What’s the Difference Between a Food Bank and a Food Pantry?

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New Jersey is home to hundreds of food pantries and five food banks, three of which (including the Community FoodBank of New Jersey) are members of Feeding America’s national network. The question becomes – if there are only five food banks but hundreds of food pantries, what is the difference between a food bank and a food pantry?

What is a food bank?

A food bank is usually a warehouse that stores food and other necessities such as hygiene products that will later be allocated to area community partners like local nonprofits, nutrition and warm meal programs, and food pantries.

Those community partners then distribute items from the food bank to those in need. To better understand how a food bank works
, think of it as essentially a bank, but for food and necessities. A food bank stores food and supplies for safe-keeping and does not serve the public directly, unless there is a pantry attached to the food bank.

Food banks often hold millions of pounds of food at a time, though the size and volume of the food bank will vary from place to place. CFBNJ’s warehouse, for example, is 285,000 square feet, the size of 5 football fields with the ability to hold millions of pounds of food and necessities at a time.

Food banks source the food and necessities that go to community partners through the following partnerships:

  • Grocery stores
  • Local and national companies and retailers
  • Individual donors, both nationally and the surrounding community

A food bank can gather the food directly from their sources or receive support to raise the necessary funds to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins, shelf-stable items, and hygiene products such as period supplies and diapers. You may find even more convenient opportunities to donate to the Food Bank via the check-out at your local grocery store, at your school, or in your local community.

Just as food banks work with the local community to gather resources, they also partner with local food pantries, nutrition and meal programs, and other like-minded organizations to distribute the supplies they have gathered. Pantries within CFBNJ’s service area can become community partners and participate in food bank programs, such as our gleaning direct program, that enable them to efficiently source their food and necessities through the food banks at higher quantities and lower costs.

CFBNJ Warehouse

What is a food pantry?

Food pantries are distribution centers where the public can go for food and hygiene product assistance, serving as a direct line to families and individual clients in need. Essentially, a pantry is a community center for the public, where those in need can either receive food directly or shop around as they would in a grocery store, also known as a choice pantry. CFBNJ serves over 800 food pantries in New Jersey.

Serving as a center for community food in urban and rural communities, pantries come in all shapes and sizes:

  • Mobile pantry on wheels
  • A part of a specific food bank, church, school, college, homeless shelter, or community center
  • Nutrition and warm meal programs, such as soup kitchens or even a residential house.
  • Independent pantry that relies on other sources such as donations from church members or government and corporate grants.

As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all approach as food pantries fight against hunger in New Jersey.

Man looking at shelves of food pantryHow does someone qualify for food assistance at a food pantry?

Community members can qualify for food assistance by contacting a local community pantry, as each will have its own set of rules and regulations. If you or someone in your community needs food or hygiene product assistance, you can review our partner agencies to
see if there is a local food pantry or nutrition and meal program near you.

How you can help your local community

If you want to get involved with CFBNJ in the fight against hunger and food insecurity, join one of our many volunteer programs or give a monetary gift today!