The Food Resource Guide

Emergency Food Cupboards

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An emergency food cupboard, also known as a food center or food pantry, is a place where a person in a food emergency can go for immediate help. These centers are designed to provide an individual or family with a food package prepared to last 3-4 days.

Even if days and hours are listed, it is always important to phone a food cupboard prior to sending a client, to check their eligibility requirements, food availability, and days/hours of operation.

The amount and type of food varies from center to center, but is usually canned goods and dry staples. Since the cupboards depend on voluntary donations of food, the food given out might be a well-planned nutritious package or it could be nothing more than cereal and a few canned goods. Generally, the norm falls between the two.

The majority of food cupboards require some evidence of need such as a phone call or letter of referral from a recognized social service agency. All food cupboards will serve persons regardless of race or religion, but some restrict their service to persons living within a specific geographic area.

The cupboards are primarily located in churches and community centers and run as a sideline to other community activities. They are generally stocked by donations of food and money from churches, schools, community groups and businesses. A number of cupboards have their food donations and fund-raising coordinated by a Central Office. Many cupboards are networked in one way or another.

There are over 300 food centers that provide emergency food packages on a regular basis in Philadelphia. The cupboards are serving anywhere from 10 to 1000 people per month, depending on their size, staff, location, eligibility requirements, etc. They are serving the poor, the elderly, young children and young families who have been beset by inflation and high unemployment, injury or illness, fire, theft, federal and state program cutbacks and the like.

You will note that some cupboards have specified days and hours of operation. If cupboards have not given us that information, it is up to you to phone ahead and check.

The Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger