Managing Your Pantry

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By the end of this step, you will better understand how to manage a choice pantry.

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You have the pantry designed. You have your budget laid out. Now let’s talk about how to run the choice pantry.

It’s common to worry about this pantry model taking more time and slowing down the process but with the right processes in place it will run as smoothly as melted butter.

Stocking The Pantry

Think about your current schedule for ordering, receiving, and stocking food. If you have to order with enough time to stock your pantry and then leave time to pack bags before your guests arrive, you actually get to take one step out of the process. You don’t have to take extra time to pack bags. What will work best to get the food ordered, to the pantry, and organized on the shelves?

If you are already having trouble getting enough volunteers for all of the steps, celebrate! By choosing choice, that is one less volunteer slot you need to fill.

If you are worried about your volunteers not having a job anymore, you still need shelf stockers and organizers prior to the pantry being open as well as during pantry hours. Volunteers will also be needed during pantry hours to guide guest through the pantry.

Neighbor Experience

  • What is your current process for guest intake or check in?
  • Is there a different process for new guests verses returning guests?

Check in doesn’t need to change for choice but there are some simple things that can be implemented to help get the guest ready to navigate the pantry.

During intake, you are getting the guest ready to navigate the pantry and can employ some tactics that allow the guest to shop independently. This next section will assist you with that.

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Does your pantry normally have a line around the block?

If your program is using 2 hours to pack bags and 2 hours to give out bags, this will total 4 hours of volunteer time. Since you no longer need volunteers to pack bags beforehand, you can now use the 4 hours to serve guests. This is not extending volunteers hours, just shifting how you are using the volunteers. When your guests learn about additional program hours, it will spread out when people show up. If you find you still have busy periods, pass out numbers when guests show up to keep them all in the right order. Start sending out fliers to advise of the change in hours 2 months in advance. Let neighbors know the wait times might be different due to the change but that the wait will adjust as routines are formed.

Navigating the Pantry

Food Bag Guide

The Food Bag Guide is one tool (shared in step 4) that can be provided to guests so that they know how many selections they can make in each section of the pantry.

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  • If neighbors get to choose the number of items based on household size, you can have guides printed and laminated for each household range and provide it to the guest to hold as they shop.
  • If all neighbors receive the same number of items, you can print and laminate the one guide for the guest to hold or they can be placed in the pantry to guide the guest as they walk.
  • Volunteers can be in the pantry ready to assist if the neighbor has questions but can give the guest space to shop on their own.

Color Coding

Color coding based on household size is another way to identify the information without having to ask the guest more than once.

  • Pair a color with each household size range.
  • At intake, the neighbor receives a colored lanyard, a colored sticker, or a colored piece of paper that indicates their household size range.
  • When the guest enters the shopping area, volunteers see the color and know how to guide them in the number of selections instead of having to ask them the same questions they answered already.
  • For a more independent experience, the colors could be on the shelf or table of each food section with the number of items written on it. Guests look for their color to know how to make their selections.

Express Lane

The express lane does not just have to be at a grocery store.

Some neighbors may not have the time to shop or would prefer to get in and get out. Others will prefer to just be able to continue to pick up their prepacked bag and go. Some of these neighbors have barriers navigating the pantry due to disabilities/limitations, accompanying children, work schedule, etc.

If you would like to continue to offer that option to guests, you could have an express lane option where guests can come check-in, get their prepacked bag, and head out the door quickly. You could designate a small section for this option and just keep a few prepacked bags on hand.

Things To Consider

What does the guest need to make shopping easier? Can they shop with a cart to collect their items? Could they gather their items in a bag or box so they are ready to go when they get to the end? Would you like to have a volunteer bag/box their items at the end so they can weigh out the items?

Do you need signs to direct the guests through the pantry? Arrows can help lead the guests without having to have a volunteer doing traffic control.

Now that you have thought through how the neighbor is navigating the pantry, do you need to look back at your pantry design and modify any of the layout to make it flow better or did you nail it?

Send an email to if you would like someone from the Nutrition Team to come assist you.

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