Food pantries can be intimidating if you have never visited one. There are often long lines and they can produce feelings of judgement. Food pantries are essential in helping families bridge the gap and meet their nutritional needs. If you are debating on whether to visit a food pantry for the first time this guide can help you navigate things.

This guide can also be helpful if you are a seasoned pro. If you would like more information visit the UT Extension Office- Cocke County for a full copy of Your Guide to Food Pantries. Your local UT Extension agent is a trusted source of nonbiased information on food, nutrition and budgeting. They can provide you with information that you might find helpful as you feed your family.

Food Pantries offer food to you at no cost. The selection and variety of food may be limited and can change from week to week. Pantries often depend on donations. The time of year and location will often determine what is available to you. Most food pantries are only open certain days of the week for select hours and are run by volunteers. Keep this in mind if you see long lines of people waiting.

There is a lot of misinformation regarding food pantries that can discourage you from going. Here are 5 myths “busted” to give you a better understanding.

Myth #1: You must be homeless to qualify for food pantry services.

Fact: You do not have to be homeless to use food pantry services. In fact, many of the people who visit food pantries are not.

Myth #2: You have to be unemployed or your children must be receiving free or reduced lunch to be eligible for pantry services.

Fact: Pantries can set their own eligibility guidelines. At some pantries, you may be asked to provide a form of identification and/or proof of your address, or you may be asked how many people live with you. We advise calling ahead to ask a pantry about any eligibility or documentation requirements they might have.

Myth #3: You can only visit one pantry each month.

Fact: While some pantries restrict visits due to the volume of clientele and availability of food, in many cases you are able and welcome to visit multiple pantries to ensure your needs are met during the month. Check with your local pantries to see how many visits you can make.

Myth #4: The food pantry only provides a prepackaged box of canned goods.

Fact: What a pantry distributes depends on many factors including what food items they have on hand at a specific time. Some pantries provide perishable and nonperishable foods. Foods you might find include: dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, canned goods, dried goods, frozen meats, and more.

Myth #5: Food pantries receive funding and food from the government.

Fact: The food at food pantries usually comes from a variety of sources. Some pantries rely on donations from community members or members of their faith community. Other pantries may receive food from a food bank. Additionally, some pantries participate in the USDA commodities program.

Myth #6: Food pantries only provide food.

Fact: While some pantries only provide food (often due to the size of their space and staff), many agencies provide a variety of non-food options, such as personal care items, paper products or other supplies. Some even provide help beyond food, such as job training, employment services, or help applying for benefits. Again, what is provided will vary from pantry to pantry. Check with your local pantries to find out more.

Information provided by University of Tennessee Publication 1884: Your Guide to Food Pantries.

For the full Food Pantry Guide, contact: Jessica Gardner, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, UT-TSU Extension- Cocke County 360 E. Main Street, Room 110 Newport, TN 37821, 423-623-7531.

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