Think about your shopping list for your next grocery store trip. In your head you probably plan on picking up your favorite pasta, some of your go-to snacks, and maybe even a guilty pleasure from the ice cream aisle. Imagine that while you walk through the entrance of the grocery store someone stops you and hands you a generic bag of food. This is your food for the month. You don't get to decide what type of vegetables you want or get to keep out the jar of peanut butter that you are allergic to. Many food banks and pantries operate with this model, but at Food for People, we handle food distribution a little differently.
In 2009, we adopted an innovative way to distribute food called a Choice Pantry. You can think of a Choice Pantry like a grocery store. Participants use a grocery cart and get to pick items from each shelf. The variety ranges from fresh local produce, grains, proteins, dairy, baking ingredients, and even sometimes treats like Cypress Grove Cheese. Whenever available, the Choice Pantry offers gluten-free and dairy alternatives. Most of the year, fruis and vegetables fresh from local farms, vendors, and gardens fill the shelves. Our non-food section may have hygiene products, clothes, shampoo, lip balms, pet items, and even hand warmers.
On a typical distribution day we will see between 70 to 100 households. When a household arrives, we begin with a brief intake interview to get to know their situation and needs. We will typically help them sign up for CalFresh and help connect them to any resources they might need. This is where we begin or continue to form a real relationship. The Choice Pantry allows us to help support the progress people make, which for some is getting a job, and for others is finding housing. We are a community where we get to know the people we serve.
The Choice Pantry brings dignity into the process of receiving food assistance. To be in control of one’s own diet is power. It also cuts down on waste when people no longer receive food they inevitably will not eat. Many of the pantries in our countywide network have adopted a form of the choice model which fits their space and resources. The choice model encourages healthy food choices from each food group. We provide quality produce and nutritious food that helps foster lifelong health. The Choice Pantry not only allows people to get the food they want, it also gives them a feeling of dignity. For more information on our Choice Pantry visit us at foodforpeople.org or give us a call at (707) 445-3166.