Community Food Basket of Ottawa clients will have more freedom in their selections in 2020.
The organization announced at a volunteer appreciation dinner Tuesday night they’ll switch their service model to a client choice-based service that will allow more freedom in a client’s individual selections.
Director of Development Beth Vercolio-Osmund said to The Times it’s a model that’s become increasingly more popular for food pantries both as it allows families to best pick the items that represent their individual needs or allergies.
“By giving our clients that choice it’s going to mean they’re going to get better nutrition and make better use of their time and it’s just more respectful,” she said.
Currently, a family receives a box full of supplies but Vercolio-Osmund explained this can be tricky for some families that either don't know how best to compile a meal from the foods they’ve been given or if a family member has an allergic reaction.
Peanut butter can be a useful source of protein for many but a peanut allergy in the family may lead some to seek out canned tuna instead.
Clients will be given a number of points that will be assigned based on the number of family members in their household. Those points will be distributed among a number of categories based on the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) “MyPlate” guidelines, such as points in produce, fruits, vegetables, dairy, etc.
Vercolio-Osmund said selecting products will be similar to how many shop at a grocery store and make decisions based on their budget, time available to cook and family tastes.
“And I certainly wouldn’t want to go into the grocery store and have them hand me a box,” she said.
The freedom of choice also gives greater respect to the individuals utilizing the service.
“No one wants to go to the food pantry. It’s hard to ask for help. The more we can facilitate making that a pleasant experience, the better,” Vercolio-Osmund said.
The organization is already trying to close a “meal gap” in La Salle County as identified by the Feeding America organization and the more work that can be done to encourage those to visit the site then the closer they get to shrinking the gap.
The organization has around 40 dedicated volunteers serving roughly 100 families as week.
Change will require revamp of location and search for donations
The switch is larger than philosophy, however, as it also will require a change in the layout of their business.
In order to suit the new model, their location at 519 Madison St. will undergo a physical transformation to be handled by Liebhard Construction to best suit the new system.
The cubicles in the middle will be removed and additional freezer and cooler capacity will be added while everything else will move around inside the facility.
“We’ll stay in this same location but it’s going to look a lot different,” Vercolio-Osmund said. “It’s going to look a lot more like a grocery store.”
But, in order to do that the organization will need additional support from sponsors.
They’ve recognized a number of potential sponsorships business or individuals can help support in order to bring the new remodel to life. The organization is expecting to close for around two to three weeks prior to the change in January, their slowest month of the year, but they plan to have pop-up locations for those in need during the closure.
The total cost of the renovation is expected to be around $40,000 to $50,000 but Vercolio-Osmund said they expect that cost to come down after searching for grants and receiving donations.
The official announcement was made Tuesday night but those that have been told about the change earlier have received the new service positively.
“Everybody who has heard about it is very excited,” Vercolio-Osmund said. “It’s really going to be a good way to serve our clients.”
Director of Operations Marissa Vicich said many are excited to do more for those in need.
“When they heard it is proven to be the best thing for clients people were like ‘OK, that’s what we’re here for and that’s what we’re doing,’” she said.
For more information, you can call 815-431-0155 or visit their website at ottawafoodbasket.org or Facebook page at fb.com/communityfoodbasket.