Creating an environment that respects the dignity of each client and where opportunities are available to build skills.
Have you ever thought about the culture of your food pantry? Do you offer a welcoming environment? Do you view your clients as only having needs and limitations or do you also recognize their strengths?
The key areas of view of clients, welcoming environment and skill building are the most important elements of a pantry with an inviting and respectful culture. The goal is creating an environment where volunteers have a positive view of clients, clients feel respected and there are opportunities for learning and skill building.
The culture continuum below describes 5 levels for creating a culture of respect and dignity. If your food pantry is at a level 1 or 2, resources are available to help you improve your pantry culture. At level 3 your pantry is beginning to provide a welcoming environment. The goal is for pantries to reach a level 5.
Why is Food Pantry Culture Important?
The cornerstone of implementing a person-centered food pantry program is the relationships between clients, staff and volunteers. Staff and volunteers should try to see the best in clients, interact with clients with respect, and focus on strengths rather than weaknesses. Clients should not feel like a “number” in a long line of people waiting to receive services. Instead, they should have a scheduled appointment, either for food, coaching, classes, or wrap-around services.
It is also important to partner with other community organizations to bring skill-building opportunities on site. Examples of services that can be offered at the food pantry to support member's goals include:
Cooking Matters / Shopping Matters program, a national curriculum developed by Share Our Strength
Nutrition Education, through support from students at a local college or university
Job training programs or help with resumes
Literacy programs or English as a Second Language classes