Nearly one-fourth of American families turn to church food pantries for help

By Bob Allen

Nearly one-quarter of Americans say they have received help from a church-run food pantry in the past, according to a survey by LifeWay Research.

pantry graphicIn an online survey of 1,158 adults in September, 22 percent said they are in families who have received food from a church-run food pantry in the past. Among churchgoers, the percentage is 26 percent, while just 18 percent of those who never attend have gone to a church for help.

More than one-third of African-Americans (37 percent) answered “yes,” compared to 19 percent of whites and 25 percent of Hispanics. Americans with no college degree are more than twice as likely as college graduates to say yes.

Thirty-five percent of those who say they have used a church-run food pantry identify as evangelical Christians. The rate is higher in the West (28 percent), compared to 20 percent in the South and 17 percent in the Northeast.

Americans least likely to receive food from a church (11 percent) are 65 and older.

Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research, said while churches have a reputation of providing coffee and donuts and covered-dish suppers for church members, they are also supplying food to many people in need.

According to Bread for the World, about one in seven American households is not always sure where their next meal is coming from. The USDA uses the term “food insecurity” to distinguish those who are literally starving from people who miss a meal, worry about running out of food or sometimes go to bed hungry.

Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks, provides food assistance to an estimated 46.5 million Americans a year.

“There is an abundance of food in the U.S., but plenty of people still go hungry,” McConnell said. “Many churches respond by faithfully following the biblical principle of being open handed to the poor and needy by maintaining well-stocked food pantries to share.”

— With reporting by Bob Smietana of LifeWay Christian Resources.