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Food Pantry Experience?

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8 replies to this topic

#1
bluegrass_fan76

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Several weeks ago my wife and I approached our pastor about starting a food pantry at our church.  We have a desire to fufill God's command to help those in need in our church family and community.  Our church isn't all that big, we run around 80 to 90 on Sunday morning so we do have enough folks attending to help stock the food pantry with not only food items but other necessities such as toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, dish soap, etc.  Just yesterday I went to two local grocery stores and gave them letters describing our ministry with the hopes that maybe one or both of them will support our church with donated items on occasion.  My wife also mailed out letters to around a dozen dentists last week asking if any of them could donate any toothpaste or toothbrushes.  Right now we are not planning on advertising to the community on our church website or hanging up flyers yet because our shelves aren't stocked well enough for that but we hope to get to that point.  Currently, we are looking to just help those in our church family and accquaintances of those in the church as well as those who do on occassion do stop by the church and ask our pastor for help.  My question for you all is do any of you have any experience in running a food pantry and if so, what advice would you give?  Any good ideas on places to ask for donations or how to advertise to the community when we get to that point?  Any thoughts would be appreciated!

Michael



#2
gamnot

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God bless you for coming up with this idea. The Church that I am a member of has a food pantry and also a jail ministry where they visit people in the local jail and talk to them.



#3
LadyC

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this is a subject very near to my heart. several years ago while i was in vegas, my church opened up a food pantry, and i was put in charge of it. i managed the pantry for about a year or a little more... and the first thing (and most important) to know is that God will always make the needs of the pantry met, even when it doesn't look like there will be enough to go around.

 

grapevine fellowship is also a small church. we probably had about 100+ members. the food pantry has grown so huge over the years that it is now very well known in las vegas as being THE place to go. it's not just the food, it's the fellowship, it's the compassion, it's the NOT being treated like a number. there's nothing humiliating about the grapevine food pantry. you go in, fill out your paperwork, and are allowed to get groceries once a week i think. (i moved away from there three years ago, so i could be wrong on that now.) we also had hot meals, and anyone could come eat any time the doors were opened, which is every tuesday and friday.

 

there is now a worship band that plays during the hours that the food pantry is open. the church has put in a shower and laundry facilities thanks to donations of both equipment and labor, so that homeless people can get cleaned up. they are allotted 15 minutes for the showers.

 

at various times, business professionals will offer free services. for a while there was a person that came in every week and gave free haircuts. we had a social services person that would come in on fridays and help people sign up for public assistance. and there is always at least one pastor on hand to pray with anyone who wants prayer. at one point there was a dentist... he didn't provide services at our site, but HIS home church (which was a mega-church) had allowed him to set up a small dental office at their location and he would provide free services to those without insurance and who had low or no incomes on saturdays. we provided a lot of referrals and i knew more than one person who got dental work done by that guy. one of our volunteers even got a whole set of dentures at no charge. 

 

and the food. God always provided food in abundance. it helped that there is a major food bank in the city that supplies all the local pantries, and they collect from all the local grocers and then make it available so that individual pantry workers didn't have to go to all the stores themselves. it made things easier, and we could go once a week to collect what we needed, and then they would send a truck to us later in the week full of produce, dairy, and meats. the people who came to our food pantry didn't get beans and peanut butter. well, they did, yeah, but they also got chicken, steak, lunch meat, milk, eggs, and they were allowed to choose their own produce. the produce wasn't always pretty, but it was still edible. 

 

in limited amounts and when it was available, paper goods, pet food, diapers, toothpaste, deodorant, and other things were also provided upon special request. those were harder to come by, though.

 

oh, and outside, there were also tables full of clothes and household items that had been donated.

 

i can get the statistics for you as to how many people are served meals and/or groceries each week if you'd like... they break records regularly. and none of this is because it's a wealthy church... it's all because total faith is placed on God for His provisions, and 100% of the credit and glory is given to Him.



#4
Willamina

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There is often a list of people who go from church to church begging for food and money. Some churches circulate it so other pastors are aware of these who are deadbeats and who even sell what is provided for buying alcohol and drugs. So it is best to limit it to your church and to people known to have a real need.

We take boxes of food to those who have become temporarily disabled of our congregation. Others we offer chores for food. Some we may pay their heat or utility bill directly if they can prove they are destitute and they are being disconnected. Our pastor has a small house trailor on his rural property where he occasionally houses homeless people. It is sort of a case by case thing and much wisdom and discernment is needed.
We also have a pantry and occasionally let the congregation know when it is low or what sorts of food is needed. Routinely I sort through my cupboards and share what we have over purchased with the pantry. If there are food processing plants near you, they often donate when there are truck spills of fruit, vegetables and potatoes.

#5
other one

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I will give you a warning just in case.   We have very very good homeless food banks here in the town I live in.....

 

Problem is getting to be that we have reputation for being the place for homeless to get free food and help.....   we are so good that when our state mental health people let people go from being in mandatory custody, they give then a one way bus ticket to either our small city or the homeless section of Oklahoma City   People here in Shawnee are getting rides to go get their friends and bring them here and it's becoming a huge problem...   We feed them, but they tend to get in everyone's way and way too many of them have drug problems and break into houses for drug money...

 

So while it is a good thing to help people who need help, be careful you don't become a place for freeloaders.



#6
LadyC

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i gotta say it again.... if you are doing this as a ministry to glorify God, God will provide what is needed. whether the people who come abuse the system, bounce from place to place, sell what they get, or whatever, is beyond the scope of control. that's one of the things we gave a lot of thought to at grapevine, because there was definitely some abuse. we decided in the end that our responsibility was to feed those who came, and leave the rest to God. if they were being fraudulent, that was between them and God, not them and us. and when we made that decision, God started blessing the ministry enormously. and not one person who ever entered the doors ever left without a bag of groceries. EVER. but there were many, many times that they left with the very last of the food we had on hand. 

 

you wanted to hear what others' experiences with food pantries were. this is mine. i've never regretted it, and can tell you that i was so incredibly blessed during my time there. everyone's was. it wasn't just the place that the hungry people wanted to be, it's also the place where volunteers want to be. last time i was there, just before we moved away, there were about 40 volunteers. God's presence in that place was palpable. 

 

don't get caught up in beaurocracy, politics, and concerns about who might be doing what with the food that is provided for them. don't be so fearful that you allow only church members to accept food. if you're doing this to serve GOD, then open your hearts and your doors and trust Him to take care of all the other details. 

 

you will never regret it. i can promise you that. 

 

but if you open up a pantry through your church and try to micro-manage who gets what, then you will not only miss out on the blessings God has for you, your church, and everybody involved in any way, but you're going to fall flat on your face and hate every moment of it. God will withhold His blessings if you withhold yours.



#7
bluegrass_fan76

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Thanks so much for the replies and thoughts!  Greatly appreciated!  We don't have the facilities to offer hot meals at this time but that is something my wife has already mentioned that she would like to do at some point in the future.  Our church has been steadily growing and over the last year or so that we have been attending we have gone from around 50-60 on Sunday morning to 80-90 or more so we are looking to have to add on to our church at some point in time and when we do we hope to have a bigger and better kitchen facility.  Someone here mentioned having those who come for groceries fill out paperwork and I'm wondering what information you did take from each person?  We are planning on taking the individual's name and address as well as the date they come.  Did you let folks pick out what they wanted from the shelves or did you bag up the items for them and then they had to be happy with what they got?  Thanks again and hope you all have a wonderful Easter weekend!

 

Michael



#8
LadyC

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bluegrass, it's been a few years, but i'll try to remember what all the paperwork included. it was a short form, nothing major. on it were the following, but maybe some other things that i forget...

 

name, address, number of household members.

how many of those household members are senior citizens, and how many are young children.

does the household have means of refrigeration and a way to cook? (many people were either homeless, or their power was cut off, and obviously we wouldn't give them things that would spoil or go to waste.)

are there any special dietary concerns? (for example, we would try to make sure that diabetics got some sugar free items)

 

below the standard stuff, we would have a small notation that we occasionally had special items on hand, and ask them to list any specific needs such as pet food, toiletries, paper goods, etc.

 

we did NOT ask for social security numbers, but we did ask for a DL or state ID number on their paperwork.

 

we kept track of the paperwork so we could make sure people weren't getting groceries every time the doors opened... although we did make exceptions under certain circumstances. for instance, homeless people could get groceries any time they were there... of course, their groceries were a lot more limited than the average persons. they generally got beef jerky, canned meats like vienna sausages, canned beans, crackers, that sort of thing. 

 

it's important to note here that when we started, it was a very tiny pantry with nothing more than donated canned goods... it grew astronomically in the first two years. it was a few months in before someone decided to start bringing a crockpot of food to feed, and at first it really just fed the handful of volunteers. but by the end of the second year, things looked way different, and we were getting 100+ people coming through the doors during the two hours that we were open twice a week. our volunteer numbers escalated too... some doing community service, but mostly made up of people who had received help, and they wanted to give back. we got a lot of financial contributions from outside of the church, and there was also a donation bucket that the people who came through our doors often put whatever change they could spare into. we also did fundraisers for the food pantry. 

 

it wasn't until after the first year that we were getting a lot of meats, dairy and produce. the 'customers' were only allowed to select their own produce and breads... and then it was with the assistance of a volunteer. the 'customer' would specify what they wanted, and a volunteer would bag it up. everything else was kept in a room where two or three workers filled the "orders". (the paperwork that was filled out would go back to that room, and volunteers would fill the bags according to the specific names, then someone else would call the name on the paperwork and ensure they got the right bags that had been filled for them. for an average family of four, they'd usually get about three bags. that's not a whole lot of food, but it would feed them for a couple of meals.)

 

here is an article that was written up in the local newspaper there a couple of years ago... and here's a couple of graphs that will help you visualize things. be sure and check out the newspaper article though... it has a few more photos of the interior so you can get a feel for how so much is packed into such a tight space. 

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and a photo of the line of people waiting to be served... you can see from the pics of the outside that the building is very small. if there are more than three volunteers at a time in the kitchen area they'd be crawling over each other. the church actually has two buildings... the one where the food pantry service takes place is the children's education building...  it's the one in the forefront of the photo, where people are lined up to come in thru a side entry. it has two large main rooms... on food pantry days, one room is where people enter, submit their paperwork, and get their produce & bread. behind that main room is a nursery, behind which is a storage room. the storage room is where the main bulk of the food is kept. it's not very big. only two people can work in there at a time. the nursery is used as a staging area... once the bags are filled, they're passed up to the nursery, where they are held until yet more volunteers can locate and give it to the customer... who may have been outside eating a plate full of food, or getting a shower, or rummaging through the clothing goods.

 

a small hallway leads between that first area and the 'dining room'... on one side of the hallway is the serving window from the kitchen, and on the other side of the hallway is the bathroom/shower. it gets very crowded in that hallway as the line moves through there into the dining area... in the dining area (which is the children's church sanctuary), there is enough tables to seat about 30 people. at one end there are long tables set up with desserts and fruits. on the other end, the worship band squeezes their equipment in.

 

the majority of people go outside to eat. the back yard of the church has several canopies set up to shade dozens more tables and chairs, and to protect people from the rain. the washer and dryer are also out there, under the awning of the building. once or twice a month in nice weather, the bbq grill is fired up, and the customers get bbq for lunch instead of having to eat from the kitchen.

 

between the children's education building where the food pantry business takes place, and the other building (which is the main sanctuary and office), there is a covered breezeway. this is where donated clothing and household items are set up for people to look through and take what they want. you can see the people lined up past the main sanctuary building, and a little bit of the cover over the breezeway, in the photo above.

 

all of the hot meals, whether grilled or oven baked are made using food items that the pantry obtains through the city's food bank warehouse, which in turn is supplied by the local grocery stores and casinos. (that's one of the benefits of food pantries in vegas... the casinos contribute probably as much food as the grocery stores do!)

 

 

i hope that helps... feel free to ask for any more details. if you'd like, i can see if i can put you in touch with tiny and michelle, the assistant pastor and wife team who currently manage the pantry there. they aren't very tech savvy, but they can use a telephone... and they may be able to help give you pointers on setting one up at your church.



#9
kwikphilly

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Blessings Bluegrass

     Welcome to Worthy.......my old church that is the "sister "church of the one I currently attend has a Sunday food ministry for the congregants as well as the community,it is a small church with 70 something members (alot like yours).............I used to be in charge of setting up & early Sunday mornings 2 regular volunteers go to Whole Foods where they load up all the contributions,they donate everything that is ready for expiration..........Publix bakery (don't know if they are in your area)also donates all their day old bread & baked goods.................it's alot of work to set up but we neatly displayed everything on tables similar to the way supermarkets set up their produce section..................after service everyone is able to bag up whatever they choose & there has never been any problems & there is always leftovers......many people come just by word of mouth,it has been a great blessing for so many people...................

       I suggest you ask the major supermarkets,they discard so much from their deli ,bakery & produce dept on a daily basis and many of them are more than happy to participate & would rather donate what they can than throw away perfectly good food

      Its a good start for a food ministry,an actual food pantry requires alot more room & much more is required of volunteers....God Bless you in whatever direction the Lord leads you

                                                                                                                                                                With love-in Christ,Kwik






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