MARTHA’S CHOICE MARKETPLACE – A CHOICE MODEL PANTRY
PROVIDING DIGNITY & BUILDING GENUINE COMMUNITY
Until recently, the food provided by a typical ‘food pantry’ was generally a box of goods, delivered without any selection on the part of the recipients. In many cases, much of the food received would go to waste, as a result of the recipient’s personal, dietary and oftentimes cultural preferences. In 2015 we realized that a more dignified and respectful way of doing business was available for this crucial community service. Setting up ‘Choice Model’ pantries, without barriers between people, more like a grocery store, was a model that could be realized.
Not only does this Choice Model allow clients to choose foods that they and their families will actually use, it also allows for a significant reduction in both stigma, and the dynamics of power that often exist between the server and the served. As a result of the Choice Model, clients, volunteers and staff begin to really get to know one another as equals, conversing casually, listening to music, telling jokes, and forming more genuine and authentic relationships. In a world where it’s so easy to view and reject those different from yourself as the ‘other’, Martha’s seeks to build true partnership among people from all walks of life; across faith, culture, color and class.
Community is more than just a buzz word, it’s about truly investing in the people around you, forming authentic relationships, and using their voices & perspectives to drive programs.
At Martha’s, we are the community we serve.
WHO WE SERVE: SOME STATISTICS
*based upon in-house surveys of Martha’s clients, and a 1150 sample size county wide study conducted in 2017
- We serve all of Montgomery County, with the majority of clients residing in Norristown Pa.
- Prior to the pandemic, 1 in 10 families in Montgomery County were food insecure. That number is likely even higher now. This is due to many factors, some of which include the overall high cost of living in Montgomery County, alongside a minimum wage of $7.25/hr.
- 1 in 5 Norristown residents live in poverty & suffer food insecurity.
- Approximately 1/3 of our clients are working families, 1/3 are senior citizens, and 1/3 are disabled or otherwise unemployed.
- Approximately 1/3 of our clients are white, 1/3 are black and 1/3 are Hispanic
- Approximately 1/3 of our clients come once, 1/3 come seasonally, 1/3 come monthly (often elderly & disabled)
- 60% of our clients work; over half of those working, work 2 or more jobs
- 40% of our clients work full time
- 40% of our clients have a post high school education
- 15% of the families we serve contain one or more U.S. Veterans
THE MARTHA’S CHOICE MODEL IMPACT
- We focus on distributing fresh bulk produce, meat and dairy
- We serve approximately 1000 clients each month, nearly 5000 unique clients since July 1, 2017
- We distribute 80-100K lbs. of food per month / Over 1 Million lbs. per year
- RELATIONSHIPS AND GROWTH – Healthy relationships are the first step in healing trauma, building trust and understanding across class, race & cultural lines, and encouraging investment in one’s potential.
- CREATING COMMUNITY – We are the community we serve; sharing resources, transforming friendships, offering participant ownership of our programs, and providing an open portal to services within and beyond our walls.
- DIGNITY – Everyone has value. Offering dignity to those accessing our services communicates to them our respect for their innate worth. Dignity also reduces stigma, encourages honest and respectful communication and fosters client focused engagement & integration, which cultivates a space for genuine human encounters that encourage positive community growth.
- HEALTHY FOOD ACCESS – Emergency Food System food is often not nutritionally dense. We find new ways to gain access to healthy foods through sponsorships, creative sourcing, and donor education. The choice model increases the utility of the food to families, as participants are choosing the foods they prefer. Amending the choice model with a food cooperative program allows us to deliberately cultivate community in smaller groups of volunteer members that support one another and access fresh foods more frequently.
MARTHA’S CHOICE MODEL PRINCIPLES: We are the community we serve…
- Defining & understanding the specific needs of the communities served
- Culturally respectful foods & multilingual signage with open layout, welcoming design & operational flow for optimal service to all clients
- Being inclusive to those who want to offer their help
TRAUMA COMPASSIONATE SERVICE
Client Service based upon by the fundamentals of trauma informed care including best practices for handling challenging situations, and trainings in Bridges out of Poverty to best understand client perspectives and needs.
- Welcoming Facility
- Proactive, clear communication
INDIVIDUAL & COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIP BUILDING
- Client Focused Engagement
- Integrating the community into our work; focusing on how to best serve them and give them a voice in the services provided,
- Leading Together: Active listening to our community members to understand their priorities and direction.
- Collaborating on the work needed to get where the community needs to go.
- Mutual respect & mutual responsibility
HEALTHY FOOD SECURITY:
- Provide consistent access to high quality nutritional food
- Peer led nutrition education
WHO WE SERVE
We are here because, for many reasons, members of our community are in need of food.
We are trying to alleviate that need by offering a safe, positive, dignified, friendly environment where they can shop for food of their choosing, for themselves and their families.
We are a community. In 2016, Montgomery County reported that one in ten households were experiencing food insecurity. Hunger is an issue that affects all of us as a community. Especially now!
Martha’s Choice Marketplace is a community-based response. The more that we perceive our clients as fellow community members, and treat them as such, the more we will build the understanding, rapport, and the context necessary for positive change. For us, this means active listening, clear and transparent communication, welcoming clients into our volunteer team, building genuine relationships with those we serve, and recognizing the immense value of our opportunity to serve as both volunteers and staff.
At Martha’s Choice Marketplace, we are all receiving something.
Volunteers come to offer food, facilitate operations, and assist clients. Clients come to receive food, but they may also be consistent volunteers. One third of our volunteers are Martha’s clients! Some clients assist in translating for non-English speakers, some assist us with delivering food, while others help with unloading deliveries. There is never an obligation to help, we are simply here to offer an abundance of food, positivity, and human connection.
All those involved in this circle of giving and receiving are welcomed and accepted.
If we want to identify ourselves as a community, we need to realize that we are serving “each other.” “Us and them” perspectives are toxic and do not offer an avenue for understanding, growth, and mutual respect. As a “we”, we can grow together, seek to understand each other, hold each other accountable, and work together toward the common goal of preventing hunger in our community.
Broadly, we are serving other people with moms, dads, brothers, and sisters just like us.
We operate within a broader network of food pantries that come together to share best practices, develop collaborative strategies, solve sector challenges, and coordinate services. This collaborative is called the Montgomery County Anti-Hunger Network (MAHN) and we are a governing board member of this network, supporting over 50 pantries in Montgomery County.
On a more local level, we collaborate with our Norristown partner service providers: 8 soup kitchens and 8 other pantries, through Advocates Against Hunger, our Norristown coalition of emergency food providers.
We also leverage our partnerships with local Colleges and Universities, through work study, internships, fellowships, and graduate thesis projects, to further the goals of our programs to and to benefit the nearly 5,000 different families that we serve.
Food comes from grocery store rescue, The State Food Purchase Program, USDA, and TEFAP (The emergency food assistance program), and PASS (Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus Support). We also get donated food from individuals, parishes, and businesses in the area.