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Greater Cleveland Food Bank

What You Need to Know About Food Pantries: FAQs

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, millions of Americans are struggling with food security due to unemployment and loss of income.   

In direct response, food banks and many local food assistance partners have adapted their protocols to safely meet the unprecedented demand for food assistance throughout their communities during this challenging time.

Many people have never reached out for food assistance before now, so here are some frequently asked questions.


1. Where do I go if I need food assistance?

For emergency food assistance, please call the Greater Cleveland Food Bank’s Help Center at 216-738-2067. We can help determine if you qualify for benefits, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and also refer you to food assistance programs in your area.

There are many organizations with online resources that can help you locate the food programs closest to you. Click on their websites for more information:

If you are 60+, you may qualify for home-delivered meals through your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). For program information in Cuyahoga, Geauga, and Lake counties, call the Western Reserve AAA at 1-800-626-7277. You can also visit this website to find your local AAA.

If your children are part of the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, locations for children’s meals can be found here.

If you need help outside of just food and food resources, you can dial 2-1-1 from United Way to learn more about health and human service agencies in your community.


2. Am I eligible to receive food assistance?

Different food assistance programs will have different eligibility requirements, but many are easing requirements and necessary paperwork in response to the pandemic. One program that any income-eligible individual can access is a food pantry.

A food pantry is a program that distributes perishable and/or shelf-stable food and other products directly to those in need.  Pantries are located in many cities and neighborhoods and most only require photo ID, household size, and a signature (typically electronic) as well as a self-declaration of income. If your household income falls below 230% of the federal poverty line ($49,956 for a family of three), then you are income-eligible to receive food from a food pantry. We partner with over 200 local food pantries to help clients in need of emergency food assistance. 


3. How do I prepare for my visit to a food pantry?

Many food pantries operate similar to a small grocery store- where clients can choose what products to take home for their families.  However, due to the pandemic, many pantries have adjusted their distribution methods to include drive-thru and contact-free food pick-up. Each pantry will have their own procedures, but here are some general tips on how to prepare for your first visit:

  • Call ahead: You will need to know when the pantry is open for service and what documents are needed to receive food. They can also tell you if there are specific requirements for their program.
  • Get there early: Pantries work on a first-come, first-serve basis, so arriving early is a way of assuring shorter lines and getting enough food.
  • Follow social distancing guidelines: According to the CDC, this means staying at least six feet from others, not gathering in groups, and avoiding mass gatherings and crowded places. Based on current Ohio guidelines, you’ll be required to wear a face covering on the premises.
  • Be patient: There is a lot of need for assistance and pantries are trying to serve as many people as possible, so patience is key when waiting for your turn.
  • Bring a car with an empty trunk: Pantries recommend clearing space in your trunk before going, as many will place the food boxes in there as a contact-free measure.
  • Expect to be treated with dignity and respect: All food bank partner pantry staff/volunteers are held to a high standard under Civil Rights Training guidelines.

4. What types of food items can I expect to receive?

While each pantry is different, they all strive to provide a well-balanced amount of nutritious food that typically includes: dairy, grains, proteins, meats, and fruits & vegetables – all similar to what you would find in grocery stores. Our friendly pantry partners can provide at least three days’ worth of food per household, at least once a month.

There is a wide variety of items that pantries can provide, but since they rely on state and federal food supplies, some food items are not always available throughout the month.