The Choice Pantry enables people to “shop” through a food selection process, much like they would in a grocery store, rather than receiving pre-packaged bags. The Choice Pantry creates a dignified experience that encourages the selection of healthy foods.
Innovative Program: Choice Pantry
Food Bank: Food For People (Humboldt County)
Program Goal: To create a comfortable, familiar, and dignified shopping experience similar to what people experience in a retail grocery store, and to encourage healthy food choices.
Program Description: Food for People switched to a Choice Pantry model of food distribution beginning October of 2009. Up until then, Food for People operated like most traditional food pantries, providing clients with pre-packaged food boxes holding a predetermined allotment of items. In contrast, and as the name suggests, choice pantries allow a certain level of selection regarding what food items clients, or shoppers, receive. They are often also referred to as “supermarket-style pantries” because they are designed to mirror a more traditional shopping experience. Choice pantries typically have shelving units similar to what one would see in a grocery store, shopping carts that can be maneuvered through the shopping area and a checkout system that closely resembles the checkout aisle at a grocery store.
Whitney, a Shoppers' Helper with Food for People, Inc, works with a client.
Food for People’s Choice Pantry starts with an intake interview that determines household size and dietary needs. The customer then receives a personalized Shopping Guide and starts the shopping process.
In place of money, customers are allocated points according to The Rainbow of Choice Point System. Points are allotted based on household size. Each donated or purchased food item on the Choice Pantry shelves is one point. The number of points allocated to a household in each food group depends on current supply and demand of the products in the pantry. USDA commodities do not have points, and are instead allocated according to USDA rules for household size. Fresh fruits and vegetables are allocated as number of bags one can fill up in each category, which is adjusted daily and seasonally depending on supply. Foods are grouped into color-coded categories (e.g., dairy, fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, combination, miscellaneous) based on the USDA MyPlate Food Guidance System.
The use of the color-coding of the food groups is intended to reinforce healthy eating and encourage eating from a variety of food groups. This point system also creates rewarding opportunities for food bank volunteers to learn and promote key nutrition concepts.
Benefits: There are many benefits to transitioning to a Choice Pantry system, including:
- Increased respect: Offering clients a variety of choice provides a more meaningful service that allows shoppers to tailor their selections based on preferences and cultural or dietary needs.
- Increased dignity: An atmosphere of participation and choice lends dignity to a process that is difficult and humbling for many of our neighbors and friends.
- Refined means of food acquisition: Tracking which food items are in highest demand and which items are left on the shelf helps Food for People to adjust USDA commodity orders and focus food drives accordingly.
- Increased efficiency: Shoppers leave only with what they have chosen. This creates a more efficient use of limited food resources that will not be wasted or given away.
- A shopping experience based on balanced nutrition: The Rainbow of Choice point system teaches shoppers about nutrition as they make selections for an appropriate balance of foods from each food group.
- Increased opportunity for nutrition education: Cooking demonstrations, taste tests and free recipe cards featuring available fresh produce and Choice Pantry shelf items introduce shoppers to healthy ideas and cooking tips for good nutrition
Deborah Waxman, M.A. Director of Programs
Food for People, Inc.
307 W. 14th Street
Eureka, CA 95501