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How Can Food Pantries Better Provide for Homeless Individuals?

Food pantries are one of the most useful resources for individuals and families that need basic food assistance. This includes families that live in low income households or individuals who are homeless and simply looking for their next meal. Food pantries generally focus on providing food for households rather than homeless individuals. This may not be the best approach because statistically the majority of food pantry visitors are individuals. “In January 2020, there were 580,466 people experiencing homelessness in America. Most were individuals (70 percent), and the rest were people living in families with children” (1). Looking at this demographic is extremely important for most food pantries, particularly when analyzing what food they should keep on hand or ask donors for. 

With the increase of homeless individuals in the United States as a result of  COVID-19, there is a significant amount of people that are suddenly out of a home. Now the options for these people are limited and they may have to resort to living with a new friend every week or living out of their car. Most food provided by food pantries requires a kitchen to cook, such as mac and cheese or uncooked meat products. This is why homeless individuals struggle to find usable food in food pantries. For individuals living out of their cars, food that needs to be cooked is not a viable option. For homeless individuals, preparing food that requires something as simple as a can opener can be a challenge. 

A great way to analyze the statistics of homeless youth entering college is to look at how many students utilize the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. McKinney-Vento was put in place to help homeless youth get into college despite their problematic home lives. McKinney-Vento defines homeless children and youth as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” (2). Overall, this group of people is extremely important to look at as many students fit this distinction. “On average, the percentage of students living in McKinney-Vento eligible situations is 2.5% of our total student population” (3). This percentage may be higher, however, as this demographic only counts the kids that know about this opportunity and are willing to take the help. 

There are intense stories of students who valued their education so much they slept in their car in the parking lot of their school, simply because they had no other option. These strong. independent students need access to nutritious and good quality food in order to continue their school work to the best of their ability. They need food that is already cooked and does not require access to a kitchen to make. Some examples of these kinds of food are:

  • Granola bars
  • Protein bars
  • Canned soup (pop top)
  • Sandwiches (PB&J)
  • Processed meats
  • Tuna fish (peel top)
  • Packaged muffins
  • Crackers
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Dehydrated milk
  • Cereal 

Those are just a couple examples of food items you can donate to a food pantry to best support homeless individuals. Every little bit helps. You may never see the fruits of your labor, but be assured someone else does, and it means the world to them.