Guest / Limited Access /
Let People Shop
Jim Mendenhall / Genesis Photos

It didn't seem right—just letting people take as much free food as they wanted.

Volunteers struggled with the concept when an eastern Ohio food pantry began letting clients choose their own food instead of giving them a pre-boxed three-day supply. But it became clear people weren't going to empty the shelves.

"They looked at us like, 'Where do I begin, and how much should I take?'?" recalled Janet Gore, director of Journey's End Ministries in Newcomerstown. "The poor have a lot of pride. They take what they need."

Far from depleting its stocks, Journey's End has seen its cost per person drop as well as a six-fold increase in users since switching to client choice in 2008. Factory closings drove up the numbers, but so did giving clients dignity, Gore said. "We made it much more comfortable for them to shop."

The church-supported pantry is one of many that let people shop for what they want rather than pre-packaging what's supposed to be good for them. It's a growing philosophy that enables pantries to feed more people and waste less food, advocates say.

"The trend in recent years is very much to move to that system, where people are selecting exactly what they want," said Ross Fraser, spokesman for Feeding America, a national network serving 29,000 pantries, 20 percent of which now use client choice. "We know people will use what they take."

Besides reducing thrown-out food, the system better reflects biblical principles, said John Arnold, executive director of Feeding America West Michigan and a leading proponent of client-choice. "There's no admonishment in Scripture about being overly generous to people who need ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this Issue
Subscriber Access Only Wilson's Bookmarks
Brief Reviews of 'God of Liberty,' 'Manifest Destinies,' and 'Anterooms.'
RecommendedThe World’s Most Outstanding Medical Missionary
The World’s Most Outstanding Medical Missionary
Burundi surgeon wins $500,000 prize for service in 2016’s hungriest country.
TrendingThe Story Behind Trump’s Controversial Prayer Partner
The Story Behind Trump’s Controversial Prayer Partner
What Paula White’s Washington moment implies for the prosperity gospel’s future.
Editor's PickThe Church’s Integrity in the Trump Years
The Church’s Integrity in the Trump Years
It begins by recognizing the name above every name.
Christianity Today
Let People Shop
hide thisDecember December

In the Magazine

December 2010

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.