What is the difference between a food bank and a community food pantry?

As the cost of living crisis continues to grip the country, many households in our communities are feeling pushed to the brink.

With school holidays just a few months away, many families may worry about the rising costs of home childcare.

As part of the Big Food Appeal, we want to make sure people know where they can get help and access emergency food when needed.

In recent years, community food pantries have become more popular – but what are they and how are they different from a food bank?

What is a community pantry?

Community food pantries help people access affordable and healthy food, toiletries and household items.

They often work on a membership basis, allowing people to sign up and have a boutique-like experience.

This means they can go to the pantry and choose the items they want and need, giving people more independence and fighting stigma.

Members pay an annual fee and, depending on the pantry, will pay for each store they frequent.

Food pantries can be run by organizations or community groups and aim to help those who may not be eligible for food banks.

Cfine opened Scotland’s first pantry in 2018 with the aim of giving those in need “a helping hand instead of a helping hand”.

The Woodside Pantry Project invites members to select up to 10 items from the store for £2.50 per week. There is an annual fee of £3 for the service.

Cfine now operates two pantries in the town center and one in Peterhead.

At Stonehaven a community pantry is run from the Haven where an individual membership costs £5 per year and a family membership costs £10. There is no referral system in place.

Members will receive a personalized QR code and a duffel bag to collect the items. The pantry encourages a “pay-as-you-feel” donation for a visit, but it’s not expected.

What is a mobile pantry?

Mobile pantries are essentially community pantries that travel to different areas to bring service closer to those who cannot easily access it.

Andy Bentley, Pantry Development Officer,

Big Blue is a mobile food pantry and zero waste project run by Moray Food Plus. The bus travels to rural communities in the region to provide service to those who feel more isolated.

The idea for the project was launched before the pandemic after the charity’s poverty action plan revealed that food prices in rural villages and towns like Tomintoul tended to be higher than big cities like Elgin.

In Aberdeen, Cfine also operates mobile pantries that visit several neighborhoods including Northfield, Bucksburn, Kincorth and Middlefield.

Why pay a fee?

Food pantries and community pantries have membership fees to finally break the stigma of access to food.

People benefit from a shopping experience and in many cases find it a more dignified way to get help when in trouble.

It is believed to be shameful to have access to free food, and some people in need feel they are not ‘qualified’ for help.

By paying a membership fee, and according to the pantry a weekly membership fee, all members of the pantry are equal.

How are food banks different?

Some food banks operate by referral and give customers emergency packages containing at least three days’ worth of food.

These contain basic everyday items necessary for survival. This includes dried foods like pasta and rice, canned vegetables and fruits, and pasta sauces.

A volunteer prepares an emergency food package at Cfine. Photo by Kath Flannery/DCT Media.

Although people can indicate their dietary needs or sometimes ask for certain foods they might need, there is often little choice in what is put in these packages.

Food banks are run by various groups, including churches, charities, and community organizations, which rely on donations and grants.

For more information or to get involved The Great Food CallClick here.

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[What’s the difference between a foodbank and community pantry?]


Norma P. Rex