The decision to visit a food pantry is often a difficult choice for our neighbors. Between the stigma surrounding pantries and common misconceptions about how the system works, many people do not seek the assistance they need. Here are some myths and facts surrounding pantries and who they help.
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 to receive food. 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.
Fact: You do not need to qualify for or be receiving other assistance in order to visit a food pantry. SNAP is an ‘entitlement’ program based on your income level, and is not capped at a particular number of participants. While SNAP is based on income, it often only covers the first two weeks of a family’s food needs. We encourage our neighbors in need to utilize food pantry system first, and SNAP benefit or other community resources to ensure their food are met all month long.
Fact: We 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 to use food pantry services. In fact, many of the people we serve are not homeless.
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.
Fact: Pantries provide perishable and non-perishable foods including: dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, canned goods, dried goods, frozen meats and more. While some pantries distribute these items in a pre-packaged form, many of the pantries in Northern Illinois Food Bank’s network operate a client choice (or personal shopping-based) distribution method, meaning families are able to select only the foods they prefer, need and/or want.
Fact: Northern Illinois Food Bank receives the majority of its food through donations (81%), and supplements with purchased food (11%) and government commodities (8%). The products the Food Bank receives from these sources are available to member agencies like food pantries to distribute to their clients. Additionally, some pantries participate in the USDA commodities program. Beyond food, pantries have access to local private and public funding to further supplement their operational costs.
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.