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A Pantry vs. the Grocery Store: What’s The Difference?

We have been fortunate to have Elizabeth Cooper, a junior marketing major from Clemson, interning with us this summer. Here Elizabeth shares her experiences volunteering in our food pantries…             

               Most people can relate to the above statement in one way or another. While the sole purpose of traveling to the grocery store is to pick up what you need for the week, more times than not it often ends up being a social outing—especially if you shop at the closest one to your neighborhood. Growing up, I used to love going to the grocery store with my mom, and not just because that meant I could select my special cereal for the week. Now don’t get me wrong, the main purpose for going to the store is to purchase food for the week, but there happens to be some other small incentives that come along with that.  

                Our clients are now becoming comfortable with the idea of client choice, in turn allowing them to have a sense of dignity when visiting a pantry. Unlike our old model, clients now have the opportunity to hand-select their grocery items, just like someone would in their local Harris Teeter. In addition, a volunteer walks around from start to finish with each client, ensuring that they are receiving the food that they are eligible for depending on their family size. While attending the pantry, clients can feel a little vulnerable and discouraged in the fact that they are in their current financial situation. However, it brings me great comfort and joy in saying that there has not been one pantry that does not have a multitude of volunteers who offer a warm greeting or a comforting hug to each client that walks through our pantries doors. How’s that for your local grocery store?  

                Throughout my time at Loaves & Fishes I have volunteered and visited several of our pantries around town. I have seen clients choosing cake mix or sweet treats as one of their items. After digging a little deeper with a few clients, I discovered that these parents want the best for their children; making every birthday or special occasion as great as the previous one, regardless of their financial situation. In addition, a sense of community is formed in the waiting rooms. Just like a grocery store, our pantries serve as a place where clients can share their stories or build a new friendship while waiting to be served. Even if it’s just the small talk that occurs in the pantry waiting room, clients and volunteers have the ability to make a connection that’s a little deeper than what is on the surface. This allows a certain barrier to be broken and a sense of acceptance to be formed during their visit to the pantry.  Not only have I picked up on the fact that there is a certain sense of community within the pantries, but there is a sense of friendship that can easily be overlooked. It’s something as simple as a friendly face, a warm smile, and an encouraging hug “hello” or “goodbye” from our volunteers, that sets our pantries apart from a regular grocery store experience.