Why Client Choice

“When an individual steps through the door at Food for Others,” shared Executive Director, Annie Turner, “we want them to feel a sense of belonging. While they are here, we want to give them a more normalized experience, and we want them to leave feeling empowered and supported. The new market accomplishes this and so much more.” 

Food for Others opened our new choice marketplace, My Market, on Monday, January 23rd. As the space begins to serve families experiencing food insecurity, we wanted to share some insight on why we switched to a choice model. My Market offers our community a client-choice marketplace, where families experiencing food insecurity can select the items they receive through our emergency food assistance program. 

The client choice model was first introduced in 1994 through Michigan’s Waste Not Want Not Program. The program was initiated by John Arnold of the Second Harvest Gleaners Food Bank of West Michigan. Through his research, Arnold found “that the average community in America today can essentially double its capacity to address its hunger problem by switching from giving out standardized food boxes to letting clients pick out their own food.” 

At Food for Others, we hope to increase our capacity to address hunger by offering client choice. We had a small choice area beginning in 2016 but had to close it in 2020 due to the pandemic.   The choice model improves outcomes for clients as it allows them to select items according to their dietary and cultural needs. Ideally, it removes the stigma of seeking emergency food assistance as it functions similarly to the average grocery shopping experience. Katie Martin of Connecticut Food Share, describes client choice as “best practice,” explaining that “if we are serious about helping people, not just with food for today, but to get back on their feet [we need choice].” One of the most significant benefits of choice is providing greater dignity for clients. Receiving a premade box of food may feel isolating and disempowering, but when clients choose their own items, they leave with a better sense of community support and a greater likelihood of moving toward food security.  

Along with improving client experience, choice is a less wasteful alternative. At Food for Others, one of our priorities is reducing food waste. When clients can select their own items, we can use that information to inform which items we purchase. They are also less likely to pick items they will not eat unlike in a premade box when some of the food may end up in a landfill. Porchlight Community Services clarifies why the choice model can reduce waste; “While many food pantries work to minimize food that otherwise would have been wasted, client-choice pantries have even more efficiency when doing this. Since no one will take things that their family isn’t going to eat, it eliminates the additional waste that happens once the box of food makes it home.” At My Market, we also limit food waste through grocery store salvage. Salvage often includes items such as deli, bread, or frozen food. With choice, we can distribute more grocery store-rescued food as families can select items they’d prefer.  

We’re absolutely thrilled to introduce our choice marketplace to the community and continue to be part of the fight against hunger. As My Market grows, we look forward to developing and improving our choice system to best meet the needs of our community.