-become a pantry of choice-

A cow in a field

A Pantry of Choice model gives food pantries a grocery store feel and empowers clients to make their own choices. Reconciliation House cuts back on food waste and costs by following this client choice design.

Reconciliation House

Burnsville, NC

Yancey County

Picture the best food pantry or food ministry in your head. Is it a big room with lots of clearly labeled shelves and maybe a refrigerator or two? Or is it tables and crates full of healthy options and popular staples like peanut butter and canned tuna?  Maybe it’s both. Now imagine a 720-square foot basement that feeds 300 families a month. This is all the space that Reconciliation House in Burnsville uses to give their 750-850 individual clients fresh produce, frozen foods, and non perishables each month. What makes Reconciliation House a successful food pantry is the model they follow. This food pantry uses a “Pantry of Choice” design, a model that lets clients pick out the food that they want instead of giving out prepackaged boxes of food to each guest. In the past, Reconciliation House used a pre-boxing method to give out food. When they made the switch to Pantry of Choice, they saw people actually took less food than they were giving out before.

Each food item is categorized and grouped together by type. All the cereals are together, all the pastas are together, canned goods, and so on. Reconciliation House limits how many of each type of food clients can take to make sure everyone has a chance to pick out what they want. With their refrigerators, Reconciliation House can accept donations of dairy products and produce that need to stay cold. They partner with 5 local farms to get extra harvested produce and community gardens to keep healthy, fresh vegetables and fruits available. Reconciliation House also partners with MANNA FoodBank in Asheville, North Carolina, to feed the greater Burnsville community.

The Pantry of Choice or Client Choice model works so well for food banks and food ministries because it empowers clients to make their own choices, reduces food waste, and saves food banks money. Using this model lets participants pick out food that they know how to prepare or that’s culturally appropriate for them, ensuring that this food gets consumed when they take it home. When Reconciliation House made the switch, they noticed people took half as much food as they were originally giving out in pre-prepared boxes. Giving everyone the same type and amount of food creates more waste because you could be giving away too much food or food a family won’t know how to use. The Pantry of Choice model saves food banks money and time. Materials to box up produce don’t need to be purchased and the time and energy spent on boxing up food can be spent on organizing shelves and engaging with clients as they shop around for their food.

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