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Columbus Food Pantry Allows Needy to "Shop."

A downtown Columbus food pantry has changed the way it operates. The Broad Street Presbyterian Church now allows individuals and familiesto choose free food rather than handing clients prepared boxes.

For the past ten years, Pete Milton of Columbus, has worked seasonal jobs and used food pantries to help him through periods of joblessness. Recently, he showed up at the Broad Street Presbyterian Church where he can "shop" for free food. "Columbus is probably one of the best places in the United States for food. If you starve in Columbus, something's wrong." Says Milton.

Milton explains the city has plenty of pantries and shelters where individuals can get food. But, Milton says he likes the free food store at the Broad Street Presbyterian Church. The pantry recently changed the way it operates so that the needy can now choose food. Director Jane Nance calls this a "choice" pantry. "It allows the shopper to have some control over the food that they select. So that they can check preferences. And there are no secrets now. You know they can actually see the food that we have and make their choices and in so doing they don't leave here feeling that the person before me got more than I did or something special." Says Nance.

Refrigerators at the pantry hold hotdogs and frozen apple turn-overs. On the shelves: items include pasta, peanut butter, personal hygiene items and canned goods. "At this time we have peaches and applesauce so they can choose one or the other, or both. And then these are more complete meals, the beef stew that I mentioned and now we have beef ravioli which it the family has young children, well, you know, elementary aged school children they all like that kind of thing." Says Nance.

Near the exit, the pantry keeps boxes and plastic bags to help carry the food. Individuals and famillies are allowed to pick up enough food for a five-day supply and they can return each month. At the so-called "choice" pantry some items are limited. For instance, a shopper can take only so much macaroni and cheese. The less popular items remain on the shelf. But, at least those items are available to the next client who shows up. Pete Milton says when food is given at other pantries, some of it often goes to waste. "I've seen alot of times people just set their food out on the curb and took what they wanted and left the rest." Says Milton

Milton adds that he uses food pantries four or five times a year and he's noticed they give smaller portions of emergency food to the needy as surplus food supplies shrink. By giving the needy their choice of foods, the Broad Street pantry is also reducing the amount of food that goes to waste.

Tom Borgerding, WOSU News.