Choice Food Pantry

A typical bag or box of groceries from an emergency food pantry might have some cereal, crackers, powdered milk, tuna, macaroni & cheese, pork & beans, canned fruit and vegetables, and peanut butter.  The contents in the bag of groceries depend on the generosity of donations and the availability of commodity foods.

 What does it mean if a traditional food pantry decides to change to a choice pantry?  Everything is the same at the food pantry except for the process of distributing the food to families in need.  Clients will still receive the same amount of food but they are able to choose items off the shelves with the help of a volunteer instead of receiving a prepackaged bag. 

One way to organize a choice pantry is described in the “Rainbow of Colors” system designed by Ohio State University Extension and partners in Butler County.   The food at the pantry is stocked on color-coded shelves that reflect the colors of the five food groups on My Plate.  For example, all donated vegetables are displayed on green shelves and all donated meat & beans are displayed on purple shelves.  Clients “shop” by using a selection card that allows a certain number of choices per food group.  This system encourages clients to choose a variety of different foods to provide healthy, balanced meals and snacks for themselves and their families.  Ohio State University Extension in Lucas County has partnered with Choice Food Pantries to help with education on nutrition and stretching the food dollar.  After all, a dollar saved is another dollar that can be put towards buying food.    

By choosing their own food, recipients are sure they are receiving food that they and their families need, enjoy, and will use.  As one of the volunteers noted, “This works well for the client.  They’re not just waiting passively.  There’s a choice.”

OSU Extension, Lucas County can help with:

  • The Rainbows of Color System (designing client choices based on the MyPyramid food guidance system developed by the USDA)

  • Questions on

  • Provide educational materials like fact sheets, recipes and newsletters on Planning Healthy Meals and Stretching the Food Dollar

  • Provide promotional materials – brochures on food assistance benefits, posters of MyPlate, etc

  • Class for your volunteers to introduce them to MyPlate

  • Classes at your site for clients on Nutrition, Food Safety or Stretching the Food Dollar

Information in this article was adapted from “Making the Switch.  A Guide for Converting to a Client Choice Food Pantry” by The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks.

Local pantries that have switched to a choice food pantry:

Feed Your Neighbor is a Ministry of Toledo Area Ministries. In the summer of 2006 the Feed Your Neighbor food pantry at Immaculate Conception changed to a Choice Food Pantry.

Document Actions

Ohio State University Extension embraces human diversity and is committed to ensuring that all research and related educational programs are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender identity or expression, genetic information, HIV/AIDS status, military status, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or veteran status. This statement is in accordance with United States Civil Rights Laws and the USDA.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Agricultural Administration; Associate Dean, College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences; Director, Ohio State University Extension; and Gist Chair in Extension Education and Leadership.

For Deaf and Hard of Hearing, please contact Ohio State University Extension using your preferred communication (e-mail, relay services, or video relay services). Phone 1-800-750-0750 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST Monday through Friday. Inform the operator to dial 614-292-6181.