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

February 20, 2019
by Tori Waite

What is the difference between a food bank and food pantry? We are so glad you asked! The Feeding America network includes 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs that provides food in nearly every community in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. But it's easy to get the two confused, so let’s dive into the differences between those food banks and pantries.

A food bank is a non-profit that safely stores millions of pounds of food that will soon be delivered to local food programs, like a food pantry. Food banks are all different sizes. Some are very large - more than 25 of our food banks are double the size of an average wholesale club. Regardless of size, the food they store is donated from local neighbors, retailers, grocery stores, and restaurants. Feeding America also helps connect our network to additional resources, including food. 

In order to get the food into the hands of the community, food banks hire drivers to make the deliveries. Every food bank serves a specific area that varies in size. For example, Feeding San Diego serves only one county, but this urban county is packed with over 3.3 million residents. While the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance in Phoenix services 9 of Arizona’s 15 counties, requiring their drivers to travel over 400 miles to deliver food. No matter how long or short the drive, every food bank is committed to ending hunger in their communities.

A food pantry is a distribution center where hungry families can receive food. Supplied with food from a food bank, pantries feed hundreds of people per week! Because every community is different, there are many different types of pantries.

Sometimes the best place for a food pantry is inside a school, so it is easier for children and their families to get food. For example, St. Mary’s has five school pantry programs in the Navajo Nation.

Thanks to the hard work of both food bank and food pantry staff and volunteers across the nation more than 21 million meals have been provided to nearly 110,000 children this past year!

Some communities have barriers that make getting food difficult – such as seniors with limited mobility or rural communities with little transportation. These barriers can be overcome with a mobile pantry -  a pantry on wheels. 

At a mobile pantry, truckloads of food are distributed to people in pre-packed boxes or displayed on folding tables farmer’s market-style. Island Harvest, a food bank on Long Island, NY, has a senior mobile pantry that provides excess food and grocery products to seniors in their community.

Our food banks and pantries are constantly making new ways to feed the hungry in their communities. Now that you know the difference between the two, sign-up for our email newsletter to learn more about how you can help fight hunger in your community.