Starting a Food Pantry: What’s For Dinner?

By: Kamal Deen

Jun 04, 2010

Starting a food pantry couldn't come at a better time, as the price of food is on the rise—about 7 percent this year!

While starting a food pantry may sound like an ambitious endeavor, it may be easier than you think. Food pantries are needed in nearly all neighborhoods. The needy, hungry, and struggling families may not always be visible, but they're there. And starting a food pantry is just one way to reach out to them.

  1. Do your research. Check out what other successful food pantries in nearby communities are doing. What works? What doesn't? What needs are they not meeting? When starting a food pantry, this information will help you know what to do and what to avoid.
  2. Find a location. You'll need a place that is ideally located—somewhere it's easy for the hungry individuals and families in your community to find. Mosques, churches, temples, and community centers are possible sites you should look into when starting a food pantry.
  3. Get volunteers. Right away, you should know that starting a food pantry is easier said than done, and is impossible to do all on your own. Volunteers can help you publicize food drives and the food pantry, get support and sponsorship from local businesses, collect donations, collect and organize food, clean the pantry, distribute and deliver food, and help customers. Enlist family, friends, and neighbors.
  4. Get funds. Get the word out that you're starting a food pantry. Collect monetary donations, sponsorship from businesses, discounts from local grocery stores, food donations from a community food drive, or apply for a grant. Starting a food pantry costs a bit of money—better learn how to stretch those dollars! For example, mosques are the ideal candidates for the Matching Grant from Zakat Foundation, a grant developed for the purpose of mosques that want to establish a structured. Click here to apply for the Grant.
  5. Know what to store. Canned foods, soups, canned meats, fruits, vegetables, peanut butter, condiments, flour, sugar, beans, legumes, grains, rice, pasta, tea, coffee, water, cereal, and other easy-to-store food items are all foods you should have ready to go when starting a food pantry.
  6. Know how to store. Avoid damp storage places, and rooms with extreme temperature variations. Dry, cool places are the best place for food storage.
  7. Get organized. Create a structured plan before starting a food pantry. Make sure there are at least three people per shift during open hours, and delegate job responsibilities. Everyone should have a role—whether it's stocking and restocking items, keeping inventory, delivery, cleaning, or overseeing customers and getting to know who is coming to the pantry. Structure and organization is key when starting a food pantry.
  8. Advertise. Announce your hours to the community. Make a group on Facebook. Put up flyers and run ads in local newsletters and papers. Get community leaders to make announcements. Spread the news by word of mouth. Make sure the community knows you are starting a food pantry. Most important, don't just advertise when you're starting a food pantry. Continue telling people as time goes on!

Starting a food pantry is a great way to contribute to your community. By starting a food pantry, you and others in your neighborhood can help make sure that none of your neighbors go without food.

Zakat Foundation of America, a Muslim charity that collects zakat, sadaqa / donations to provide humanitarian, emergency relief and sustainable development programs to empower lives throughout the world. We offer top Zakat resources including The Zakat Handbook: A Practical Guide for Muslims in the West, Zakat kit, ask an Imam feature, and you can calculate and pay zakat through our easy, online calculator.

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