Our philosophy on changing the charitable food system involves the critical component of Coaching using motivational interviewing. It's about meeting people where they are in terms of readiness for change. Coaching helps people help themselves, by helping them gain an education, improve their housing, address legal issues, or access affordable child care. Traditional pantries often provide passive food assistance; but we encourage a proactive approach to helping people improve their lives.  


Individualized Case Management

The second core component of what makes the innovative food pantry model different from other food pantries is the personalized case management provided to clients.  Because food pantry clients are struggling with poverty, many clients feel that they have little control over their life circumstances.  The emphasis of the Freshplace program was to help members feel confident that they can make changes, and to provide opportunities for them to take advantage of services and programs to improve their lives. 

The Program Manager (with support from volunteers) helps members set small achievable goals for making changes that, if accomplished, will boost their confidence in coping with similar problems in the future.  This model creates an atmosphere that helps increase members’ feelings of self worth and their ability to make changes in their lives, ultimately helping them build confidence so they can work toward longer-term goals.

The individualized case management at Freshplace was designed to help people help themselves, by helping people increase their education, improve their housing situations, address legal issues, or gain access to affordable child care.  Traditional pantries provide passive food assistance; we encourage a proactive approach so that members may improve their own lives.

This new model is not a “one size fits all” program.  Many individuals in need of food assistance are not eligible or not ready for the type of services that we provide.  Potential members are screened for eligibility and for their willingness to develop and work on their personal plans.  Once accepted into the program, staff monitor and support members’ progress with regular meetings, and an end goal of them no longer needing food pantry services.

Stages of Change Model

Our approach is based on the Stages of Change model and Social Cognitive Theory, which provide the foundation for many types of social service and public health programs.  In the Freshplace program, we recognized that helping people make behavior changes is a process that involves stages. 

To help members increase their food security and self-sufficiency, it is important to understand how ready people are to make changes so that we can tailor information, programs, and services that will be most beneficial to them.  Research shows that programs that match services and information with the appropriate stage of readiness are more effective and more sustainable than programs that apply a “one size fits all” approach.

Social Cognitive Theory focuses on an individual’s self-efficacy (confidence in their ability to make changes in their life), and their ability to be an agent of their own change.  This model suggests that people’s ability to make a change in their life varies according to their self-efficacy, abilities, and readiness for change; hence services are most effective when tailored to these factors.  Staff should tailor services and information to each member’s stage of readiness to increase self-sufficiency and become more food secure. It is critically important that staff and volunteers adopt this operational approach to achieve program success. 

Motivational Interviewing

We believe that while we may have ideas on how people in general can change their behavior, the member is the expert on how they themselves can change.  Each member is unique in what motivates them to change, and we believe that our members have important insight and ideas on how to solve their own problems.

It is the individual’s personal responsibility and choice whether or not to change.  A common mistaken assumption made by social service providers is that the client should change or that the client wants to change.  Assessing how much a person actually wants to change is crucial to success.

Motivational Interviewing techniques reinforce positive changes and provide social support. Commonly used as a counseling style to treat addictions, Motivational Interviewing is nonjudgmental, encouraging, client-centered, and goal-driven.  This counseling technique also conveys confidence, trust, respect, and reinforces members’ feelings of self-worth.

Many clients are ambivalent about change, and they may have very good reasons for not changing their behavior.  It is important for us to understand those reasons.  Additionally, allowing members to discuss their situation (such as housing, mental health, or legal issues) can paradoxically serve as a catalyst for positive behavior change.  Furthermore, a member is more likely to adopt healthy behaviors if they “want to” rather than if they are “told to.”

It is important to work at a pace that is sensitive to the member’s needs and their readiness to change.  It is critical to provide nonjudgmental feedback and information to maximize the member’s motivation to make changes in his or her life.  The role of the Program Manager is to understand the member’s feelings and perspectives without judging, criticizing, or blaming.

By showing respect for the member, the member’s self-esteem is supported, which frees them to change.  Acceptance refers to “understanding” the member’s perspective without necessarily approving or endorsing their behavior.

It is critical that the member be successful in their efforts to reach their own goals so that their self-efficacy and motivation to change increases.  Therefore, it is important that realistic goals be chosen.  This may mean choosing smaller short-term goals at which the member can succeed rather than large behavior change goals at which they will fail. 

More information about Motivational Interviewing coming soon...