The Guelph Food Bank is completely shifting the way it distributes food to its clients and it is organizing this change immediately after its busiest program of the year.
Starting Jan. 2, the Guelph Food Bank is ceasing the food hamper model it has used for the last 30 years and swiping to a shopping model, which staff say will result in a more dignified experience for its clients..
Clients using the food bank will soon be met with racks of food laid out more like a supermarket, said Pauline Cripps, marketing and communications coordinator with the Guelph Food Bank.
Each client is allotted a number of points based on the size of their family, which they can spend on the products on food bank shelves.
“They are able to make the choices, they are able to choose base on their needs, for their family, for their diet,” said Cripps.
Debbie Lascelles, a long-time volunteer and staff at Guelph Food Bank, said volunteers will help clients transition to the new shopping model
“There will be a concierge volunteer available to them to go through it the first couple of times, making sure everyone is comfortable,” said Lascelles.
“Essentially, it is still like building a hamper for them, you’re just doing it with them and with their input,” said Cripps.
There will be limits on some items, said Cripps, and volunteers will be able to guide clients through healthier options, but choosing healthy food is not a requirement.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to the client. You’re trusting the client is going to choose what’s best to them — by giving them that choice, it improves their dignity,” said Cripps.
When Guelph Food Bank has excess of an item, it may cost zero points to add to a clients basket and some staples will also have a value of zero.
The food bank received a grant courtesy Kraft Canada and Food Banks Canada to implement the program, which will go toward the purchase of scales to measure the food.
Cripps said the scales will also allow the food bank to more accurately keep track of how much food is distributed to clients.
Staff and volunteers at Guelph Food Bank will begin to transition to the new shopping model at the end of this week, after its Adopt-a-Family program is complete.
“We decided to do (the transition) on the back of our busiest program of the year,” quipped Cripps.
Guelph Food Bank decided to make the shift to the shopping model after consulting with food banks in Orangeville and Windsor that have already switched to that model.
“It was interesting to see because we fall in the middle somewhere,” said Lascelles.
The new model will be a learning process for clients, volunteers and staff, said Lascelles, but she expects it will run like a well-oiled machine once everyone gets used to it.
“We’re willing to work with everyone to make sure they are served with dignity and respect and we will get it done one way or another,” she said.
Currently, the Guelph Food Bank serves between 85 to 110 clients per day. In 2016, it recorded over 35,000 visits by clients and more than 1.6-million pounds of food distributed.
Cripps said the food bank is always looking for reliable volunteers.
“We love working with anybody and we’re really working on building a team,” she said.