A proud member of the MEND network of food pantries
client choice protein station
Information for New (First Time) Volunteers/Client Choice Information   
The IFPO has operated as a full "client choice" Choice* pantry since July of 2016. We still create "grab and go" bags (distributed at Registration) for a limited number of clients each week who need to leave pantry quickly for a variety of reasons. But most clients select their own food in accordance with the system described below.

What will I do as a volunteer when I come to the IFPO?

Volunteers enter the Church at Parish Hall at the rear door near the outside playground; clients enter through the Sanctuary door - towards Main Street -  and they then proceed to Registration in the Sanctuary. A member of our IFPO Board who is in charge for the day (the "Volunteer Coordinator") will be located at the long table near the front stage in Parish Hall. They will greet you and ask you to fill out a sign-in sheet where we need you to carefully print your name, affiliation, and email address. This Volunteer Coordinator will tell you a bit about what is happening at IFPO that day. They will then assign you to a specific job depending on our needs at the time when you arrive: from bread and produce bagging; to bringing food from our pantry storage rooms to the choice tables; to working at a specific client choice table; to helping make "grab and go bags"; to being in charge of a specific job like handing out bags as clients enter that main room, taking client numbers, or working in the Sanctuary. You may be asked to sort through donated food on the stage (distributed or put in the storage pantries under our direction), or to help create snack bags for the World Wide Orphan program. Many volunteers will be assigned as client escorts (a very important and rewarding job under our client choice system system). 

Please tell the Volunteer Coordinator if you speak Spanish or French (many of our clients speak Haitian Creole) as language skills can be very useful at the IFPO.

If you complete your first assigned job before the end of pantry (example - all the bread has been bagged), you should return to the Volunteer Coordinator; it is likely that you will then be asked to be an escort. 

What will the main room look like?

This chart shows how we generally set up the main room. Turquoise arrows show client flow. 

What happens next?

Once you are signed in, you will go to the location of your assignment. 

Under the direction of the Pantry Coordinator (usually Lisa Goldberg Ozer or her replacement on a day Lisa is not there), remaining early volunteers and those assigned to specific client choice table stations will help set up those stations. Designated items will be taken out of the two main pantry storage rooms and put either on the choice stations or under the appropriate choice tables for use later in the day. In order to ensure that there is an orderly flow of choices in appropriate quantities, and that we distribute all SFPP on SFPP days, it is important that no items are removed from the pantries unless you are specifically directed to do so. 

Wearing disposable gloves, we will bag donated bread and certain vegetables, which will be added to specific choice tables as directed. Other vegetables and fruit will be placed directly on the tables.

Grab and go bag volunteers will work under the direction of Sue Nissim (or her replacement on a day Sue is not there) to create a bag for clients who need to leave pantry quickly, and limited others who are allowed by the registration team to pick up a bag for a client who cannot come to pantry that day. These bags will be similar to those we now pack for our Thanksgiving and Holiday distributions. Under Sue's coordination, our "bread crew", when they finish bagging all bread for the day,  makes grab and go bags for a specific list of some registered clients who are workers or parents at the day care housed in the Church.

Once the main room (Parish Hall) is fully set up and we are ready to begin (generally by 9:00 am), everyone not assigned to a continuing specific job or station will move towards the hall. The Escort Coordinator there will assign you to a client, who you will then escort when told through all the choice stations in Parish Hall. That Coordinator will monitor the flow of clients from the Sanctuary into Parish Hall to ensure that no bottlenecks are created. 

What happens at client check-in in the Sanctuary?

Registered clients show their IFPO card and receive a number when they check in. They also will receive a paper slip labelled "1", "2-3" or "4+" that will allow them to receive an amount of food coordinated to their family size, as previously reported to the IFPO. "Emergency guests" who have not been to the IFPO previously or those who can now register for the IFPO check in with a specific member of our registration team to receive their slips for food.

The "1", "2-3", and "4+" cards are three different colors. The pictures below are approximates of the slips we use (the order on the slips may vary). The numbers on the right side of the slip show the number of choices a client receives at each station. For example, at the protein station, a client with the "1" card shown below could make three choices from the tuna, peanut butter, mac and cheese, beans or protein meals displayed on that table.
client choice cards

What happens once clients come into the main room?

Clients hand in their registration number as they enter the room. Their escort may hold onto the client's numbered slip (the slip that says "1", "2-3". or "4+"), if the client desires (to free up client's hands). We are encouraging clients to utilize their own disposable bags in order to reduce our need to obtain, make and store double paper bags. Clients will be handed a paper grocery bag if one is needed. Clients may shop directly into bags and into their carts. With their escort, who can hold their bag, if the client desires, clients will move in order around the "U" of tables, proceeding from the protein station to the grain station, from the "other" station to the vegetable station, to the fruit station and then the free tables (bread is always free), to the diaper station (if present and applicable). 

At each station, clients will be making choices among the items on the table according to their personal preferences and aligned with the numbers on their slips. The amount of the choices each client can make was devised after extensive conversations by an IFPO subcommittee in accordance with USDA guidelines for pantries. 

What will be on each station?
  • The protein station will usually have peanut butter, tuna (and possibly canned chicken, sardines, salmon, anchovies or gefilte fish, when available), dried and/or canned beans, boxed mac & cheese, and protein meals (including items like ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs, beef stew, rice and beans and sausage, Vienna sausage, and Spam). 
  • The grain station will contain breakfast choices (hot and/or cold cereal, pancake mix, granola bars), crackers, rice/grains and pasta. 
  • The "other" station will contain soups, powdered or boxed milk, dessert, and jelly (usually available once a month). 
  • The vegetable station will contain a variety of fresh and usually canned vegetables, and perhaps canned tomatoes and/or pasta sauce.
  • The fruit station will have fresh and/or canned or jarred fruits.  
  • The "free" tables will contain items available on a specific day, including miscellaneous donated items, and bread. Toiletries and feminine hygiene products may be offered there. The volunteers in charge of those tables will tell clients how many choices each client can make on a given day.

Are there overriding limits on how many of a specific item a client can choose? 

There may be limits imposed on a given day based on availability. Clients cannot "swap" amounts between categories. For example, a "1" client who only wants 2 vegetables instead of the 3 they may choose cannot use the "extra" vegetable at the fruit station. Certain other limits are generally in place (our "regular" clients usually are aware of these limits):

  • For protein: A large jar (16 or 18 ounces or more) of peanut butter is the equivalent of 3 choices. A pound of dried beans, not often available, counts for 2 choices.
  • For grain: there is always  maximum of 1 breakfast choice; as well as generally a maximum of one package of rice. 
  • For "other", there is a limit of one jelly, when available (usually our first pantry week of each month), one milk and one dessert option (our dessert of the day or donated pastries). 
  • For "free", clients will be directed by the volunteer in charge of the station. 
Diaper clients
Adorable diaper program client

We have 286 babies registered in our diaper program, and now give out 10,000 diapers each month. "Diaper clients" receive diapers once each month. We are currently in a trial where we hand out diapers to clients every week pantry is open (clients pick the week they receive diapers, and get a "diaper card" when they check in at Registration). If a client you are escorting has a diaper card, they will go to the diaper station where the volunteers in charge will give them their preferred size of packed diapers, wipes and diaper cream.

Diabetes clients

We are participating in a program called "Food, Health & Hope: An Answer to Diabetes", an initiative of Summit Medical Group Foundation and the Community FoodBank of NJ. Individuals who tested positive for pre-diabetes or diabetes through a free medical screening at the IFPO were offered the opportunity to enroll in this special program. Twice a month, these clients (42 now) are given nutrition counseling and medical education, further medical screenings, and  receive, in addition to their regular IFPO food allotment, special food boxes containing fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and other nutritious food appropriate for people with diabetes. The program will study whether providing this healthy food, education and medical screenings will impact people's health. 

client's healthy meals made from IFPO and diabetes program foods
A healthy meal made by a diabetes program client from items given out to program participants.
Diabetes program clients have a purple heart sticker on their pantry card (the white card with the IFPO logo and their name). When it is a "diabetes week", after they have gone through all the client choice stations, they come to the front tables. They will be asked (usually by Lisa) to initial their names on a diabetes program list, and then given the contents of the "diabetes box" (usually placed by us into more easily carried bags) and special produce allocations. The diabetes boxes and special produce are assembled on the stage.

What happens when clients have completed the cycle through all the stations?

Client's numbered slips will be collected at the last station of the day. Clients will be gently guided out of the main room by their escorts. Please remember that you are not allowed to escort clients past the door (no carrying their groceries through the parking lot, across the street or to their homes). Escorts will go back to the hall and speak to the Escort Coordinator to be assigned a new client. 

A few clients each day will have a second number (received at Registration) to be able to collect a "grab and go" bag for a registered client who was unable to come to pantry that day (for example, a sick or now invalid registered neighbor). They will proceed to the main table and pick up their grab and go (usually from Lisa) before exiting. 

Why is the last day of the month different?

A Farmer's Market program sponsored by the Summit Medical Group Foundation and the Community FoodBank (CFB) brings (literally) pallets of fresh  produce to the IFPO. Clients have been able to take home bountiful quantities of collard greens, cabbages, corn, zucchini, watermelon, eggplant, string beans, peaches, carrots, onions, shallots, and more. We also sometimes receive additional items the CFB has in abundance, like Vitamin Water or iced tea.

We do inventory the last day of the month, so that we can order food from the Community FoodBank for the following month. We can't do inventory till close to the end of the pantry day each month, and a few volunteers are needed to stay late to complete this important task. 

What else should I know?

The IFPO Board visited different client choice pantries over several years and spent a lot of time over many months discussing whether we should make this change and then how this process could best work for our clients. We are one of the few client choice pantries in NJ. Our clients are truly thrilled to be able to choose what works for their individual households on a given week. 

*Why Client Choice? A client choice pantry allows customers to select their own foods instead of receiving a pre-packed bag of groceries.  This means clients will not receive food they have already, do not like, or cannot eat for health or personal reasons. Customers select foods within food groups so they can make well-balanced meals at home. Allowing clients to choose their own food provides a dignified shopping experience and empowers clients to make healthy and balanced food choices.

We couldn't accomplish what we do without our network of committed volunteers. We are thrilled that this system has allowed our volunteers to have a much greater level of interaction with our clients as you "hang out" with them in the hallway and then escort them through our system. While communication may be difficult with some of our non-English speaking clients, a kind smile and a wish that they have a good week will go a long way to making everyone's day better.

Please talk to one of the IFPO Board members if you have any questions or any thoughts about how we can make volunteering a better experience for you.

Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges