Setting Up A Food Pantry For The Needy

By Vince Peterson

“For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink;
I was a stranger and you made me welcome….” (Matt. 25:35-36)

Sometimes people find themselves in need of food or the money to buy it. While welfare and food stamps can be of help, there is sometimes a thirty-day wait for the necessary paper work to be processed. And it is a simple fact of life that sometimes the food dollar of those on fixed incomes does not stretch far enough to reach the end of the month. It is at times like these that people turn to local churches, including Orthodox churches, for short-term aid. With very little effort, every parish can be ready to extend a hand in kindness and Christian charity by maintaining a “Food Pantry for the Needy”.

Serving the Community

Very simply, a Food Pantry for the Needy is an emergency food center whose primary function is to provide help for the needy in the form of a three-day food package. It is a way that Orthodox Christians can be of service to their communities, and fulfill both the letter and spirit of the Gospel. Long before governments took it upon themselves to care for the needy, it was the Church which looked after those who lacked a means of subsistence. The great monasteries of Russia and Byzantium fed hundreds of the poor each day. We Orthodox have a long history of caring for the poor—the Christ-like—which seems to have been clouded in modern times by our own struggle for survival.

At the SS. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Detroit, Michigan the need for some form of emergency aid became obvious during the recent recession. Our church being situated in an inner-city neighborhood, it was not uncommon for mothers to come to the parish office, especially during the holidays, asking for food and milk for their families. In response to the increasing requests for help, the parish FROC chapter sponsored a collection of canned and dry foods for the poor on Sundays. Storage space was found and the food collected during periodic drives organized to provide balanced meals for a three-day period. As supplies on hand dwindled, the Chapter had a message printed in the parish bulletin and an announcement made from the ambo at the close of the liturgy. Each time, the number of food donations increased as more and more people experienced the joy of giving.


Should you decide to set up a food bank in your parish, there are a few questions you will have to consider:

How great is the need in your area?

What sort of aid will you give? Food? Money? Counseling? Referrals to other agencies?

Who will oversee the project? The Pastor? A club or parish organization: sisterhood, choir, youth group?

How much food will you stock? Storage?

Will you have regular scheduled hours or will you respond to individual requests for help?

Once you have considered these questions, you will be well on your way to setting up a very important link between your parish and the people around you. The following is a list of items easily stored which can be arranged into packages for distribution to families of various sizes:

Instant non-fat dry milk Peanut butter Pork and beans Cereal, ready to eat Oatmeal Noodles or macaroni Crackers Rice Instant mashed potatoes Jello and instant pudding Macaroni and Cheese dinners Dried beans and peasCanned vegetables Canned fruit Applesauce Margarine (might require refrigeration) Baby food and formula Canned soup Tuna, Canned meats Spaghetti sauce and spaghetti Juices Pancake mix, Syrup

Some thought might also be given to satisfying the spiritual hunger of those who come to you for food. There are several tracts which could be included in each package just to let people know something about the Orthodox Church, i.e. “About Being Orthodox” from the Channing L. Bete Co. With a minimum of effort and organization your parish or parish group can become an active witness to the Gospel of Christ in the world.

“But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves…. But the man who looks steadily at the perfect law of freedom and makes that his habit - not listening and then forgetting, but actively putting it into practice - will be happy in all that he does.” (James 1:22,25)

Vince Peterson is Choir Director at SS Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Detroit, Mich. and is Chairman of the OCA Department of Music.