Our Father’s House
FITCHBURG -- The phrase “food pantry” may no longer apply to the weekly activities of Our Father’s House at Faith Christian Church.
Whereas many other food-assistance programs operate out of limited spaces that give food pantries their name, this operation sprawls through a function hall each Wednesday night. And that’s not the only big difference.
Clients also get to push around a shopping cart and browse aisles for the food they want to take with them.
“We opened with this model because with a lot of food pantries you just show up and get a box of food. And then you’ll find outside a lot of those pantries that there is food that someone has left because they didn’t want it,” said Kevin MacLean, director of homeless services for Our Father’s House.
Instead of giving clients a box of pre-selected items, they now have the ability to “shop around” the pantry’s offerings and pick the items they know they like to eat. It has cut back on wasted donations but it’s also helped make the experience of relying on food assistance more normal for some visitors.
“It gives a little more ownership to it,” said MacLean. “Imagine the embarrassment for some people to go to a food pantry. Here, they’re shopping.”
Faylene Lovely of Fitchburg said she’s been frequenting the pantry since it opened about one year ago and often encourages people she knows to do the same.
“A lot of times you can go to a food pantry and end up getting things you don’t use. Here we’re able to pick things, combine things, and plan meals,” she said.
Tables of available items are arranged by food groups. Limits are put in place for how much food a person can take from each table. According to MacLean, if a family of four takes the maximum amount from each table, they have enough ingredients to make 21 meals.
Because people are able to choose what they want to take with them, Our Father’s House did have a short trial and error period where it had to figure out what kinds of food people actually wanted to eat. When they first opened, there wasn’t enough bread to meet the demand. It’s since gotten to the point where the offerings more closely match what people are looking for and staff know to keep popular items like peanut butter or canned tuna well stocked.
Holidays and availability of food stamps mean the weekly number of visitors can vary. Wednesday night, which MacLean said was slightly busier due to Christmas being next week, saw roughly 100 people come to get food.
Though Our Father’s House is limited by the allotted time they have to rent out the space and the food they can offer, the nonprofit is looking to expand its capabilities.
“We’re talking about possibly doing this on Thursday mornings as well, if there is a need,” said MacLean. “There’s also talk about maybe doing one or two regional food pantries.”
Most of Wednesday night’s clients are from Fitchburg, though some come from surrounding communities as well. Technically, the pantry is only open once a week and clients are only allowed to visit once a month, but few are ever turned away.
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