CAAC opens full choice pantry

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comJune 11, 2013 

— Aisles of cereal, juice and bread wrap around canned goods and shopping carts. A freezer section packed with poultry lets out a brisk puff each time a door is opened.

It takes a while finding something a grocery store has that this place doesn’t, but there around the final turn it is.

No lengthy receipt.

The Clover Area Assistance Center last week opened its new full-choice food pantry. Clients who previously came and took a bag filled by volunteers now meander the aisles, picking out the items they want. Carol Bellas came the first day. She was impressed.

“You get what you want, and not what they give you,” Bellas said.

The amount of food will remain the same. A volunteer helps each client as they go, showing how much of each grain or vegetable or donated pastry they get. Picking what she wants within what’s allowed, Bellas said, is much more efficient.

“It stops the waste because you’re not giving people food they don’t want to eat,” said Karen van Vierssen, executive director.

In the past, volunteers sometimes found food they had just distributed laying outside after they closed shop — a sure sign the client wasn’t going to eat everything volunteers packed.

Clients say they might give items they wouldn’t eat to neighbors. The idea that people getting food assistance might not eat it all may seem unusual to some, van Vierssen said.

But, she said, it’s a product of being human. People aren’t going to eat what they don’t like.

The new layout isn’t just a preferential change. There’s a functional purpose, too. A refrigerated section with glass doors will be added soon. There’s more room for food to be selected and more room to store it. In the “feast or famine” world of food pantries, where overstocked items one week may be scarce the next, more storage means a more even distribution, van Vierssen said.

Not everything at the center is changing. Close to 40 percent of the food distributed still will come from donations. Clients will come once a month and get what government guidelines say is needed per person in the home.

Assistance center food is and will remain supplemental, expected to last a family four to seven days.

“It’s not made to be everything they depend on,” van Vierssen said.

Stores like Food Lion, Bi-Lo, Harris Teeter and Walmart all partner with the center and its supplier, Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina. Still, much of what clients take home comes from their community.

“Donations from the community give us our variety of food and our quality of food,” van Vierssen said.

The center takes food, money, volunteer time, even toiletries and pet food when people are willing to donate it. The pantry is open three days each week and can have up to 50 clients at a time.

Early in the month is the most popular time. The pantry served 36 households its first day and another 21 just two days later.

Cathy Cook went through Thursday and got what she could for her family. She enjoyed the new setup. Mostly, she just loved that there are people in her community to help.

“It’s a good thing they’re doing here,” Cook said. “Either way, it’s appreciated when you can’t do for yourself.”

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