Shopping With Dignity at The Pittsburgh Food Bank’s New Market
The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank recently opened The Market to provide a genuine grocery shopping experience for all Pittsburghers.
Guests can now “shop” in a grocery store-like setting at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank — an experience that anti-hunger advocates say gives them more choices and brings more dignity to the food distribution process.
The Market opened on Sept. 28 and continues to grow. It provides Pittsburghers with free shelf-stable, produce, meat, dairy and non-food items at the Food Bank’s headquarters at 1 N. Linden St. in Duquesne. It operates in partnership with Giant Eagle, which has helped financially to get The Market up and running. Giant Eagle also assisted with the setup using its retail expertise.
“The Market is the food bank’s on-site food pantry,” says Charlese McKinney, chief program officer. “It’s a small kind of convenience store-sized space, where our guests come in — they’re greeted and welcomed — then they sign in with us and then they are able to shop for the groceries that they need for their families.”
Before The Market opened, the food bank offered individuals emergency pre-packed food boxes and referred them to a local pantry in their area. The food bank focused on warehousing and moving food throughout its 11-county network.
“My personal thing about it is really people being able to really feel like they’re not getting a handout. The vibe at The Market is one that’s really vibrant,” McKinney says. “We really embrace our neighbors, it feels very communal and it’s just so nice to see smiles on the faces of not just our guests, but our volunteers and staff as well. That sense of community is something that really feeds my soul and I’m just so pleased that we’re able to do that.”
The Market evolved from years of intentional pre-packing boxes, adding frozen and produce items into the mix and creating a small dedicated space focused on providing choices for guests.
There is a stigma surrounding food assistance, and The Market aims to help reduce that, she says.
“We’re really going to dedicate space where families can come in, we can serve them with a greater deal of dignity and respect and really allow them to make their own choices,” McKinney says. “We wanted to attract not only our families that have been coming, but families that were not coming because of the unfortunate stigma that’s attached to the food assistance. We wanted to make this as normal as possible and really feel like a community space, where people felt welcome and not a place where they would feel shame because they needed a little bit of help.”
The Market’s current hours for shopping are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. The food bank is open to provide assistance from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but a couple hours are needed for shift changes and restocking. Guests can still come to the food bank during those couple of hours, but they will receive a prepacked selection.
If guests cannot make it to The Market during these hours, they can shop online through “Order Ahead.” People can choose their groceries and select a date and time for pick up. Order Ahead does not include The Market’s full inventory, but it includes a variety of items. This runs five days a week, and the food bank is looking to expand this inventory.
The Market is working to get an outside refrigerated locker system up and running in the new year. This will allow families to place orders for their groceries and pick them up when The Market is closed.
The Market hopes to soon offer evening and Saturday hours to be available for more people.
All of the food in The Market does not come from Giant Eagle — it comes from various sources. There are government commodities, donated food items and items that the Food Bank purchased.
The food bank is seeking volunteers to help staff and restock The Market. They can work either the morning or afternoon shifts by signing up online. They can do anything from stocking shelves to greeting guests.
The Market offers shopping buddies, which are volunteers who work with guests, inform them about the inventory, discuss resources, share recipe cards, answer questions, bag groceries and help transport the groceries to guests’ cars or carts.
Volunteers can also check people in and out. The Market is like a grocery store — they scan all the items guests choose. This is so the food bank can understand what people want so they can stock up on more desired items, but also in case there is a food recall, the food bank can contact those people to provide them with the appropriate instructions.
“This is a huge lift and it really requires lots of support. We really rely on volunteers to help us,” McKinney says. “If there’s anybody interested in giving us some of their time to help us with The Market operations, we’d love for them to reach out to us and let us know, and we will gladly put them to work.”