What really is the difference between a food bank and a food pantry? 

It’s a common question.  And we understand how the terminology can be a little confusing. Though food banks and food pantries work together to provide people with access to good food, they’re not exactly one and the same. 

So here’s a rundown of the basic differences between the two.

What is a food bank?

Essentially, food banks are non-profit organizations that house and distribute millions of pounds of food per year. Think of them like giant storage vaults. Walking into a food bank looks a lot like walking among the bulk aisles of your local Costco or other wholesale retailer. At these warehouses, products ranging from fresh produce to meat, dairy, and shelf-stable goods are received, stacked, and sorted before being loaded onto different delivery trucks.

Donors and volunteers play key roles in helping food banks run smoothly. Most of the goods are donated by grocery stores, government programs, farms, and manufacturers. Then, volunteers comb through these items daily to ensure that they’re of good quality and ready for distribution.

Feeding Tampa Bay is one of the 250 food banks that make up the Feeding America network and one of 12 food banks that make up Feeding Florida. Together these banks serve the state’s 67 counties in the fight against hunger by providing food to a wide web of smaller community agencies and programs. 


How are food pantries different?

Unlike food banks, food pantries are sites that directly interact with hungry families. They give out groceries supplied by larger food banks and are tailored to meet the needs of their communities. Many are staffed by volunteers and housed in schools, community centers, or places of worship. 

Feeding Tampa Bay has more than 400 food pantries that you can visit across our 10-county network. Check out our Find Food page to see which pantry locations are closest to you! 

Because lack of transportation may pose an additional barrier to getting food, Feeding Tampa Bay also operates several mobile pantries. Six days a week, volunteers bring truckloads of goods to different food deserts – areas where fresh, healthy, and affordable food may be tough to find. At these spots, you can pick up pre-packaged boxes of groceries free of charge. 

You can find a list of our daily mobile pantry locations here!

Author: Hannah Himmelgreen