Lessons From Starting a Food Pantry
Some towns may call them “Food Banks” — charities that give away groceries to those in need. But in my fair city, where the SF Food Bank is a government-funded entity, us little guys are known as “Food Pantries”.
My food pantry is known as the Excelsior Community Food Pantry or ECFP for short. When I say “my”, I really mean “my Bible study’s food pantry”. We’re a small once-a-month pantry that still gives a way ton (yes, more than 2,000 pounds) of food every month.
We started this pantry in early 2009. Founding and running a food pantry is rewarding and a lot of work. Believe me, we have plenty of grumbles to go around. But I’d like to share some of my positive lessons with you.
1) Generosity abounds. I’m constantly amazed by how generous people are in giving their time and resources. We get a dozen volunteers every pantry. Some even ride the Muni bus across town early on Saturday morning, just to help out.
2) Churches are good for the community. Churches have gotten so much bad press in the last decade that even I, a regular church-goer, started to form a negative image of “the church” in my mind. But I think we’re doing something good here. We’re not making money. We’re not forcing the Bible on anyone. We’re just being good neighbors. And a good member of the local community.
3) Teamwork. Studies have shown that teams of entrepreneurs have a much higher success rate than go-it-alone entrepreneurs. I am certain that’s true for non-profit initiatives as well. Individual members of my Bible study have gone through great lengths to get this food pantry started and to keep it running. We have studied together, laughed together, and sometimes consoled each other for several years now. After seeing their skill, dedication, and investment into this pantry, I appreciate them more than ever.
I thought that starting a non-profit program would culminate in a sense of self-satisfaction for a job well-done — rather like getting that A paper back in school. In fact, it’s left me feeling a bit weary. But I’m weary with a new-found appreciation for my fellow Bible study members, for my church, and, most importantly, for the surprising generosity of strangers.