Choice Options at Bidwell Riverside

This article originally appeared in The Voice Vol. 14, No.3, Aug/Sept/October 2014.

Bidwell Riverside Center’s food pantry re-opened its doors on May 5, after making renovations to become a choice pantry. The transition allows clients to choose their food items each month, making trips to the pantry more enjoyable and cutting waste.

“People seems much happier with this system,” said Anne Bacon, Executive Director of Bidwell Riverside Center. “Sometimes they’ll come in and see people waiting and feel overwhelmed, but by the time they leave, they’re smiling and happy and glad.”

Bidwell’s choice pantry model is a high touch approach. Receiving food from the pantry is now a three-step process.

First, clients wait to meet with an intake staff member. Upon arrival, they are added to a virtual queue until their name is called. Once called, they meet with an intake staff member and then wait for a volunteer guide.

Anne Bacon

The volunteer guides them through the choice pantry, showing them how many products of each type they are eligible to receive, providing suggestions, and retrieving items that are refrigerated or frozen. Volunteers help bring the completed food boxes out to the clients’ vehicles, and they’re on their way.

Bidwell Riverside Center’s food pantry is the largest of 12 pantries in DMARC’s Food Pantry Network, in terms of the volume of people served.

“We’ve seen an increase [in the number of clients served] every month since 2009.” said Bacon. “From 2008 to 2013, we’ve doubled the number of people we’ve served.”

The biggest obstacle to the choice pantry model? Space.

“Everyone thought we wouldn’t have enough space, and we ended up with even more space [than before],” said Bacon. “It’s been remarkable. You can feel the reduction in anxiety of the clients and staff, because you don’t have everyone on top of each other.”

The choice food pantry has an open, inviting aura to it. For the residents of Des Moines that Bidwell Riverside Center serves, it provides dignity and hope in their struggle with hunger.

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