Mr. Sartor, a retired coal worker, made the initial change when the food bank found itself needing to limit its intake of clients in December, but it became a subject of widespread controversy in February, after being reported in a local newspaper.
The Essen food bank has 120 volunteers and distributes food to nearly 6,000 people. Mr. Sartor estimated that it would turn away about 60 non-German applicants a week while the admissions bar was in place; it continued to serve foreigners who were already on its books.
Critics said such organizations should make decisions based on need, not on nationality, but many Germans applauded the Essen food bank’s approach, arguing that when with regard to social services, poor Germans should come first.
“Racists at the Essener Tafel? As if!” read one headline in the newspaper Bild.
One volunteer resigned over the policy. Protest graffiti appeared on the Essener Tafel’s offices in an old water tower and on the food bank’s trucks. And as the controversy attracted national coverage, Ms. Merkel declared, “You shouldn’t categorize people like this.”
The decision to reopen the pantry to all applicants was taken by representatives of the food bank and the city, and announced on Tuesday. If intake needed to be limited again, the announcement said, priority would be given to older people and families with young children, and would not be determined on the basis of nationality.
“We now have to talk about the fact that the food banks aren’t the problem, poverty is,” Mr. Brühl said.
The Tafel food banks give donated food to people who have trouble making ends meet. To prevent chaotic handouts, they require newcomers to demonstrate proof of need.
In Essen, applicants are seen on Wednesdays and are then assigned a specific weekday on which to pick up food. Non-Germans can start applying again next Wednesday.