Local Food Pantry Planning New Format, Allowing Choices For Those In Need

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Executive Director Karen Lanter at a news conference announcing Feed My People's plans to renovate its food pantry. - MARY BUTKUS / FEED MY PEOPLE
  • Mary Butkus / Feed My People
  • Executive Director Karen Lanter at a news conference announcing Feed My People's plans to renovate its food pantry.

Karen Lanter wants people in need to have a choice. As the executive director of Feed My People, a food pantry in St. Louis County, she hopes a change coming to the pantry will reflect that sentiment.

Located at 171 Kingston Drive, Lanter unveiled new plans for the pantry yesterday in a news conference. Instead of giving the same boxes of groceries to every individual, Lanter wants the organization to adopt a “your choice” outlook — a first for the area. The once maze-like halls will become something similar to a grocery store; those in need will be able to choose which food items they want to receive.



A press release for the organization says the “your choice” approach “honors personal food preferences and needs, simplifies inventory management and redirects the labor of hundreds of volunteers from filling bags and boxes to engaging in more meaningful and helpful ways.”

Lanter describes the change for the operation as transformational. The inspiration behind the switch in format was due to research behind the client choice approach. When shoppers get to make their own choice, she explains, it reduces food waste and improves nutritional status. She also said research shows client choice food pantries help build confidence and self-esteem in the clients which is especially important for those who are temporarily out of work.



“It’s a way to show dignity and respect to others by honoring their personal food choices and needs,” she adds.

Feed My People client Racheal Johnson is one of the more than 1,000 people that the organization helps every week. At the news conference, Johnson described her experience with Feed My People as very helpful, noting all the volunteers were friendly and comforting.
Racheal Johnson with her daughter at Feed My People's news conference. Johnson described how Feed My People has helped her family. - MARY BUTKUS / FEED MY PEOPLE
  • Mary Butkus / Feed My People
  • Racheal Johnson with her daughter at Feed My People's news conference. Johnson described how Feed My People has helped her family.

“When I came into Feed My People, I walked up to the counter, and started crying. We were a family in need and this was the first time I had that experience in my life,” Johnson said at the conference. “When it comes down to staying in a house with a large family and keeping a car so you can even get to help, that’s a big deal. That was one of the things that brought me here. Because of Feed My People, my children keep eating.”

Johnson describes the change at Feed My People as exciting. Picking out groceries is something she thinks will be more empowering. With the current format, Johnson said she had been getting items she didn’t necessarily use or need, so she would have to pass them along or return it to the pantry.

Lanter said the grocery store format will help provide better services to people like Johnson. The food pantry is facing an increasing demand — up 27 percent in the last month — as unemployment benefits change and more people face food insecurity, according to a spokesperson for the organization.

A rendering of what the new food pantry will look like (left) versus what the pantry currently looks like (right). - COURTESY FEED MY PEOPLE
  • COURTESY FEED MY PEOPLE
  • A rendering of what the new food pantry will look like (left) versus what the pantry currently looks like (right).

Renovations will hopefully begin later this fall. The project amounts to nearly $660,000. The MABEE Foundation provided Feed My People with a matching grant of $125,000. Other contributors include the Staenberg Family Foundation, the St. Louis Port Authority, The Staenberg Group and The Factory at The District. Fundraising has begun with the option to donate to the project on the pantry’s website. If renovations are able to begin, the project is expected to take about three months with a targeted completion of late December or early January 2022.

Levine Associates designed the new look which will include a well-lit feel instead of the once small, dark, maze-like rooms. The change will also replace outdated wiring and add a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system which will safeguard health and improve energy efficiency.

“Because job stability is rare in the United States, Feed My People is needed more than ever. We need to be able to keep people in their houses and in their cars until they find a new job,” Lanter said in a statement. “Through this renovation, we’re going to be able to provide better food choices, better nutrition and a chance for an even brighter tomorrow.”

Operations will still continue throughout renovations. Feed My People has a food pantry, thrift store, employment counseling and other support services. The hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; and 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays. In addition to the Kingston Drive location, Feed My People has a second location at 3295 Ottomeyer Road in High Ridge. Find more information about the organization on their website feed-my-people.org.

Follow Jenna on Twitter at @writesjenna. Email the author at jenna@riverfronttimes.com
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