May 22, 2015

Innovations in how food is distributed to those facing food insecurity was the topic of a recent article in The New York Times. Focusing on "client choice" food pantries, which are operated like grocery stores, the Times told the story of a pantry on New York's Upper West Side, and reached out to Feeding America to understand some of the trends and reasoning behind the model:

Wohl turned the West Side campaign into the nation’s first-ever customer choice pantry. ... It looks like a small supermarket. Customers are allowed a certain amount of produce, grain, protein and other foods, but within each category they can choose.

Customer choice is not right for every food pantry. Michelle Berger Marshall, the director of community health and nutrition at Feeding America, a national network of food banks, gave the example of a food bank in Texas that supplies far-flung rural pantries. It uses pre-packed boxes because they are easier to move long distances.

But umbrella organizations like Feeding America and large donors believe that for the vast majority of pantries, choice is best.

It cuts waste, preserves the dignity and autonomy of clients, and, as the West Side campaign has found, can encourage clients to become volunteers. “I would say it’s the future of food banking,” said Ross Fraser, director of media relations at Feeding America. These organizations are pushing pantries to switch. “Some food banks won’t bring in new agencies if they don’t use client choice,” said Meg Davidson, a senior manager at City Harvest, New York City’s second-largest provider of food to pantries.

Tags: We Feed Families , New York , Food Bank For New York City

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