Federation’s cutting-edge Choice Food Program at the Klein JCC in Northeast Philadelphia has only been in operation since early June and already there is a waiting list of 100.
Program growth, according to site manager Sabina Dopiro, is slowed by a lack of community volunteers. Dopiro hopes that an influx of volunteers will cut the wait time and make the program accessible to all who need it.
Four to six volunteers are needed Monday through Thursdays in the mornings, afternoons and early evenings to greet clients and to make sure that they are registered, help them to use the computer system to select items and place their orders, pack food orders and help carry packages to client cars. They also perform general inventory and upkeep of the stock room.
On average, 782 individuals or 419 families visit each month. Unlike the typical pantry model, which gives clients pre-packaged bags of canned and dry goods to supplement 3.5 days of meals each month, the Choice Food Program gives shoppers the tools to select produce, meats, dairy, eggs and other items that will enable them to prepare 3.5 days of full, nutritionally balanced meals each month for themselves and their families.
Dopiro works in concert with volunteer coordinator Danielle Gross-Eskin, social worker Yana Bril and stock associate Michael Rush to assess client needs, give them access to all the benefits to which they are qualified for and help them make healthy food choices. She explains that digital technology is at the very heart of the program.
Each individual or family receives a keycard with their name and specific number code. Clients can log into the computer by swiping their card. Once logged in, a complete inventory of available products with corresponding point value will appear on screen.
They will make their product selections, based on their available points for the month, and a receipt of their order prints out for a volunteer to custom pack.
According to Dopiro, points are assigned to clients based on the size of their households. A single person would receive 30 points, a couple would receive 55 and families would receive additional points for each child. The point system is skewed to incentivize healthy eating, she says, adding that “the healthier the food selected, the less it will ‘cost’ the shopper.”
Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and other nutritionally balanced foods are only one point, while sugary cereals, cookies and other less-healthy selections have a three-point value. Meats are more expensive — four points each for chicken and beef parts and eight points for a whole chicken — but they feed more people and can be incorporated into several meals.
Staff can use these digital resources to track inventory and ensure that shelves and freezer cases are stocked.
Cooking tips and menu-planning suggestions appear on flat-screen television monitors. Monthly programs will feature cooking demonstrations of healthy recipes using ingredients found in the pantry.
Dopiro and the social worker, Yana Bril, speak Russian, the native tongue of more than 80 percent of the program’s clients. Volunteers conversant in this language are particularly welcome; however, there are ample opportunities for volunteers over the age of 10 to assist in a number of different volunteer roles.
For those unable to donate their time due to family or career demands, donations of toiletries, paper goods, diapers and kosher meats would be appreciated.
For more information, call Sabina Dopiro at 215-832-0625.