December 9, 2009

Best Pantry Practices

Bread for the City recently participated in a nationwide study about this question. Graduate students enrolled in Kaplan University’s online School of Business and Management reviewed many food pantries to compile a best practice toolkit [PDF!] made available through Feeding America.

The report lists 12 best practices, ranging from Provide Clear Organization Chart and Project Guidelines, to Plan for the Year. Here at Bread for the City, we have our own quirky ways of getting things done -- but we were pleased to note that our program already practices most of the best practices mentioned within the project.

For instance, right now we're in the midst of Holiday Helpings, when our food pantry is in overdrive. We have Planned for the Peak Season by arranging for food well in advance and putting our volunteer coordinator, Erin Garnaas-Holmes, on serious work-horse duty to line up the large numbers of volunteers that this season requires. This year we also opened the pantry up to the media and the public, with guests such as Cokie Roberts, Leon Harris and Yvette Alexander. The best practice guide also helpfully suggests that food pantries Motivate Staff, and we have duly celebrated Food Pantry Staff Appreciation Month, with a flood of emails, gifts, and cards to our pantry staff from all other departments.

Many non-profits have a strained relationship between the need to be “businesslike” with efficiency and their commitment to the needs of community members. This report sticks to strictly the businesslike efficiency side of food bank and food pantry affairs. Here at Bread for the City, however, I've noticed that this gives you an incomplete picture of what makes a food pantry great.

When I asked Jenette Chance, the Northwest Food Coordinator, about efficiency in the food pantry, her response centered right back on the community. “I know what it is to be hungry. My everything is in it. So I make it smooth for people to come in and go out, and I acknowledge everyone. We're all working together to build a better Bread for the City from the inside out.” Best practices and efficiency are important, but more important is respect and dignity. Perhaps this is a best practice of its own.

Developing these relationships also allows us to delve deeper into the best practice of Educate the Public. The report notes the importance of informing donors, volunteers, and clients about the program. However, at Bread we have also started to think beyond publicity to how we can help our clients make healthy decisions, through fliers, cooking classes, and other means. This can be summed up in another best practice: Envision a Better World. Let’s all dream about how we can best serve our communities.

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