Food Banks, Food Pantries: A Guide

January 14, 2020 - Pawn Resources

Food insecurity spikes during the holiday season. Here’s how you can get help for you and your family– or find a way to pitch in.

The holidays are meant to be a time for celebration, but for millions, they’re a time of stress and hunger. Over 40 million Americans, including 15 million kids, live in households where food is scarce or hard to come by. During the end of the year, this crisis intensifies.

PawnGuru, a social impact startup, is collaborating with FoodFinder to help folks in need find a food pantry near them, and to help people with means donate effectively. FoodFinder offers the most up to date internet directory of food banks with critical information, like hours and location. It’s totally free to use.

PawnGuru has worked with Jack Griffin, the founder of  FoodFinder, to offer a short explainer on food insecurity in the US, how to get help, and how to best support your local food bank.

Finding food pantries online: what is FoodFinder and how does it help people?

FoodFinder is a registered not-for-profit based in Atlanta, GA. They built a website, available at, that lets people find local food pantries, co-ops, and shelters, individually and in privacy. This allows people to find help without having to deal with the stigma of being food insecure, by not forcing anybody to publicly ask where a food bank is located.  The app is free and users don’t have to give away any personal information, pay any money, or fill out any paperwork to get access to the information.

As PawnGuru has previously reported on, cell phones are not a luxury item. For tens of millions of low-income Americans, internet-enabled smartphones are a lifeline. They rely on them to navigate public transit, find ad hoc employment, and connect with their families to manage the care of their kids. FoodFinder makes these resources available online and smartphone-accessible.

Why is food insecurity worse during the holidays?

During the holiday season, pantries provide 2 to 3 times as much food to families compared to the preceding months. Why? According to Jack Griffin, it’s because many kids depend on public schools for meals. Christmas, as well as summer breaks, are hardest on families because so they rely on reduced cost lunch and breakfast programs. More than 21 million children are enrolled in free or reduced-price lunch programs, and 10 million of those also receive free breakfasts.

Nationwide, public schools provide 32 million free or reduced meals each day. The average public school winter break is only 10 days, which amounts to 320 million free or reduced meals lost to food insecure families.

While some people are chronically food insecure, the majority of folks who use food pantries are not. Most are transitorily poor and food insecure, not chronically poor. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 41.2 million people in 2016 lived in food-insecure households. This number is practically unchanged from 2015.

The USDA defines food insecurity as when members of a household must change their diet or reduce their food intake because of a lack of resources. The most commonly food insecure households are those headed by late 20s-mid 30s adults, with children, especially single adults with kids. Most of the adults in food insecure households choose to reduce their quality or quantity of food in order to provide for their children.

31.6% of households with children headed by single women, and 21.7% of those headed by single men, were food insecure. Single women without children were 13.9% food insecure, and single men without children were 14.3% food insecure.

What should you give to food pantries?

An emerging body of research suggests the best way to support people in need is through cash, as reported on at TIME. Jack recommends giving cash as a way to enable your local pantry to buy exactly what they need, and to cover the costs of operation, like space and staffing. However, if you prefer to donate food, Griffin recommends donating fresh produce. Food pantries usually have a surplus of shelf stable goods and non-perishables, like cans, so fresh produce is the best to donate. Contrary to popular belief, almost every pantry can hold fresh produce and perishables. However, if that isn’t an option for you, donations of shelf stable goods and non-perishables are still welcome at nearly all facilities.



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