Things to Know When Visiting a Food Pantry for the First Time

Between unemployment, rising prices, and other factors, the past few years have brought hardship to countless American families. From March through October 2020, Feeding America gave out 4.2 billion meals. This was a 60 percent increase in food pantry users during the pandemic, and almost 40 percent were first-time users.

Those who are visiting a food pantry for the first time may have concerns and be unsure of what to expect. Read on to understand how a food pantry helps those in need and some myths about using food pantries.

Customer receiving groceries

What’s A Food Pantry?

Food pantries are places where you can receive food donations and sometimes other items. They’re often in churches, community centers, or Salvation Army locations. All food pantries operate differently—some are open a few days a week, while others may only be open a few times a month.


In the past, many food pantries functioned like grocery stores. They would have shelves stocked with items that visitors could freely choose from. The items were free, but there were limits on the quantity of items you could take. During the pandemic, most food pantries switched to drive-through or pickup locations, and many are still operating this way.


This means that some food pantries may require advance signups or appointments, but some allow emergency food assistance every day. Before you visit a food pantry for the first time, you should call them or visit their website to check when they are open and whether you need to schedule an appointment or sign up in advance.

What to Expect at a Food Pantry

In recent times, many Americans have been facing food insecurity for the first time and may not be aware of where they can go for help. Fortunately, most communities have several different options for residents in need. A few of these options are food banks, food pantries, and government assistance. Food pantries are highly accessible locations that anyone can visit, and they’re judgment-free zones—they exist to make a positive impact in the community.


Here are some items you can expect to receive at a food pantry:

5 Common Food Pantry Myths

Myth #1: You have to be unemployed or your children must be receiving free or reduced lunch to be eligible for pantry services.

Fact: At the majority of food pantries, including My Pantry Express, eligibility is based on self-attested need. This means that you do not have to provide a referral or proof of income to receive food. At some food pantries, you may be asked to provide a form of identification or your address, or you may be asked how many people live in your household. It’s a good idea to call ahead to ask a food pantry about any eligibility or documentation requirements they may have.

Myth #2: You have to be eligible for SNAP (food stamps) in order to qualify for pantry services.

Fact: You do not need to qualify or be receiving other assistance in order to visit most food pantries. While the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) is based on your income level, the benefits often only cover the first two weeks of a family’s monthly food needs. You can use SNAP benefits and also visit a food pantry to make sure your monthly food needs are met.

Myth #3: You can only visit one food pantry each month.

Fact: While some food pantries restrict the number of times you can visit because of the volume of people in need and the quantity of food they have available, you are free to visit multiple pantries in one month.

Myth #4: Food pantries only provide pre-packaged boxes of canned goods and non-perishable foods.

Fact: Most food pantries provide both perishable and non-perishable foods, including dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, canned goods, dried goods, frozen meats, and more. Some pantries distribute food in a pre-paced form, but many allow visitors to choose the food they would like.

Myth #5: Food pantries only provide food.

Fact: While some pantries can only provide food because of space and staff limitations, many offer a variety of non-food products, including personal care items, paper products, and back-to-school supplies.

How To Start Your Online Food Pantry Order

At My Pantry Express, you can order groceries online for convenient pickup or delivery. Just visit our website, click shop now, and add the groceries you would like to your cart. Once you’re ready to checkout, find a pickup or delivery location near you. We serve Northern Illinois, including Dekalb, Kane, Lake, Will, Winnebago, Grundy, and Kankakee counties. For delivery, confirm that you live within 14 miles of one of our locations, and place your order three days in advance for an on-time delivery.   If you want to pick up your order, choose a location near you and a time that works for you. When you arrive, your groceries will be bagged and ready to go. Whether you opt for pickup or delivery, our staff will just need to see your order confirmation number, which will appear on your screen after your order submission and in your email confirmation.   Start your online free grocery order today.