New mission - to make experimental grocery-store-style food pantries all the rage! Like toast! Because it gives people dignity, and the non-profit I just volunteered with trying it, St. Joseph Center*, is saving money.
How does it work?
St. Joseph distributes fresh produce, (it's one of the many programs benefitting from Food Forward’s Farmers Market Gleaning) and non-perishables in their food pantry, which they have now set up like a grocery. See picture.
In the past St. Joseph, operated like a standard food bank and handed those in need a pre-package bag of food. But if you’re allergic to peanuts, for example, you're not going to use that expensive jar of peanut butter. It will go to waste, clog a landfill, make a child cry, etc. So instead of cramming every bag full of expensive, but potentially wasted items St. Josephs decided people could and should make food choices themselves.
Now as SJ's customers move through the pantry they are confronted by shelves of well organized foods. They are told, by volunteers like me, how many items they can collect in each section based on availability.
Low income families & individuals must apply to the St. Joseph pantry for assistance. As my volunteer friend for the day Pete said, "You never know who you're going to see. Some people look like they can afford [food] but they can’t. Other people, well they desperately need it and you can tell."
My favorite part of the day - there were little ones, tiny kids with their moms, barely the size of the cheerio box they carried out of the pantry.
*St. Joseph kept repeating that this was a pilot program and had not been perfected yet. But it’s pretty awesome.