An Updated Guide to Visiting a Food Pantry: Myths & Facts

07/May/21 / 13:00

The decision to reach out for assistance with groceries or other expenses can be a difficult one. There are common misconceptions about how the charitable food network works, and a stigma surrounding pantries and soup kitchens, so many of our neighbors do not seek the assistance they need – and that’s something our Food Bank and network of partners works to change.


The pandemic has impacted many members of our community, and while we’re excited and hopeful that things are looking up, we will always continue to be a resource for ANY neighbor who needs a little extra help at ANY time. Because the past year has brought so much change, we hope reviewing some myths and facts surrounding food pantries may help provide clarity, and encourage our neighbors to visit our network of over 900 pantries, soup kitchens, and feeding sites.



Myth #1: Pantries’ service hours have been reduced or suspended entirely because of COVID-19.


Fact: Many pantries have been able to continue serving their communities during the pandemic. Due to additional safety and health precautions taken, many pantries are still able to operate. However, some pantries may have changed the time and dates they are open. We encourage anyone interested in visiting their local pantry to call ahead of time to confirm hours, or ask additional questions about operations and safety precautions.


Myth #2: Pantries are unable to distribute groceries at this time because they operate indoors.


Fact: Many pantries have shifted to a “curbside pickup” model of distribution. To ensure safety precautions for neighbors, volunteers, and staff, many of our pantries are distributing groceries like a drive-thru, where neighbors can drive-up to the pantry and receive groceries in a contactless, outdoor method. As health and safety are monitored across Northern Illinois, pantries may begin to shift back to a regular, indoor distribution method. To find out how your local pantry is operating, we encourage you to give them a call!


Myth #3: Pantries only provide a pre-packaged box of canned goods.


Fact: Pantries provide perishable and non-perishable foods. Due to COVID precautions, many pantries and other feeding sites began serving pre-packaged boxes to keep contact minimal and ensure safety. However, these pre-packaged boxes can come with a variety of food, including: dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, baked goods, canned goods, dried goods, frozen items, and more. As we continue to monitor health and safety, many of the pantries in the Food Bank’s network hope to return to a client choice (or personal shopping-based) distribution method soon, meaning families will be able to select only the foods they prefer, need and/or want. If you have questions about the model of distribution your pantry is offering, or specific dietary needs or restrictions, a pantry would be happy to speak with you – just call ahead of time!


Myth #4: Food pantries only provide food.


Fact: While some pantries only provide food (often due to the size of their space and staff), many agencies in the Food Bank’s network provide a variety of non-food options such as personal care items, paper products, and back-to-school supplies. Many pantries also offer services such as continued education, job training, and car seat programs. With the knowledge that many members of their communities are facing an especially hard time in the face of COVID-19, some pantries and organizations are more actively sharing extra resources, such as information on housing assistance, utility programs, and more. To learn more about additional resources in your community, click here.


Myth #5: You have to be unemployed, homeless, or your children must be receiving free or reduced-price lunch to be eligible for pantry services.


Fact: Pantries receiving food from Northern Illinois Food Bank are able to set their own eligibility guidelines. At the majority of food pantries, eligibility is based on self-attested need. You do not need to have a referral, and income is not a factor. At some pantries, you may be asked to provide a form of identification and/or proof of your address, or you may be asked how many people live with you. We advise calling ahead to ask a pantry about any eligibility or documentation requirements they might have. We also recognize that the link between hunger, homelessness, and unemployment is widely used as an illustration of who may visit a pantry. However, you do not have to be homeless or utilizing other assistance programs to visit a pantry.


Myth #6: You have to be eligible for SNAP (food stamps) in order to qualify for pantry services.


Fact: You do not need to qualify for or be receiving other assistance in order to visit a food pantry. While SNAP is based on the recipient’s income, it often only covers a portion of a family’s food needs. We encourage our neighbors in need to utilize the food pantry system first, and also explore SNAP benefits or other community resources to ensure their food needs are met all month long.


Recently, SNAP benefits have received a boost through pandemic response measures. For more information about this, or any other questions about navigating SNAP, please reach out to Northern Illinois Food Bank’s SNAP outreach team at 844-600-SNAP (7627), or visit our website.


Myth #7: You can only visit one pantry each month.


Fact: While some pantries restrict visits due to the volume of clientele and available food, you are welcome to visit multiple pantries to ensure your needs are met during the month. Pantries do not share who comes to visit, and there is no overall count of the number of agencies any one neighbor might have used in a given month. We encourage you to utilize the services you need to feed yourself and your family.


If you or someone you know needs groceries, please know that the Food Bank and our network will always be here for you. To find a pantry near you (and their contact information) please visit:


How You Can Help:


  • Volunteer at one of our Centers in Geneva, Rockford or Park City sorting and packing food
  • Donate to help us solve hunger in your community – every $1 donated helps provide $8 of groceries.




Want More?