Community Approach

Taking a Community Approach to Implement the Safe & Healthy Food Pantries Project

Any volunteer or pantry coordinator can confirm that finding ways to creatively engage your community in your pantry is a win-win. As you promote food security in your community, your pantry will strengthen existing relationships or uncover partnership opportunities, volunteers and donors along the way. Involving your clients in food pantry operations and connecting them to community resources will support the pantry and the families you serve.  As you implement the steps of the Safe & Healthy Food Pantries Project, consider ways to engage community members and guests in meeting your nutrition and food safety goals.

Ways to involve and recognize members of the community

Ways to involve and recognize members of the community in supporting a safe and healthy food pantry include:

  • Organize food drives that focus on donations of healthy and safe foods.
  • Fundraise so the food pantry can purchase nutritious foods.
  • Provide emergency food storage for overflow inventory.
  • Offer a variety of volunteer opportunities.
  • Refer guests to other services such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, school meals/summer meal program, senior meal sites, Meals on Wheels, jobs, housing, childcare, transportation, health insurance, mental health, drug/alcohol recovery, child support, energy assistance, home repairs, education, domestic violence and more. 2-1-1 Wisconsin is a free call service that provides information and resources to Wisconsin residents.
  • Connect guests to agencies conducting FoodShare (SNAP) outreach. These organizations can provide information on how to apply and assist guests with online applications.

Ways to engage food pantry clients

Ways to engage food pantry clients in daily operations include:

■ Provide new guests with a written pantry overview to orient them to

  • your pantry’s hours and days of service,
  • procedures,
  • description of where the foods come from,
  • how food is allocated to households,
  • basic food safety and nutrition information.

■ Establish a bulletin board or another method to share community and pantry events and opportunities.

■ Regularly invite guests to give feedback on the food and services provided and to suggest changes using a suggestion box. Or, conduct guest satisfaction surveys.

■ Create a guest advisory board to engage them in decision-making. Your guests have great ideas and some are more than willing to share them with you. Facilitating communication between guests and yourself provides an opportunity to learn from each other. Everyone is empowered when all voices are heard and recognized. 

Training Volunteers

Volunteer training is your opportunity to:

  • orient new helpers,
  • clarify job duties,
  • outline your expectations,
  • pantry procedures,
  • review civil rights standards and non-discrimination principles,
  • establish the culture and tone of your food pantry.

It may seem strange to talk through job descriptions and expectations with people who are freely giving you their time. In actuality, volunteer training prevents problems from arising in the first place. Volunteer training also helps put new volunteers at ease by clarifying expectations and responsibilities. Creating a volunteer handbook will guide your training, ensure it is consistent and thorough and give volunteers a written document to refer to. An example volunteer handbook is available from the River Food Pantry in Madison, WI: