Food insecurity and shortage are a growing problem and one that doesn’t seem to reduce in the years to come. With rising populations, unemployment, and the current Coronavirus pandemic, food shortage concerns are growing across the country.

A report by the USDA shows that more than 35 million people experienced food insecurity in the year 2019 and this number will only increase in the coming years. As the problem has grown, organizations have long come together to build food banks and food pantries to help those in need.

These organizations work with the help of donations and volunteering from citizens, and will help you if you or your family is ever in need of assistance with food. But, before we look into the process of locating food pantries, let’s first take a look at the difference between a food pantry and a food bank.

What’s The Difference Between A Food Bank And A Food Pantry

You might have thought of this question at least once if you’ve been looking at food banks and food pantries. These terms are used interchangeably very often, which is why most people get confused when it comes to the difference between them.

There’s a very simple way to remember the difference between them – a food bank is a place where large amounts of food items are stored to then be distributed to people. The distribution happens at food pantries, which can be anything from food distribution centers to local school programs for food distribution.

Food banks have designated locations that they serve and designated food pantries that they deliver food to. People in need of food are encouraged to visit these food pantries where the food is delivered to then access it. You might’ve also come across mobile pantries or food pantries on wheels. These are part of an initiative taken by numerous organizations to send food through small food trucks to distribute among people in need like seniors.

So, in short, if you want to donate food or money, you contact a food bank. If you’re in need of food, then you look for a food pantry!

Did you know? According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the problem of food waste in the country is so large that food takes up the most amount of space in all of the country’s landfills!

How Does A Food Pantry Work

Another question that usually gets asked is how food pantries actually function. As we’ve mentioned before, food pantries are places where food is delivered to food banks. They are stocked regularly and function as a normal grocery store would.

All you have to do is browse through and see what’s available and what you’d like to pick up. Many food pantries have food for babies and toddlers too, so if it’s something you’ve been looking for, you’re in luck.

If you’re wondering whether food pantries charge any fee for the food they give, they don’t! Food pantries run on donations, both monetary and as food. You might not know this, but food pantries and food banks also try to charge a small handling fee to the agencies they work with so that they can continue to function even with increasing demands.

Note: Not many food pantries might be open because of COVID social distancing rules. Most food pantries have now started delivery services where they drop food at your doorstep. Check with your local food pantry about the same before you decide to visit it physically.

How To Find Food Pantries Near You

Now that you know what food pantries are and how they function, let’s look at locating these food pantries. Finding them isn’t as hard a task as you might have initially thought and you may be surprised by the number of food pantries that you’ll be able to find if you just know where to look.

1. Use Food Pantry Finders On The Web

There are a multitude of websites on the internet that will give you a list of open food pantries close to where you live. All you have to do for this is enter your zip code, and the right addresses with contact numbers will be made available to you. We’ve given you names to a few of them below!

● Food Pantries Near Me

‘Food Pantries Near Me’ is a website that helps you find pantries near you that are currently running and providing assistance with food. As we’ve mentioned before, all they’ll ask for is your zip code and provide you with a list based on that.

● Pantry Net

Pantrynet can be described as a resource for those in need of food and assistance with details and addresses of food pantries all across the United States. From soup kitchens to restaurants and churches, the website acts as a database of locations that have food pantries.

You’ll also be pleased to know that the website has made an effort to offer different kinds of subsidy coupons for food too. They also update their website constantly which means that you will find some or the other functioning food pantry close to you on their website.

● Food Pantries is another database of all the food pantries around the country that’s been put together and updated regularly to help with food distribution. When you visit their website, you’ll find that food pantries are arranged according to states, and correct locations with contact details will be provided.

The Food Pantries website also has a database with details of subsidized grocery stores that are non-profit. You can visit these at other times to cut down on food costs.

Did you know? United Way has a helpline where they provide immediate assistance with anything from your mental health to locating nearby food pantries.

2. Look At Bulletin Boards Outside Places Of Worship

Places of worship like churches and mosques usually have food drives where they get in touch with food banks to offer food to the needy. Information about such initiatives is usually put up on the bulletin boards outside the premises so check them frequently. Bulletin boards outside places of worship also have details about food distribution initiatives in other places that can also be of help.

3.Check For Food Distribution Programs At Local Grocery Stores

Quite often, supermarkets and local grocery stores act as food pantries and have days that they allocate for food distribution. This is especially true of larger chains like Walmart and Trader Joe’s that donate a large amount of food keeping in line with the US Federal Food Donation Act of 2008. Remember though, that after certain restrictions have been passed in the past decade, most of these food chains donate to food banks instead of donating food directly.

4. Contact SNAP

SNAP, which is short for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is an initiative by the government to provide food to families in need. As the name suggests, they try to supplement your food budget by providing your family with benefits to buy nutritional food for your household, but it’s not an immediate process.

There’s a little form-filling to be done and it takes longer than expected for a response from them, so keep that in mind. You also have to be eligible to avail of SNAP benefits, the criteria to which you can read here.

5. Look For Food Distribution Organizations

The United States has a number of organizations that work day in and day out to manage food banks and food pantries, and provide food to those in need. Many of these organizations are placed in all the US states and have hundreds of food pantries, which means that finding one close to you won’t be too difficult.

Below are some well-known organizations that focus on food distribution and are based in a large number of locations.

● Feeding America

You’ve definitely heard of Feeding America before; it’s been around for over 40 years trying to decrease the hunger gap in the country. Feeding America has 200 food banks as of today with more than 60,000 food pantries around the country. What you might notice is that Feeding America has a larger number of food banks and food pantries on the east coast as compared to the west coast.

To find a food pantry by Feeding America near you, you can search for one through their locator on their website.

Did you know? Feeding America’s recent initiative called MealConnect allows restaurants, stores and other food businesses to contact nearby food banks and pantries and supply highly perishable food items to them immediately and directly.

● Ample Harvest

With around 8,000 food pantries across the country, Ample Harvest is another organization that has been working towards providing free meals. You will find their food pantries in all US states, the exact locations of which you can find on their website.

● WhyHunger

WhyHunger is another organization that’ll help you find a food pantry that’s close to you immediately. What’s best about them is that they have a hotline which you can contact at any time of the day or night to get assistance with food, which is 1-800-548-6479.

You can reach WhyHunger either through the contact number on call, via text, or online on their website. On their website, you’ll be asked for your zip code based on which you’ll be given a list of the closest operational food pantries. If you want to text, text your zip code to the number provided and they’ll do their best to assist you.

● Food Finders

Food Finders is another food-based charity in the country that works towards saving large amounts of foods from food-based services, and then distributing them to those in need by giving the food to nonprofit organizations and food pantries. On their website you’ll find a list of food pantries and agencies that they support, so you can reach out to these places for immediate food assistance.


Where Can I Donate To My Local Food Bank?

You can donate food to a food bank that’s close to your home for which you’ll have to find local branches. Supermarkets also have collection points where food can be donated which are then sent to food banks, so look into that too.

How Can I Get Free Food With No Money?

Apart from visiting food pantries, there are a few things you can do to get free food:

  • Working at restaurants that let you have meals there.
  • Using food apps like Panera or Burger King that have large discounts.
  • Becoming a mystery shopper.
  • Using loyalty programs at restaurants.

Is It Better To Donate Food Or Money To Food Bank?

It’s always recommended that you donate money as opposed to food at a food bank. Food banks receive a large amount of food from partner agencies, restaurants and farms, but monetary resources are better and can help them continue to function effectively and manage their banks.

Also Read: Tips For Donating Items To The Salvation Army

Where Can I Get Help For Food?

If you’re in immediate need of food, we suggest you place a call to the USDA National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-348-6479 or 1-877-842-6273.

Do Supermarkets Donate To Foodbanks?

Yes, you’ll find that most big supermarkets have a collection center for food banks where you can donate food. These supermarkets will have their own rules regarding what can and cannot be donated so be sure to check that out too.


Don’t hold back if you want to reach out for assistance with food for you and your family since food banks and food pantries operate for the sole purpose of distributing food. With the resources we’ve provided, try finding the food banks close to you and giving them a call before you directly visit them. While these databases are frequently updated, unforeseen events can alter dates and timings, so keep that in mind. In the end, these organizations will do their best to assist you or put you in touch with someone who can.

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