Three Questions to Ask Before Starting a Food Pantry
November 30, 2016 Aly

Three Questions to Ask Before Starting a Food Pantry

Tony Gilmore
Tony Gilmore
November 30 2016

In this blog by Tony Gilmore, the senior pastor of the St. Louis Dream Center in St. Louis, MO, he shares some helpful questions to ask yourself if you are interested in starting a food pantry. With more than 20 years of ministry experience, Tony’s questions are sure to come in handy whether you are planning to open a food pantry for the first time or are simply looking for ways to make sure the community is receiving the best experience possible when coming to your food pantry.

In today’s context and cultural climate, meeting people where they are has never been a more essential part of effective ministry. Terms like food scarcity and food insecurity have become new buzzwords highlighting the fact that going without a meal is not just a problem in developing nations, but something happening in our own backyard (it’s estimated that 1 in 8 Americans is impacted*). With that in mind, there is a huge opportunity for the Church to make a difference in the lives of families across the country who are dealing with questions like “should I pay my rent or buy groceries?” So whether you already have a food ministry or are just considering starting one, here are several tips we have learned from serving in inner-city St. Louis for over 15 years.

What kind of food insecurity is plaguing my community?

This first step is key because the research done here helps set the stage for how you will develop your strategy and program. Unlike other parts of the world, food insecurity here in the USA often goes unnoticed or isn’t highly visible. Meeting with community officials, reviewing survey statistics or even reaching out to other non-profits in the area will help you determine who is being impacted. This information is beneficial because your plan of action will likely change if it’s a rural setting versus an urban one, or an elementary child instead of a senior citizen. Hunger can impact anyone so it’s important to know who you are serving. 

How can I add value to the people we’re trying to reach? 

Some time ago, we began to make changes to our pantry and other food ministry programs to better serve and add value to the families we interacted with daily. For instance, we redesigned the look and feel of our pantry so that patrons felt valued. Instead of simply handing out bags of groceries, families now shop in a client-based storefront. This model allows them to pick out the items their family needs most and gives our volunteers the opportunity to walk with them, developing relationships and reaffirming the dignity of everyone who walks through our doors. Each situation and community is unique so find ways to intentionally add value and empower the people you serve.

What do I hope to accomplish? 

It may sound overly simple, but starting with the end in mind is always beneficial-especially when conducting outreach. Asking this question early and often about your food pantry will allow you to begin thinking through the logistics, manpower and funding needed to get there. Even though it seems like a massive undertaking in the beginning, we didn’t start out with a full-fledged pantry. We simply saw a need that our neighborhood kids were going home hungry and began by supplying simple meals. From there, by faith and stewardship, we moved our pantry into a new building. In fact, we’re in the process now of expanding our food pantry building yet again, so it truly is an ongoing process. 

Wherever you find yourself in this process, taking time to process questions like these will help position you for long-term effectiveness.

*Feeding America

The St. Louis Dream Center is an outreach of Joyce Meyer Ministries that is making a difference in the lives of families through the inner-city. If you would like to know more about their food pantry or other outreaches, they have several programs that allow you to get involved – from bringing a short-term team to serve for a week to young adults spending a year in their Leadership Program. Check out their website for all the details.