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Starting a Food Program

Join our network! Our partner agencies are a vital part of the food chain, distributing food directly to those in need. OFB provides partner agencies access to low- and no-cost food to distribute to clients. We also provide technical assistance and training while ensuring that your program meets food safety standards and provides fair and equitable service to clients. Read below to learn about our requirements for partners and some tips for starting a food program.

Basic Requirements for Agencies Your agency must be designated a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization by the IRS or be affiliated with a 501(c)(3) umbrella organization. Limited exceptions may be made if your church meets the spirit of the criteria used by the IRS in defining a church.
  • Your program provides food to those who qualify at no cost.
  • Your program does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, political or religious affiliation, national origin, citizenship, sex, age, sexual orientation, disability or any other protected classes.
  • Your program would not exchange Oregon Food Bank products for money, products, services or client participation in activities.
  • Food distribution cannot be contingent on attendance at a religious service.
  • Your program has an adequate facility for safe handling and distribution of food.
  • Your program has a record-keeping system that allows it to fulfill OFB’s reporting requirements.
Running a food program is a big responsibility. It requires a major committment of time, funds and energy.

You might also consider partnering with agencies that are already distributing food in your community by providing volunteer or financial support to help them expand their hours or the number of people they serve. 

Please contact your local regional food bank for application materials. Building an Emergency Food Program If you want to start an emergency food program, perhaps with the plan of becoming an Oregon Food Bank partner agency, here is a guide to help you succeed in building a strong, sustainable program to support your community.

Look into local resources

Before investing your organization’s resources in starting up a program, investigate the local food resources. Oregon Food Bank can tell you about partner agencies that already exist in your area. Call us at (503) 282-0555 and ask to speak to Metro Services (in the Portland area), Washington County Services, or Statewide Services for more information. Learning about your neighborhood and what services are available will help you decide when and how you want to become part of the hunger solution.


Have a mission to serve people in need. Identify the population you expect to serve and learn the level of need in your area. Please be aware, emergency food programs should not be viewed as a recruiting tool for your religious organization. It is against IRS regulations to require individuals to attend church services or work in exchange for food.


To be a partner of Oregon Food Bank, your organization must be designated a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization by the IRS or be affiliated with a 501(c)(3) umbrella organization. Limited exceptions may be made if your organization meets the spirit of the criteria used by the IRS in defining a church. Please visit the website for more information about the requirements of 501(c)(3) status. If your organization does not have 501(c)(3) status and is not interested in pursuing it at this time, you might consider partnering with another organization to help them expand or strengthen their emergency food program.

Storage Site

Oregon Food Bank requires its partner agencies to be able to store food safely and securely in an established location. The space should have adequate shelving to store food accessed in case-sized quantities off of the ground. Adequate freezer and cooler storage is required to access frozen and refrigerated product. Food for your pantry should not be accessible for general church or agency activities. If you wish to learn more about the specific storage guidelines for Oregon Food Bank, please refer to the Partner Agency Application Packet.


You will need a budget to pay for your program expenses. Your budget may come from a benevolence fund, donations, grants, or other sources, but you will need a regular source of money. In addition to the costs connected with getting food – whether through shared maintenance fees or purchase – you can count on at least some of the following expenses: staffing, transportation, pest control, photocopying of forms and flyers, cleaning supplies, thermometers and storage containers.


Your pantry staff may be comprised of volunteers or paid employees. You will need enough people to perform the following tasks on a regular basis:
  • Stock food on the shelves and make up boxes or bags of food
  • Conduct client intake
  • Clean and maintain the facility
  • Attend meetings and training sessions
  • Distribute food, keep records and write reports
  • Pick up food

Volunteers staff most pantries.

Here are a few pointers to keep them engaged. First, make them feel they are an integral part of your organization and that their work is meaningful. It often helps to have a volunteer job description so they know where their responsibilities begin and end. You also might consider having a volunteer handbook with information they can refer to when they have or receive questions. Check on volunteers while they’re working to make sure everything is going well. Finally, appreciate them! Recognize the important role volunteers play in your pantry. Of course, paid staff deserve appreciation, too.


You'll need reliable and consistent transportation for collecting food. The vehicle or vehicles should be large enough for the size of your program. And don’t forget about the cost of gas and maintenance!

Client Eligibility

Your emergency food program should set guidelines—regarding what neighborhoods or zip codes you will serve (if limits are necessary), how often people will be able to access food (weekly and monthly are two common limits), what the income limitations will be (if any), and how much food you will provide. Having explicit guidelines (which will be reviewed before approval by Oregon Food Bank) helps prevent the unintentional discrimination that can occur when rules are applied differently at different times. Also, remember while deciding on your guidelines that IRS rules state you cannot require your clients to make a donation, attend a church service, or work for food.

Record Keeping

You should develop a method to keep records of the food coming into your pantry, as well as how many clients your organization served when distributing the food. This is important for IRS accounting rules and donor accountability practices, and also because it helps in hunger advocacy efforts to understand how much food is distributed to people in need in any given area or time period.

Getting Started

If you feel that starting an emergency food program is an appropriate response to hunger in your area, and you have all these components, you can get started! Start small, so you can work out any unresolved details, and be flexible. Be sure that the highest authority in your organization, whether pastor or director, is kept informed of your plans and your pantry operation.