Food pantries, food banks, and limited resources

Ingenuity helps a struggling food bank survive


MENIFEE, Calif., July 7, 2015 — Small non-profit organizations can face difficulties when larger organizations expand to compete for dollars and donations from the same donor base. A recent trip to a food pantry provided some insight to these challenges and an understanding that not all food banks or food pantries are city, county or federally funded organizations.

The small food pantry was originally a food bank until it was challenged by a larger non-profit, non-government food distributor. This forced the bank to change its approach, and it transformed from food bank to food pantry. The pantry had partnerships with local suppliers for food donations, but some of these partnerships were severed because of the change in its business model.

Food banks and food pantries differ in distribution markets. Food banks acquire and store goods to distribute to food pantries. Food pantries distribute goods directly to individuals who go to them in need of food. The problem comes into play when smaller food banks and/or food pantries that have partnerships with local donors are then not able to partner with the larger food bank.

When this happens, the small pantry has to work harder to stay in business and serve clients who need food survival. Not only does the pantry have to create new strategies to meet clients’ needs, but the clients are also affected.

Many food pantries offer services to clients after they meet certain income requirements. Services offered are often boxes of food given directly to clients at the pantry or delivered to the needy.

Where then do the food pantries get their food to provide to clients if the food bank severs donor/pantry partnerships? Pantries may have to create new community partnerships, apply for grants to buy food for distribution or come up with something even more creative.

One pantry has done just that. Menifee Valley Community Cupboard (MVCC), a non-profit food bank/pantry in California, is utilizing an ingenious concept to build bridges with schools that have children in need of food assistance. The concept is simple: MVCC receives backpacks from a donor, then partners with local elementary schools to identify children who need healthy food outside of the school nutrition programs. When children meet the criteria, they are given backpacks full of food (lasting about a week) at their schools to take home. The children return the empty backpacks to the school, later to be refilled by MVCC with another week’s supply of food.

MVCC is looking to provide service to more students in need as backpacks are lined up on shelves waiting to be filled for distribution. Should you know a child in this area that may be in need or would like to donate food, please contact MVCC at 951-301-4414.

Another strategy MVCC uses to meet client needs is through their thrift shop in the same shopping complex. Funds generated through sales from the thrift shop can be used to purchase needed items for distribution not obtained through donations. MVCC uses a basic model that many non-profits use: volunteers, donors, partnerships and grants. The impressive strategies this pantry uses should be copied. Its managers focus not only on general need, but they also reach out specifically to children who cannot help themselves through their schools. The results are phenomenal.

The challenges that small to mid-size businesses face can be overcome with a little dedication and ingenuity. Your organization can achieve success too. Kudos to Menifee Valley Community Cupboard! Keep up the great work!

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Rebecca L. Mahan is a retired law enforcement and Field Training officer who has spent more than 20 years studying domestic violence, working with victims of traumatic events and offers services to victims via her firm, The V.O.T.E., Victims Overcoming Traumatic Events, Program Mahan is a columnist, author and host of The V.O.T.E., Victims Overcoming Traumatic, Program" radio show. She has degrees in Church Ministry, Occupational Studies - Vocational Arts including her masters in Biblical studies. She is currently enrolled in a Doctorate of Philosophy of Theology program. Mahan has used her knowledge and training to write V.O.T.E.: Victims Overcoming Traumatic Events for use by patrol officers.