated or purchased food, you can also count on at least some of the following expenses:
staffing, transportation, pest control, photocopying of forms, cleaning supplies,
thermometers, and storage containers and/or units.


Your pantry staff may be comprised of volunteers or paid employees. You will need
enough people to perform the following chores on a regular basis:
• Stock food on the shelves and make up boxes or bags of food
• Conduct client intake
• Clean and maintain the facility
• Attend meetings and training sessions
• Do distribution record keeping and write reports
• Pick up food
Volunteers staff most pantries; here are a few pointers to keep them happy. First, make
them feel they are an integral part of your organization and that their work is meaningful. It
often helps to have a volunteer job description so that they know where their
responsibilities begin and end. You also might consider having a volunteer handbook with
information they can refer to when they have or receive questions. Check on volunteers
while they're working to make sure everything is going well. Finally, appreciate them!
Recognize the important role volunteers play in your pantry. Of course, paid staff
deserves appreciation, too.


You will need reliable and consistent transportation for collecting food. The vehicle or
vehicles should be large enough for the size of your program.

Client Eligibility

Your emergency pantry should set guidelines-regarding whom you will help, how often,
and with how much food. While the IRS rules state that you cannot require your clients to
make a donation, attend a church service, or work for food, you still need to decide on
client eligibility guidelines. Some pantries limit their service area or post income

Record Keeping

You should account for all the food that you distribute. It lets food donors know how you
use their donation, and it helps in hunger advocacy to be able to document who needs
food and where emergency food is going. Second Harvest requires its partner agencies to
record the date of distribution, the client's name and address, the number of people in the
household, and the number of days' food supply going out.

Getting Started

If you feel that starting a pantry is an appropriate response to hunger in your area, and you
have all these components of your program worked out, you can get started. Start small,
so that you can work out any unresolved details, and be flexible. Be sure that the highest
authority in your organization, whether pastor or director, is kept informed of your plans
and your pantry operation. You're welcome to apply to become a partner of Island Harvest once your food program has been in existence for 90 days.

Additional Information

How to Run a Food Pantry
How to Start a Soup Kitchen

For additional information, please call Michael Manzer, Agency Relations Manager for members residing in the towns in Nassau County at (631)873-4775 ext 210, email Or Elizabeth Notorbartolo, Agency Relations Coordinator for members residing in the town in Suffolk County  (631)873-4775 ext 235 or email

© 2014 Island Harvest • 199 Second Street, Mineola, NY 11501 • Phone: (516) 294-8528 • Phone: (631) 873-4775 • Fax: (516) 747-6843