In a perfect world, food would flow out of food banks and into the hands of needy people fast enough to keep any of it from spoiling. In the real world, food banks are often offered more perishable product than the agencies they serve can possibly transport and store, and the food pantries in many communities are too few in number, or lack the capacity to meet the need. In those cases food goes to waste, and needy people remain hungry. Over 60 food banks around the country are using a new tool to solve this problem: the mobile food pantry.
Mobile pantries are very simple: Any church or other 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that would like to distribute food to the needy can sign up to use a Food Bank. They don’t have to own a building or have a “normal” food pantry. Many mobile pantry agencies just borrow a parking lot for a few hours (school parking lots after school lets out work very well!). After scheduling a mobile pantry distribution with their local Food Bank, an agency can leaflet the neighborhood, send notes home with kids from the school, etc. announcing to potential clients when and where the distribution will take place.
On the day of the distribution, the Food Bank loads a recommissioned beverage truck (or a normal truck with a lift gate) with food and dispatches it to the agency’s chosen site. When the truck arrives, the host group’s volunteers set up tables around the truck and load them with product. Clients fill out short questionnaires or go through brief entrance interviews, then simply walk around the truck like they would at a farmers’ market, selecting the goods they would like. When the last client has been served, the volunteers simply load any leftovers back onto the truck, leaving the parking lot as clean as it was before the distribution.
In short, mobile pantries are a quick, easy, inexpensive way to help hundreds of people with food that would otherwise have gone to waste.