A Story of Enabling Dignity

Our Food Pantry team did an amazing job of adapting the way the pantry ran during the pandemic – pivoting to offering safe services outside. But there’s no getting around the fact that the temporary system offered our clients less in the way of choice and flexibility than we like to be able to give.

One older Asian lady found this particularly difficult. She obviously took pride in what she fed her family, and she preferred fresh food and often didn’t want what was in the pre-packed bags of shelf-stable foods. Our volunteers were happy to run inside to the refrigerators to get what she needed, but there was a significant language barrier. We have many bilingual community members, and make good use of online translation tools, but even our amazing staff and volunteers have their limitations!

The pantry staff tried to help by remembering what she’d taken in the past, and putting together bags of what they thought she might like – but then she’d get upset because she could see she wasn’t being offered the same as other people. It was stressful for her, not getting the kinds of food she wanted (she was getting food for both her own family and for an ill friend), and stressful for our staff and volunteers, who find it hard when they can’t help people as much as they’d like.

In February, we finished the process of getting back to our pre-pandemic status. We’d staggered opening the pantry itself for in-store “shopping,” opening first for one day a week, then two, and finally three. This lady’s preferred shopping day was Thursday, the last day to reopen. There were smiles all around as she was finally able to pick out her own food from the produce tables and the meat and dairy fridge, and she left the building happy. It’s hard to understate the importance of allowing our community the dignity of making their own choices.

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