A typical story of starting a food pantry is a church person who wanted to feed the poor. She was told to go to the nearest food bank to receive most of the food she needed to provide for those in need. The food bank told her that she needs to find other sources of food. With the help of her congregation, she enlisted the help of a few people.
The church leaders and a few neighborhood members attended the launching of the food pantry at her church and there seem to have plentiful of volunteers. Soon, the pantry grew and together with the number of clients. However, the faithful volunteers felt overwhelmed by the “progress” of the pantry.
The growth brought new challenges to the operation. She had to do fundraising to purchase additional equipment, storage and space to sustain its growth. In addition, she had to learn to train the volunteers on picking up food at the food bank, data entry for the required reporting to the donors; and other miscellaneous administrative duties.
Because of the increasing demand for food, she and her volunteers worked long hours to open another food distribution day per month. The additional day of pantry helped for a few months. The food pantry now serves 100 families twice a month, which look like the pantry is growing successfully. However, the growth increased the demand for her time and her volunteers, so the quality of operation declined. She found herself just doing the transactional task of gathering and giving food while the relational aspect diminished. She noticed that her volunteer list was getting shorter and there were more client complaints each time the pantry is open. Her desk started to pile up with delivery receipts from the food bank, volunteer applications/resignations that are not being processed, various paperwork including food drive flyers, phone calls to return and stacks of sponsorship & “Thank You” letters that she have not mailed.
Within a short period of time, she found herself always rushing and has not had a chance to do a volunteer orientation for a while. So each time a volunteer signs up, she assigns them to areas of most needs. This further creates confusion and resentment from her team since the new volunteers do not know exactly what to do and what’s expected of them. At the end of each week, she realized that the increase of clients is way above the food that she is receiving from a few donors. Her food supply is definitely increasing but the number of clients is increasing all the more.
After a few years of reacting to the situation, the person who started the food pantry found herself scrambling for volunteers and resources. In addition, she did not have the proper training (let alone experience) on how to recruit and train volunteers, how to creatively find supporters and advocates and, how to properly store and preserve food.
Her big heart sustained her to continue the food pantry for a few years but soon she retired. Her volunteers were not trained on the big picture of how the entire pantry is run so no one took the leadership and the food pantry ceased its operation.