Food Pantries Succeed Where Government Welfare Fails

The idea of being so broke you’re visiting a food pantry is a scary thought for many. We see growing unemployment lines due to government forced shut downs. Over 30 million people have filed for unemployment in the last month and the number continues to grow. The idea of visiting a food pantry may seem scary to many but it’s a reality for millions of Americans every year. Food pantries nationwide provide 4+ billions meals to those in need. What’s concerning is that’s only 10% of the total meals provided for those in need. Taxpayer funded programs through governments provide another 36 billion meals. 

How do the costs of nonprofits compare to those of government programs? Who has the most success per dollar spent to help those in need. It’s an important factor to consider as $71 billion in taxpayer funds is used to support food providing programs for those in need. Food pantries accept non-forced charitable donations. Let’s break down these two forms of helping those in need.

Food pantries are almost entirely supported by charitable donation. We’ll see people from communities come together to take care of their neighbors through these pantries. The staff handing out the food for pantries are entirely volunteer and only larger pantries have a small group of paid administrators to run the pantry. The administration and costs of operation are kept low to provide the most meals to those in need. These pantries also don’t carry significant requirements or pre-approval processes to get food. Most pantries only require you to be a resident of the area they serve. All you have to do is show up during their distribution times. You’ll see many smaller pantries provide 1-3 meals per $1 donated.  The largest food providing nonprofit in the country, Feeding American, provides nearly 2 meals per $1 donated.  The Feeding America food pantry network is 200 food banks connected among 60,000 food pantries. This nonprofit had annual revenues of $2.8 bilion in 2018 and provided 4.3 billion meals. That’s a staggering feat to be carried out. 

Government programs attack the problem in a different way and provide monthly benefits to those who quality and need assistance affording food. We see these programs funded through taxpayer dollars and allotted on an annual basis depending on the determined need. These programs have vetting processes to ensure income requirements among others are meant to qualify. Not everyone qualifies and the income basis is usually a multiplier of the poverty level. We see these programs providing and astounding 36 billions meals annually. Taxpayer funded programs through governing bodies provide 90% of meals provided to those in need. 

Let’s compared the cost to these different programs. Taxpayer funded programs provided by governing bodies provide 36 billion meals annually. These are being provided through the funding of $71 billion in taxes which averages to roughly $1.97 per meal provided. Doesn’t sounds too expensive, right? Hold on, food pantries keep costs low with volunteers, few administrators, and buying food in bulk, while government funding is spent mostly at grocery stores. We see Feeding America provide 4.3 billion meals at a cost of only $2.8 billion. That’s only 65 cent per meal they’re providing. We see charity providing food to those in need for 67 percent less in cost than government provided programs. Doesn’t sounds like we’re getting our value with taxpayer funded food programs but how do we fix this?

The situation does get tricky as when you remove these government programs we see an increase in food pantry usage. If we decided to remove taxpayer funding for these programs we would see people keeping more of their paychecks. Would this extra money be donated solely to pantries? Probably not, but it leads one to wonder why we can’t reduce the cost of government provided meals. The government should just hand over the reins to a nonprofit but that’s not an easily made reality. In the meantime, government should take a lesson for nonprofits and find ways to reduce costs to provide meals with a lower expense to taxpayers. 

Chase Renwick

Author: Chase Renwick

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