June 12, 2008

Technology Makes New Opportunities for Pantries

by Margaret O'Connor, Legal Clinic Coordinator.

I read a great article in the New York Times yesterday about an organization called Bread and Life in Brooklyn. It is mainly a soup kitchen, but it also has a food pantry that provides a three-day supply once a month for eligible residents, much like our own food department. Bread and Life, however, is attempting to provide clients with more choice and independence in the food that they receive by allowing them to decide which food items they are getting. Clients are given a certain number of credits each month and can use them to “purchase” their food from the pantry – snack food and other less nutritional food costs more credits.

I found this approach to be inspiring and to embody Bread for the City’s mission of providing services to our clients in an “atmosphere of dignity and respect.” Not only is giving clients options in the food that they take home humanizing and empowering, it is done in such a way that reinforces healthy eating habits (unlike the supermarket or corner store). Rewarding people for choosing more nutritious options (along with offering nutrition counseling) can lead to long-term benefits and a healthier lifestyle. Clients may be coming in for a bag of food to ensure that their family has a meal the next day, but they are leaving with so much more.

I realize that there are many logistical challenges that come with this added flexibility including how clients request food, how to get them the food, and how to ensure that requested items are on hand, but the idea of giving a measure of control and independence to clients and offering other skills (i.e. teaching a man to fish) that will have a life-long impact makes the idea just crazy enough to think about.

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