Food banks and pantries near you during COVID-19

Food banks continue to provide hunger relief during COVID-19. Learn about how they work and how to find your local food pantry.

Community food pantries across the country feed those in need each and every day. And many families are struggling to put food on the table because of COVID-19. If you need emergency help feeding your family, food banks and pantries nationwide can provide assistance. 

But what if you’ve never visited a food pantry before? You might be wondering how they work, where they get their food and what kinds of food they provide. This article will address these questions and more.  

What is a food bank?

Food banks are nonprofit organizations that collect food donations and deliver them to hunger-relief charities. They act like storage and distribution warehouses for smaller local agencies. Some food banks cover one small region—and others provide food throughout multiple states. But they all rely on donors and volunteers for their day-to-day operations.

For example, Feeding America is the largest hunger-relief nonprofit in the United States. Feeding America’s network of food banks distributes 4.3 billion meals every year to serve virtually every community in all 50 states, as well as in Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

What is a food pantry?

Food banks provide food to food pantries. And food pantries distribute that food to people struggling with hunger.

Think of food pantries as the arms that directly reach out to local communities.

And since every community is different, there are many different kinds of food pantries. A food pantry might be located inside a school so that it’s easier for children and their families to get the food they need. There are even mobile food pantries on wheels to better serve seniors or rural communities that lack public transportation.

Where do food banks and pantries get their food?

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is the backbone of the national food bank network.

TEFAP is a federal program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that helps supplement the diets of Americans who need help meeting their nutritional needs. The program provides food to Americans at no cost and also supplies food banks and pantries, as well as soup kitchens and shelters.

Food banks and pantries get food from other sources too. For example, Feeding America takes donations from government agencies, farmers, food manufacturers, grocery stores and restaurants. It then distributes those donations to partners across the country.

What kinds of food do food banks and pantries provide?

Food banks and pantries provide all different kinds of food to those in need.

When you visit a food pantry, you can often expect the majority of the food to align with the USDA’s nutritional guidelines and include fresh produce, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein as well as nonperishables.

Feeding America tries to provide the most nutritious food possible by connecting growers of highly perishable, fresh produce directly with food banks. They also match food businesses like grocery stores and restaurants directly to their nationwide network.

Many food pantries even offer recipe cards to help families make healthy meals using a wide variety of produce.

Who can access a food pantry?

If you’re struggling to put food on the table, food pantries can provide a helping hand.

Anyone can get help from their local food pantry. And that help will be confidential. Usually, all you have to do to receive food is provide proof that you live in the area served by the local pantry.

And the food that you receive will be completely free. You’ll never be expected to repay or make a donation.

How can I find a food pantry near me?

The healthy, nutritious food you need could be just a few clicks away. You can find a food pantry near you through Feeding America’s website. And the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service can also connect you with nutrition assistance programs in your state. 

How are food banks and pantries responding to COVID-19?

Food assistance is especially important during an emergency like the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, one in six Americans could face hunger as a result of COVID-19. And 40% of people visiting a food pantry right now are visiting for the very first time

As the need increases, food banks and pantries across the nation are mobilizing to meet demand.

Because of COVID-19, some food pantries now offer drive-through distribution and expanded to-go options that limit person-to-person contact. Many pantries are also packing and distributing emergency food boxes. And some are also adding mobile pantries at schools and even cooking hot meals for children and their families.

Are there other hunger-relief options available?

In response to the coronavirus, the USDA has granted states extra flexibility to better protect the people served by TEFAP. 

There are also a number of federal nutrition assistance options, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP has been expanded under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to provide additional benefits to households affected by the coronavirus.

If your food security has recently been affected by COVID-19, you might check to see if you qualify.

Related Content