Gone are the days of standing in line at the local food bank waiting for a portioned amount of produce. With a new choice market model, the Community FoodBank is working to offer opportunity and respect to its customers while providing a selection of fresh produce every week.
People from all over San Benito County came together May 18 for an open house at the Community FoodBank, located at 1133 San Felipe Road in Hollister to see the innovative concept in action.
Public tours of the nonprofit organization’s facility showed off the new choice market model, which allows customers to select their own groceries at various stations around the market. Typical food bank models have customers stand in line to receive dispensed groceries.
Outreach and Development Coordinator Mark Paxton described the traditional food bank model as the neck of the hourglass.
“Food comes in, it’s distributed out to other nonprofits and organizations, and they do the direct to consumer distribution,” Paxton said. “In San Benito, there isn’t the depth of service because we’re a small agricultural community. So we do both, that neck of the hourglass out to other nonprofits that address hunger in the county, and we do direct to consumer.”
With the new model centered around choice, customers can come in, grab a shopping cart, and pick what they want to eat. Volunteers are on standby to keep the stock replenished with fresh produce.
“When we switched to a choice market, we gave people back a lot of things,” Paxton said. “Choice is something that, when you’re in a financial crisis, it’s one of the first things that you sacrifice. By giving people choice, it’s very empowering.”
Although the amount of customers varies by season, Paxton said the organization serves around 5,000 people per month. As far as demographics go, 52 percent of Community FoodBank customers are employed, 20 percent are retired on a fixed income, 18 percent are disabled, and only 10 percent are unemployed, Paxton said.
“People often ask, it’s my least favorite question, ‘who is your typical customer?’” Paxton said. “Look up and down your street. The people who visit us each week are the people we live with in our community. They are our children, our parents, our neighbors.”
That demographic breakdown shows that the nonprofit’s services are going to truly needy families, said San Benito County Supervisor Mark Medina at the Friday event.
“To me, that’s extremely important because we’re giving back to people that are providing us with our labor,” Medina said.
As an additional benefit of the new choice market model, Paxton said there’s been a reduction in food waste at the facility.
“Our food waste has gone down because people aren’t being given food they won’t consume,” Paxton said. “They’re taking the food they will consume. That’s a big difference, it confers dignity and respect.”
“Food is a mechanism for a much larger mission here, and that is really bundled into opportunity and dignity.”
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