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by Lauren Solidum
Special to The Leaven

In 2022, we had an astounding 25,000 additional visits to our food pantries over the previous year. We are on par for that or more as the number of individuals served seeking food through our pantries continues to increase.

One of the ways we have responded to this growing food insecurity is to recognize that feedback from those that we serve is critical.

The purpose of our food pantries, located within each Family Support Center, is to provide free, culturally and dietarily appropriate food as a supplemental resource for families in need. Perhaps what sets us apart is how we do it. Each pantry is set up as client-choice, operating like a grocery store where the shopper chooses the food items that they need. This change to our original food pantry operations was a result of  best  practices gathered through Catholic Charities USA and the families we serve.

As a part of our continued desire to hear the voices of those we serve, we created a food pantry work group to build on existing food pantry structures and relieve barriers in order to provide families nutritional, supplemental food, diapers, hygiene products and supplies during times of crisis.

Client surveys were conducted at all eight food pantries during the months of October and November 2022.

Of the 667 clients that participated in the survey, we found:

• 95% of respondents said that food received from Catholic Charities makes a significant difference in their ability to afford food.

• 66% of respondents were unable to afford balanced meals, often snacking or purchasing lower-cost fast-food options.

• 72% of respondents reduced food intake due to lack of money to purchase food.

• 35% of respondents went without food an entire day (or more) due to lack of money to purchase food.

• 41% of respondents reported dietary restrictions, diabetes, allergies, etc.

• Meat, dairy and produce are the hardest for families to acquire and the most sought after.

The information has been extremely helpful, and will be instrumental in determining how we serve moving forward. Some of the changes we plan to implement include: 

• Adjusting our hours of operation to be more conducive to the work schedules of those that we serve

• Modifying the diversity of the food pantry based on the geographical area and population of people that it serves

• Providing individuals and families with more information/recipes on building balanced meals on a budget and ways to stretch proteins

• Increasing education to families on the eligibility of the Supplemental Food and Nutrition Program (SNAP) as a temporary resource to increase the amount of food within the home

• Developing more meat, dairy and produce sourcing relationships

I am grateful to our staff for their continued commitment to serve, and for our clients who took the time to provide sound feedback.

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