We're just thrilled that full client choice will begin next week, on July 13 (our first July Pantry day).
We hope this email will answer questions you may have about client choice at the IFPO.
Thanks in advance for your patience as we work out the kinks in our new system!
What will I do as a volunteer when I come to IFPO on July 13 and after?
You will enter the main IFPO room as before. A tagged Volunteer Coordinator will be located at the table near the front Stage. There will be a sign in sheet (as before) where we need you to list your name, affiliation, and email address. There will also be a second, new, Volunteer Sign In Sheet. On that sheet, you will sign up to work at a specific area that day: from bread and produce bagging; 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, working in the Sanctuary, helping create snack bags for the World Wide Orphan program, etc. The Volunteer Coordinator will help you find an appropriate role for that day. Volunteers arriving later in the morning will likely be assigned as escorts (a very important job under our new system).
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 expect to set up the main room. Pink arrows show client flow.
What happens next?
Once you are signed in, you will go to the Sanctuary or to bread and produce bagging, if that is your assignment.
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 small number of bags for our day care workers and limited others. These bags will be similar to those we have previously packed.
On diaper days (the last Wednesday of the month), a group of volunteers will work under Karyn Leit to set up diaper bags for clients as we currently do.
Under the direction of Lisa Goldberg Ozer, 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 pantries and put either on the 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.
Bagged bread, vegetables and desserts will be added to specific choice tables as directed.
Once the main room is fully set up and we are ready to begin (hopefully by 9:00 am), everyone not assigned to a continuing specific job or station will move towards the hall. A tagged Escort Coordinator will assign you to a client, who you will escort when told through all the choice stations. That Coordinator will monitor the flow of clients into the main room to ensure that no bottlenecks are created.
Is anything different about client check-in in the Sanctuary?
In addition to receiving a number when they check in, our clients will now receive a paper card 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. The "1", "2-3", and "4+" cards will be three different colors. We intend to move to reusable laminated cards once we have ironed the kinks out of the system!
Do the clients know about this new system?
Clients have been told we are going to full client choice, and they have seen a smaller choice system happening (but without a client card) the last few months. There will be flyers in Spanish and English given out in the Sanctuary the first few weeks explaining some of the system. They have not seen client choice cards.
What happens once clients come into the main room?
Clients will hand in their registration number, as they currently do. Their escort may hold onto the client's numbered card (the card that says "1", "2-3". or "4+"), if the client desires (to free up client's hands). They will be handed a grocery bag if one is needed (we are encouraging clients to utilize their own disposable bags, and clients may shop directly into bags in 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 vegetable station to the fruit station, from the protein station to the grain station, to the "other" station, to the "free" station (if present), 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 cards. For example, at the grain station, a "1" client currently can make 2 choices from among the bread, cereal, crackers, rice and pasta displayed; a "2-3" client can also make "2" choices, a "4+" client can make 3 choices. 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 vegetable station will have a choice of canned and pouched vegetables (we are increasingly receiving pouched vegetables from the Community Foodbank as pouches weigh less than cans, can be directly microwaved, and contain less sodium that comparable canned goods) and pasta sauce, as well as bagged fresh vegetables.
- The fruit station will have canned or jarred fruits and sometimes fresh fruit choices.
- The protein station may have peanut butter, tuna (and possibly canned chicken, sardines, salmon, anchovies or gefilte fish, when available), dried and canned beans, mac and 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 nicer bagged bread, rolls and bagels; cereal, crackers, rice and pasta.
- The "other" station will contain soups, milk, dessert, and jelly, when available.
- The "free" table will contain items available on a specific day, including additional fruits and vegetables, assorted mixed bagged desserts and breads, toiletries, and miscellaneous items.
Are there overriding limits on how many of a specific item a client can choose?
- 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 counts for 2 choices.
- For grain: there is a maximum of 1 box or grouped servings of cereal, pancake mix or muffin mix; as well as a maximum of a package of rice.
- For vegetables and fruits: Clients are currently limited to choosing 1 fresh vegetable at the vegetable station and 1 fresh fruit at the fruit station (they may take both fresh fruits and vegetables if they are available at those two stations). There may be additional fresh items available on the "free" table.
- For "free", clients will be directed by the volunteer in charge of the station.
Clients may choose a mix of items or all items in a particular category. For example, if they have 3 protein choices they can choose 3 cans of tuna, or 1 jar of peanut butter, or 1 mac and cheese and 1 tuna and 1 protein meal, or 1 pound of dried beans (which counts as 2 choices) and 1 can of black beans.
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.
What happens when clients have completed the cycle through all the stations?
Client's numbered cards will have been collected at the last station of the day (usually the free station). 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.
Why is the last day of the month different?
The last day of the month we see our largest group of clients, generally over 220, as it is diaper day and as our clients' SNAP benefits begin to run out. Our diaper crew, under the direction of Karyn Leit, has a great system in place for serving diaper clients. The only thing that will change is that we have run out of those great black bags we've been using, so diapers will now be handed out in plastic bags or in the clients own black bags if they bring them back as we have requested.
We do inventory the last day of the month, so we can order food from the Community Foodbank for the following month. Inventory may be a little trickier now at the start, as we need to figure out not only what we have left on hand but also try to understand what our clients are really preferring (should we order more peas, if available, and less green beans? do clients given a choice love the spaghetti and meatballs and hate the rice, beans and sausage?). We're hoping a few volunteers can "stay late" (till 12:00 or so) on that day to help us get it done.
Speak Spanish or French. Let us know!
It would truly help us those first few weeks if anyone who speaks Spanish or French (
really Haitian Creole) could be there to help our clients understand the system. Please tell the Volunteer Coordinator when you sign in.
What will happen on Thanksgiving and Christmas distribution days?
Given our massive client numbers on those days, we currently expect to employ our bagged grocery system for those two distribution days.
What else should I know?
The IFPO Board has 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 anticipate that there will be some snags in the first few weeks. In fact, we are starting out using paper client cards, so that we can make changes in our distribution system if needed, before we go to laminated cards!
But it is also very, very important to all of us that this works well for our fabulous volunteers. We couldn't accomplish what we do without our network of committed volunteers. We are thrilled that this system will allow 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. We understand that 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 bear with us the first month or two, as we figure this out in practice and make needed tweaks. If you don't have a perfect day when volunteering, let us know what we can do to make it work better for us. We truly welcome your suggestions and hope you will share your perspective on this new experience with us.
We expect that it will take a little longer in the beginning to get everyone through the process, which is new to both clients and volunteers. But we've been assured by other client choice pantries - and have seen in action - that it takes no longer once it is fully underway. If you can stay a little longer in the beginning it would be much appreciated.
In case you don't recall: 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.