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Are food banks the same as food pantries?

Do you know the difference between and food bank and a food pantry? Read how these terms differ and interact with food insecurity.
Drive through food distribution site run by organisation Feeding America in New York.
© The University of Waikato

Food banks

If you are unable to get a grant from Work and Income, you may be able to get an emergency supply of groceries (ie a food parcel) from a local food bank. These are run by charities and rely on donations of fresh and packaged foods. It is important to know that there is usually an intake process involved. For example, depending on the food bank you may need to:

● get a letter of referral from Work and Income, a budgeting service, church or CAB or a bank statement showing that you are on a low income;

● meet eligibility criteria;

● show that you are getting budgeting help;

● show proof of your identity and/or your address;

● be limited to a maximum number of food parcels per year;

For accessing food assistance, residents can get in touch with their local foodbank directly for a food parcel. Food parcels can often only be requested once in two weeks, and within the week you run out of food. People seeking help are most often asked to ring their local food bank first then bring photo ID, proof of address and other documentation including a referral from a social agency. This can feel very degrading. Not everyone wishes to tell their hard stories over and over. Findings in our research overwhelmingly indicate that, for many people, accessing a foodbank for a food parcel is a process that can be filled with feelings of failure and shame. Nobody wants to be in a situation where they cannot provide food basics for themselves or their family.

Food pantries

Simply put, a food pantry is different than a food bank in that it provides food directly to those who may not have enough food to eat. Food pantries can be either permanent locations (often on private property) or mobile distributions. Food pantries are often the only source of free healthy and nutritious food in a neighborhood. A community food pantry’s mission is to directly serve local residents who suffer from hunger and food insecurity within a specified area. They do, however, suffer from fragmented supply and also largely rely on a few people, or a person volunteering to keep the pantry stocked, clean and tidy.

Should food banks require documentation and evidence of food insecurity?

© The University of Waikato
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