Step 1: Decide on a pantry model – delete?

The most important thing to remember is to focus on one step at a time! If you have always used pre-packed boxes or bags, this can be a significant change for your pantry and can take some time to get used to the new routine. Here are the basic steps to begin the process of converting to client choice.

By the end of this section, you will be able to evaluate your space to determine the model that works best, and any capacity needs you may have to make the transition.

How do I transition our pantry to client choice?

  • Evaluate your space. Consider the following:
    • Your pantry’s size. Even the smallest pantries can become client choice, with some imagination and determination.
    • Is there another space in your building that might work better?
    • How do you currently store the food for the pantry – i.e., built in shelves, locked closet, moveable shelves, no storage? Is there flexibility to change how you are currently storing food?
    • Do you share a space? 
    • How is your pantry set up – food set up day of distribution, food stored on shelves, food placed on tables for pantry day? 
    • Are you already organizing any foods into groups of like items?

We are going to go over three common client choice models along with the space and equipment needs to make each model work.  By the end of this section, you will have an idea of which model will work best for your pantry.  

What are the different types of client choice models that we will review?

Supermarket Model


Clients can choose food in the same way they would at a traditional supermarket. Food is organized on shelves by food groups. Clients walk through the space and select the number of food items off the shelves according to pantry guidelines.


  • Room for shelving to be set up for clients to walk through and easily see food items.
    • Limited extra storage is needed as the shelves hold most, if not all, of the food.
    • If you have a small storage space but a large, shared space available during pantry days, consider using shelves on wheels. They can be rolled out of a storage closet into the larger space during pantry hours, set up like a grocery store, and then rolled away at the end of the day.


  • Enough shelving space to display the foods available.
    • A refrigerator or freezer with clear glass doors so clients can view products. If that is not an option, a list of available refrigerated and frozen foods can be posted for clients to choose from so they are not opening and closing the doors as often.
    • Baskets or grocery carts make the “shopping: experience easier but are not required.
    • A table or space for “check out” would be helpful as well not not required.


  • Pantry stockers to organize the pantry on days and times when the pantry is not open.
    • Day-of volunteers that will check in the client, share how to navigate the pantry, provide guidelines on the amount of food needed based on family size, and check the clients out after they make their selections.

Table Model


On the day food is distributed, items are set up on tables by food groups. This model resembles a farmer’s market. Clients walk by each table selecting the number of food items based on pantry guidelines.


  • Space Needs
    • Room for tables to be set up for clients to walk through and easily see food items.
    • Can be an indoor or outdoor model.
    • Enough space for clients to walk by each table.


  • Equipment Needs
    • Tables to display the available food. If possible, a table for “check out” would be helpful as well.
    • Dollies or carts to transport food from the storage room to the display area.
    • Baskets or grocery carts make the shopping experience easier but are not required.


  • Volunteer/Staffing Needs
    • Day-of volunteers to set up pantry prior to open, check in clients, share with them how to navigate the pantry, keep tables stocked, check the clients out after they make their selections, and break down pantry set up after pantry is closed.

Inventory List Model


There are several varieties of list models, we will learn about two of the common types that create the best client choice experience. With either list model, clients select food from the list.

  • Online ordering system
    • If on a limited budget, a food pantry can set up an ordering form online. Microsoft or Google Forms are the most commonly used programs.
    • Other pantries have been able to purchase systems like the SmartChoice food pantry software. For this program the pantry would scan all of the food to create an electronic inventory. Each client has a log-in to use for placing orders.
    • Due to internet and technology barriers, clients may not be able to place orders online. It is best to have a secondary plan in place to assist those clients on site or over the phone.


Food Pantry who utilizes online ordering
  • An inventory list of current food items which can be printed and given to the client to make their selections based on pantry guidelines or can be reviewed with a pantry team member to make their selections. This method can be done in person or in a drive through. The list can also be posted on a bulletin board or online. 

  • For both list models, the food is stored in a storage area separate from the client waiting area. Once the client selection is made, a pantry team member assembles the food bags in the food storage area and brings it to the client.


  • Enough space to store and bag food when clients place their orders.


  • Microsoft Excel to create and manage the inventory list or an online shopping/inventory program.
  • Printer/copier to have handouts of inventory list
  • Clip boards
  • Pens or pencils


  • Team member(s) to manage the inventory in Excel or the designated computer program.
  • Pantry stockers
  • Pantry baggers
  • Client intake to guide clients in using the list or computer to make their selections.

That is a lot of information to remember! Here is a printable overview for each client choice type:

Now that you have reviewed the 3 models, you may have an idea of what will work best based on your current pantry set up. As you continue through the training, you may discover that a different model may be a good fit as well. Come back to the pantry overview chart at any time to review.

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