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JFS expands volunteer base to connect older adults to services

Jewish Family Service operated a “choice model” pantry since 2013. On March 19, 2020, it was forced to halt all food distribution due to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order. This restriction affected 120 households who relied on the Community Food Pantry to feed their families.

Six weeks later JFS was able to resume food distribution, using a contactless pickup system. Clients were given prepacked boxes, with little opportunity to select the type or amount of food that would work best for their households.  

“It was a less-than-ideal situation, but we wanted to get the food to those who needed it,” said Rebecca Axelrod-Cooper, impact coordinator for JFS. “We had no idea if we were giving too much food, or too little. And we didn’t know if they liked what we were giving them.”

On December 12, 2022, after nearly three years, the choice pantry reopened to clients. With extensive planning, a team of staff have established new systems for safe operation, set up the grocery-store-style pantry and trained volunteers. Masks are worn by anyone who is in the food pantry, so the food pantry can safely remain open. Clients are ushered through the pantry by volunteers who assist them in choosing foods to fill their shopping carts. Reinstituting the choice pantry will reduce food waste and help maximize spending when placing orders with the Second Harvest Food Bank.

“The best part of this new system is reestablishing the dignity of choice,” says Doug Trachtman, food pantry liaison. “The volunteers love working one on one with clients, who now get to choose the foods their families will enjoy eating.”  

There is always a chance to learn something new. Since reopening our doors, we’ve learned that clients like canned corn better than any other canned vegetable!

To volunteer in the Community Food Pantry, contact Jennifer Oxfeld,