A Mobile Food Pantry Can Help Seniors

This article was co-written by dietetic intern Rachel Evans and Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND

Mobile food pantry options can help seniors get the nutrition they need. This article dives deep into food insecurity, hunger, and solutions- including mobile food pantries.

Food Insecurity in Seniors

Food insecurity in its simplest definition is not having access to the food you need. While food insecurity is closely tied to hunger, it’s not just hunger. Being able to get good, nutritious foods is so important for good health.

Senior Hunger Facts

The number of seniors 60 years and older who struggle to afford food has increased by 45% since 2001.  At this rate, the number of seniors experiencing hunger may increase to more than 8 million by 2050 (1).

Many older adults are faced with the decision to either pay for food or medical care. And as we know older adults are more likely to have chronic diseases that come with numerous medications and doctor visits. So having to choose between these two is completely unrealistic.

Causes of Food Insecurity

Money may not be the only barrier for seniors when it comes to accessing food. A lot of older adults have mobility issues; therefore, driving, grocery shopping and preparing meals might not be an option for them. Some may rely on caregivers to provide them their meals, however the caregiver may not be able to afford this either.

Older Adults Need Good Nutrition

Nutrition becomes increasingly important to our overall health as we age. Older adults are also at an increased risk for unintended weight loss. This can lead to loss of lean muscle mass, fatigue, and weakness. These are all indicators that the body is not getting the nutrition it needs, or in other words it is malnourished.

Malnutrition in seniors is linked to health concerns such as increased risk of infection, delayed wound healing, decreased bone mass leading to increased risk of fractures, higher risk of hospitalization and an increased risk of death (2).

For these reasons, hunger relief programs for older adults are extremely important.

National Hunger Relief Programs

There are many national hunger relief programs available. Seniors may be eligible for the following(4):

  • SNAP: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
    • SNAP provides benefits to low-income people to purchase groceries.
  • TEFAP: The Emergency Food Assistance Program
    • TEFAP provides food to families in need of short-term hunger relief.
  • CSFP: Commodity Supplemental Food Program
    • CSFP provides food assistance to low-income seniors with a monthly package of healthy USDA commodities.
  • CACFP: Child and Adult Care Food Program
    • CACFP provides nutritious meals and snacks to children and adults in designated child and adult care centers.
  • SFMNP: Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program
    • SFMNP gives vouchers (worth a total of $20–$50) annually to use for eligible foods (fruits, vegetables, honey, and fresh cut herbs) at participating farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs.
  • Congregate Meal Plan
    • This program provides group meals at participating sites throughout the country (e.g., recreation centers, churches, senior housing, and other community spaces). No proof of income required to be eligible for this program.
  • Home Delivered meals
    • This program delivers meals to the place of residence (number of meals per week vary). No proof of income is required to be eligible for this program.

In addition to these programs, there are many food banks, food pantries and hunger relief organizations in the country that provide food to those in need every day. Feeding America is the largest hunger relief organization in the united states and has 200 food bank locations and 60,000 food pantries throughout the country.

You can learn more about these programs on our article Breaking Down Barriers to Food Access in Older Adults.

What is a Food Pantry?

A food pantry is a nonprofit or another type of food charity organization that provides food to those in need (5).

You may hear the terms “food bank” and “food pantry” be confused on what the difference is. Sometimes people will use these terms interchangeably but technically, they are two different things.

The “food bank” is the organization that collects the food and distributes it- think the warehouse and people behind the scenes managing the donations and distribution of food throughout communities.

The “food pantry” is the individual site that hands out the food to those in need. People may come to the food pantry or the pantry comes to them… a mobile food pantry!

Mobile Food Pantries

A mobile food pantry simply brings food to people in need. Usually a big truck is loaded up and sent out to a site closer to those who need access to food.

Sometimes food will be distributed in pre-packaged boxes- a grab-and-go pantry. Other times the food is set up like a farmers market so people can grab the particular foods they need (6).

Some people aren’t able to drive to a food pantry, so Mobile Food Pantry Programs enables everyone the opportunity to access the foods they need. Including seniors who have a difficult time getting places in their community.

Where Can I Find a Mobile Food Pantry?

Mobile food pantries are located all across America! Feeding America has a wonderful Food Bank Locator. You can contact your local food bank to see if your community happens to offer this service (6).

Who qualifies?

Eligibility for food pantries varies by location. It is typically based on household income level and designed for low-income individuals who cannot afford food. Many sites require you to complete an application to determine your particular needs.

Most of the difference in requirements have to do with whether the program is state, national, or just a not-for-profit offering food to those in need.

The best way to find out if you qualify is to use the Food Bank Locator to find resources in your community. Then just call and ask what their requirements are!

How can you help?

Food pantries can always use some help. The primary ways that you can help support food pantries in your communities are:

  • Volunteer your time (it takes volunteers to make these programs happen!)
  • Donate money (if you and your family make donations, consider a food bank)
  • Donate food (it goes without saying, but food pantries need food to distribute to those in need)

10 most needed items

  • Canned meat or fish
  • Canned soup
  • Milk products- canned pudding, powdered milk
  • Canned fruit and vegetables
  • Pasta
  • Grain products- whole grain bread, brown rice
  • Cereal
  • Baby food
  • Non-food items- toiletries


Mobile food pantries are a great way to improve food access and decrease hunger in seniors. A mobile food pantry will bring the food closer to where the seniors live and break down some of the food access barriers including transportation. Be sure to find out what what particular services are available in your community!



  1. 2020. Facts About Senior Hunger In America | Feeding America. https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/senior-hunger-facts. Accessed May 21, 2020.
  2. Mayo Clinic. 2020. Senior Health: How To Prevent And Detect Malnutrition. [online] Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/caregivers/in-depth/senior-health/art-20044699> [Accessed 21 March 2020].
  3. https://www.feedingamerica.org/take-action/advocate/federal-hunger-relief-programs
  4. Federal Nutrition Programs and Emergency Food Referral Chart for Older Adults. FRAC website. https://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/chart-federal-nutrition-programs-emergency-food-referral-older-adults.pdf. Accessed May 21, 2020.
  5. Senior Food Pantries. Senior Meals website. https://www.senior-meals.org/senior-food-pantries. Accessed May 21, 2020.
  6. Mobile Food Pantry Program. Feeding America website. https://www.feedingamerica.org/our-work/hunger-relief-programs/mobile-food-pantry-program. Accessed May 21, 2020.

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