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Food Bank & Food Pantry: What’s the Difference?

Though we’ve been around since 2009, here at the Chester County Food Bank, we notice that there is still sometimes confusion — even among some of our most dedicated supporters — about exactly what we do and how we differ from food pantries and cupboards. We thought it might be helpful to explain here and define some terminology to help clarify!

Some of the issues come from blurry definitions of the terms “food bank” and “food pantry.” When you think of the archetypal, cultural idea of a food bank, perhaps featured on a holiday episode of a television show, it may be of a family picking up a box of food from a church or community center. In fact, that scenario is really taking place at a food pantry (or cupboard), where individuals can go during set hours to obtain food. Usually, these locations are staffed by volunteers, and their mission is to get food into the hands of those who are in need.

Chester County Food Bank, as our name implies, is a food bank, the hub which provides nutritious items to food cupboards. We are a centralized hunger-relief organization, taking in food from donations, from what we grow, and purchased using monetary donations and grant monies. Staff and volunteers then work to organize, process, and cook food for our partner agencies and programs. Food and meals are then distributed through our programs and to our hunger relief partners (like food cupboards) who provide food to people in need. 

Part of our role as a food bank (versus a cupboard) is that we take a strategic, holistic approach to combating food insecurity. Yes, distributing food to local cupboards is part of this, but we go beyond hunger, with advocacy and educational initiatives through our wellness programs, supplemental feeding programs for school-aged children and seniorsemergency response food boxes, and our Farm and Garden Programs.

While we don’t provide boxes of food directly to individuals, we still encourage anyone who needs food to contact us, as we are more than happy to connect you with the many resources within our county that can help.

While we are affiliated with a number of community partners, we are an independent 501(c)3 organization. So if you’re considering donating and you want your dollars to stay in Chester County, please note that we are the only food bank in the county. While we are one of the wealthiest counties in Pennsylvania, one out of four households in our community struggle to put food on the table and are without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food at any given time.

We hope this has been a helpful explanation of how we — a food bank — are different from a food pantry. We think of it like this: Chester County Food Bank is the hub in the center of a wheel, and all of the spokes reach out to our community agency network that can connect one-on-one with the neighbors in need in Chester County.



Want to learn more? You can also donate food, funds, and time to help us achieve our mission or call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 160 food cupboards, meal sites, and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Photos: Chester County Food Bank

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.