article ‘New model of food pantry helps people maintain their dignity’

This January 2012 newspaper article highlighted, among other issues, efforts by a local food pantry to enhance both image and competency of people using the pantry: ‘The new location allows it to be set up like a grocery store to give people a sense of dignity … Where before volunteers pre-bagged food and handed it to people … now people have the option to choose things they like to eat.’ Such an approach is thus potentially more role-valorizing for the people coming to the pantry for food. To be clear, the article did not use role language but that is my interpretation of what the food pantry is reportedly doing.

This practice still raises questions pertinent to the culturally valued analog concept in Social Role Valorization (SRV monograph by Wolfensberger, 1998, pp. 117-118; PASSING ratings manual, Wolfensberger & Thomas, 2007, pp. 30-31). The culturally valued analog provides for a baseline in a sense: what is the range of societally valued and expected practices that can act as a model or standard for a particular service practice? How are such needs generally met for socially valued people in valued ways in the valued culture or society? For example, the culturally valued analog for residential services includes the different forms of home which are socially valued, with which we are familiar, and of which we hold positive expectations (PASSING manual, Wolfensberger & Thomas, 2007, p. 30).

What is the culturally valued analog for putting food on the table and feeding one’s family? It would likely include a range of options, such as shopping in a market, using a gift card at certain shops, shopping at a farmer’s market, eating out, eating with family or at a friend’s house, borrowing some specific groceries from a neighbor under certain circumstances, growing some of your food at home or in a community plot (at least in certain geographic locales and during certain times of the year), buying or splitting or working a share in a community supported farm, and so on. In light of the culturally valued analog, getting food from a food pantry, even if it is becoming more typical for more people in these hard economic times, is still generally not a positively valued practice surrounded by positive expectations, even with the positive adaptations mentioned in the article referenced above.

Another level of SRV-based consideration of course is address of need. If you have no food, getting food is a pressing need obviously, so a food pantry can at least provide some immediate help in partly addressing that need quite directly. However, the culturally valued analog also asks us to consider the how of addressing relevant need.

For more on this issue, see an article published in the 2004 SRV-VRS: The International Social Role Valorization Journal, 5(1&2), 72-74.

Marc Tumeinski


23 Responses

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  1. Written by Susie
    on February 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm
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    I really like the idea that the food pantries are now being set up as a grocery store. Usually food pantries have the recipients of the food pantry just show up and receive a prepackaged bag full of food. Instead, the pantries are being set up to resemble a grocery store. This will allow the recipients to feel more like a valued individual. Something as small as going to a grocery store, and shopping for your own food is something that has a lot of value. Usually society sees individuals who have to go to food pantries as someone who is incapable of working hard enough to earn money to buy the “normal food” that is sold in the super markets. So the fact that the pantries are changing the way that they appear, to resemble a grocery store, is a great concept. Many people grocery shop at a local super market, or they may even go out to eat, or even plant a garden. For someone who cannot afford to do any of these things, having their own “grocery store” will be just as good as shopping in a regular super market. Everyone needs food to survive and function throughout their day. This is why we need food pantries, and for the fact that the devalued people feel wounded by the fact they are needy for food, the concept of having a pantry set up as a grocery store is great. It will give the devalued the ‘good things in life.’

    • Written by Kimberly Gitlen
      on April 25, 2012 at 1:50 am
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      I agree this also does a great service to combat the negative imagery associated with food kitchens. Also the fact that the individuals are able to chose the items they need in their household increases the relevancy of the service they are providing but also elevates their status from a devalued position into a one of a consumer. Also every person should have a choice to select foods that meet their dietary and personal needs.

  2. Written by Caitlin
    on February 29, 2012 at 6:34 pm
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    Someone who must go to a food pantry already has enough happening in their life that they don’t need anything added. Not only is their life stressful to begin with, but it is an embarrassment for them at times. Allowing for people to go to a grocery like food pantry eliminates the embarrassment they may have if they were to go to an ordinary one. This unnecessary means of embarrassment is easily taken care of by allowing those that go to this new food pantry to feel as though they are like the rest of society and are therefore getting their food like everyone else is. People who go about getting their food by going to the grocery store may not see the embarrassment or disconnectedness they feel by going to a food pantry. This new way of allowing all people to go to the grocery store eliminates any differences and also creates a society that is slowly becoming equal. This is a great starting point and has potential for new ways of creating equality.

  3. Written by Kelsey
    on March 2, 2012 at 4:42 pm
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    This new model of allowing the consumer to pick our their own food from the pantry enables this person to be seen in a more positive light; they are able to make choices of their own, and others are not giving/telling them what to eat. But while this change in the pantry setting shows greater role valorization, there are still only a various amount of food options. For an individual to be seen as more valued by cultural standards, they would have a much larger selection of choices including various types of grocery stores, home grown items, markets, and various types of restaurants. In his book, Wolfensberger (2003) writes, “We must become very aware of what our culture values positively, and what it therefore devalues” (p.8). In this situation, a particular culture may value an organization who is helping individuals within the culture, but people in the community may also ‘feel bad’ for those that need the particular service. With this sad, the change in the pantry makes a huge difference. It is a start in making a service more coherent to the individual needs of the who, what and where of the people being served. But what other steps can this particular service (or ones like it) take to further support and view the individuals using the service by the most culturally valued means?

    • Written by MTumeinski
      on March 30, 2012 at 4:14 pm
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      A great question. Perhaps we could consider the typical socially valued role of supermarket shopper for example. Our expectations for this role include that the person in the role pay for their groceries by cash, credit or debit card, check, gift card perhaps at some stores. Given that, could a food pantry provide any of these for people coming to the pantry? For many reasons, both programmatic and non-programmatic, providing cash or checks does not seem feasible. Prepaid debit cards with a certain amount of money on them might be one valued option. The person using it at a grocery store would still have the option to shop for what they wanted and needed, and would not be imaged negatively by paying with a debit card.

      What other examples might we think of?

  4. Written by Karissa
    on March 5, 2012 at 8:11 pm
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    The first thing that comes to a person’s mind when you hear the words “food pantry,” you automatically think of the poor. Then when others in the world think of the poor, they think not normal in the society. When it comes to the world today dealing with the economy, money problems seem like they are the highest on the chart. With businesses or companies around not doing well, that then causes some people to be without jobs. People in this world once they see a homeless person or a low class people, you don’t fully know what they had before there where there at now. That person could of easily had their own business making a lot of money. Now, instead of being able to put food on the table, that family might of had to go nights without eating or being embarrassed having to walk into a food shelter and get a brown bag of food for dinner. By them having the food pantry look like a grocery store, it can boost their feelings that their not just worth a brown bag full of food. They will now have options to what they want to eat, selective options but to them it probably means the world to them. Just a twenty minute grocery shopping spree can make them feel like they are still part of society. And that people care for others like them in hard situations in their life.

  5. Written by Seri
    on March 15, 2012 at 3:30 pm
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    I agree with Tumeinski that getting food from the pantry is not a “positively valued practice” (Tumeinski, 2004). It could be embarrassing for those that are in need of going to a food pantry. Many valued people may look down upon them as visiting the food pantry. I feel that it is great that the churches, local grocery markets, and businesses help and volunteer in Father Peter Joyce’s new vision of food pantry. In the article, it also stated that the volunteers feel better about themselves knowing that they are actually helping someone personally. This new location of the food pantry is set up like a grocery store. People can also have the option to choose the food they would like, instead of getting a pre made bag handed to them. Food is a necessity that we all need to live. People should not feel ashamed and embarrassed to get food. This new model of a food pantry seems like a positive environment. I think it is a great idea and makes a difference in a person’s life.

  6. Written by Stevie Younker
    on March 22, 2012 at 9:56 pm
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    I think the idea of setting a food pantry up like a grocery store is how the food pantries should have been set up in the first place. Placing random food in a bag and handing it to people as they walk into the food pantry appears as socially devaluing to me. The fact that they just assumed that the people were so desperate for food that they would eat whatever was put in a bag for them is socially devaluing. They should have always been given the option to “shop” for their food as they are now. With the food pantries acting more as grocery stores it helps to make socially devalued feel valued, and it helps society to see them as more valued. Having food pantries act more like grocery stores also makes it appear to be a little more socially acceptable to use food pantries. People who use food pantries are often thought of as poor or homeless, so by related them with grocery stores, which is more socially acceptable, allows the use of food pantries to seem more socially acceptable.

  7. Written by Mike
    on March 25, 2012 at 3:52 pm
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    We live in a society that is surrounded by assumptions and expectations. In every action that we take follows a certain opinion or perspective based on how society views the activity. In this particular article, we take a look at a new model involving a food pantry in one particular community. Many times, people look down upon and classify people who use the food pantry as “poor” or “needy.” As a result creates this feeling of ashamed and unworthy practice in our society. However, this new set up allows a sense of freedom of choice with the grocery store layout and makes them feel like they are like everyone else in their community. It also provides volunteers with a more comfortable, healthier environment in understanding and interacting with the individuals that come in. In my opinion, I believe this type of approach will benefit towards Wolfensberger’s theme of interpersonal identification. This theme in particular deals with importance of interpersonal identification between valued and devalued people. Access to “the good things in life” is more likely to be afforded to devalued people if valued people see themselves as being like them and having things in common with them (Wolfensberger, 2004, pg 118-120). Through healthy interaction between the volunteers and individuals, this will create a feeling of understanding and respect for one another.
    I believe the approach that Father Peter Joyce has taken in Southbridge is a very positive strategy for his community. I think other services and food pantries should observe this type of atmosphere and take the appropriate steps in creating their own grocery store set up just like the example that was provided in the article. This will help restore dignity and honor in the minds of so many more people and will make them feel valued in society while receiving the essentials we need in order for survival.

    Russel, M. (2012). “New Model of Food Pantry Helps People Maintain Their Dignity” The Catholic Free Press
    Wolfensberger, W. (2004). Social Role Valorization. Syracuse, NY: Training Institute for Human Service Planning, Leadership and Change Agentry.

  8. Written by Brittany
    on March 25, 2012 at 3:59 pm
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    I like the idea of setting up the food pantries like a grocery store. It helps these individual still have a say in what they are getting. Even though they are receiving help or receiving the food directly, it still allows the people to choose. Many of these people that are going to these food pantries are poor or that’s what the association is anyway. And with this poor association they are not viewed as “normal” citizens in a society. I feel that it is very important to give them that same feeling that others feel. By making the pantries more of a grocery store it could get rid of the embarrassing feelings that these individuals feel going into these places. The fact that these individuals are relying on these pantries, there are many other things going on in their lives that they do not need the embarrassment factor. These individuals want to have valued social roles in their society and the pantry set up like a grocery store could help acheive that.

  9. Written by Brittany R.
    on March 29, 2012 at 10:27 am
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    Dignity is an important part of SRV and should be implemented in any service provided to people. Many times this is something that is thought of after a service is set up, such as food pantries. Growing up, my family and schools have had different roles in providing food for different services, but how the people received the food was never really a thought. It is one thing to provide food, but another step should be taken to provide a place of dignity. This kind of set up for a food pantry is one that sounds as though it would increase the role of those who would receive these services. Setting a service up as a grocery store is one that builds people’s confidence as well as their competency as they are able to choose for themselves what they would like to eat and provide for their families. Some of the things listed in this article dealing with valued ways of providing food for families could also be things provided within this grocery store service. Things such as seeds for growing their own food, or gift cards could also be made available in these stores.

  10. Written by Cecilia
    on March 30, 2012 at 10:38 am
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    Although, as the article points out, getting meals from a food pantry is not a particularly valued idea in our society, I believe that this new system is a good idea. A grocery store set-up delivers a more positive message than a typical food pantry set-up. Also, when people have the ability to choose what they are getting for their meals it increases their own sense of competency and self-worth. They will feel more empowered to make choices rather than having to go along with whatever is given to them. So even though this new idea for the food pantry may not be ideal or the perfect solution, it is certainly a step in the right direction and as history has proven time and time again, small steps are the beginning of big change.

  11. Written by Lauren
    on April 13, 2012 at 2:42 pm
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    This article to me was really uplifting. In our society today people have to do things as everyone else does or they are seen as poor and get devalued. Before when people would come into the pantry to get their food bags that shows a sense of being devalued by those handing out the bags. That action says, you are getting free food and should be happy with what you get. This is not fair for those people because they are being devalued for just needing some help from a parish. Now that the pantry was turned into a mini grocery store for these people there is a much greater sense of value behind it. They are now getting the option to pick and choose what foods they would like. This is now showing them that people care what they want to eat and it is orgy to the help if needed. Not only is it more valued but it is also now more socially acceptable.

  12. Written by Amanda
    on April 16, 2012 at 7:58 pm
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    This article was so inspirational and amazing and it was so recent. Typically in today’s society the idea of a food pantry is “valued”. Regardless of what society thinks though, I believe that this is a great idea. People that are less fortunate and cannot acquire the necessity of food, it is important for us to step in and work together as society. The idea of setting the food pantry up like a grocery store allows people to develop competency, which is a huge idea in Social role valorization. It is important to give people a say in what food they are getting, opposed to just being handed something that they do not even like. This idea of a “grocery store” will eliminate waste as well. People that need to go to the food pantry are not creatures, but they are just the same as you or me. With that said, they are not abnormal people and they do deserve a choice.

  13. Written by Chicory
    on April 16, 2012 at 8:01 pm
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    This article was particularly interesting to me because just about a month ago I volunteered at a food pantry in Philadelphia that ran like a market. I was told that this pantry was one of only two in the Philly area that ran in this fashion. I found that this approach treated the people with more dignity than the traditional throw things in a bag and hand it to people approach, but it still held a stigma of not being valued by society. To get into the market you had to be per-approved and then come, wait your, turn, sign in, and then get your food. The people were able to pick what they wanted out of the selection, but they didn’t have any payment or prices, such as a typical grocery store would. I almost feel like to really make it more of a socially acceptable place the location would have to not be in the basement of a building, there would have to be a way people achieved payment, and prices to the goods. The way this place is run pretty much you can get as much as you want and they just weigh the food at the end to monitor the amount they give. I think this idea is definitely a step in the right direction, but not the solution to helping socially devalued people gain value within society.

  14. Written by Tiffany Rohrer
    on April 18, 2012 at 7:39 pm
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    I believe this article is a great start in identifying the needs of individuals and then going about to take action. In this case the people in society need food, and therefore the pantry provides individuals with life necessities prior to any other needs being met. Unless their immediate needs are met then nothing else much matter, such as, what status they rank, what profession they will take on, or what kind of car they will drive.

    I think that the pantry is moving in the right direction with how to address making the pantry more socially valorized. Providing the people with isles that are more geared toward more convenient stores is definetely a step in the right direction however, still needs more work. When trying to suggest more idea to highlight for the pantry i find myself stuck between a rock and hard place. Trying to find ideas that address the how of the situation only conflicts with addressing the needs of the people. For example if the food pantry was set up like a standard grocery store and the people were forced to pay a price, lower than average, for their products the needs of the people would not be met. The idea of the pantry is to provide food for those individuals that cannot afford it. I am not really sure of an alternative solution, but i definetely think this article is headed in the right direction.

  15. Written by Kara
    on April 18, 2012 at 7:51 pm
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    Often times there are certain phrases, places, or locations that make you think of a certain group of people. A perfect example of this is the location or idea of a “food pantry.” When most people hear these two words the common thoughts either include those who are poor or those who are elderly and unable to go grocery shopping. Although this is sometimes the case, it is not always true that these are the only people who attend food pantries. All different people shop at food pantries especially in todays economy. Unfortunately some people have had the experience of loosing jobs and not being able to make money to bring home food for the families, this being the case lots of these individuals shop at easily accessible and cheap food pantries. It gives the people who shop here hope, and happy feelings that there is a place to shop for their families and to be able to provide food on the table. Sometimes, this feeling of not being able to shop due to loss of money makes people feel un-normal or non human. They don’t feel like they deserve to be or are a part of society. Having a slight bit of time whether its 5 minutes or an hour in the pantry can help these people feel special and feel as though they are an important part of society. This is a very interesting topic.

  16. Written by Whitney Sheaffer
    on April 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm
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    I feel that providing as many opportunities to let people hold onto roles that are valued in society is essential. Setting up a food pantry like a grocery store is a great way individuals can feel they still hold onto the role of being a provider to his or her family as well as being a valued member of society. When a food pantry is set-up in a way that explicitly separates the spaces to those who can access the food, the volunteers, from the individuals needing the food, these individuals must accept the fact that not only can they not walk into the pantry but they cannot select their food for themselves. This pantry removes all roles of being family provider and a valued community member. Instead labels are placed upon these individuals such as distrustful drains on society who do not have the right to pick between cans of soup and rather must be content with whatever the “good hearted volunteer” picks out for them. A grocery store is a much better option because individuals can still feel they have the right to pick out food for themselves, the ability choose between different brands of soup and decide what they want to bring home to their families that night for dinner.

  17. Written by Christina C.
    on April 30, 2012 at 7:45 pm
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    I believe that having a food pantry set up like a grocery store has its pros and cons. It is a good thing because it is giving the people who are using the food pantry a chance to feel like a “normal” person in society and allowing them to pick the type of food they would like to eat. It can also give the feeling that they are not at a food pantry, where people are just handed food, they are going to a “grocery store” where they can shop for what they need. There are also some negatives images to this as well. Last summer I volunteered at a food pantry in Philadelphia that was set up the same way. I spent the day stocking shelves, bagging groceries, and helping some of the people pick out their food. The people were very grateful for the food that they were getting but you could still see that some of these people were ashamed. I had one younger lady that asked if we could put her food into the Giant food store bags that she had brought, instead of the bags we supplied because she was uneasy about walking home with the food pantry bags. She saw herself as devalued because she had to go to a food pantry to get her food, these are the kind of negative images that are associated with a food pantry if it is set up like a grocery store or not.

  18. Written by Brittney Martin
    on May 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm
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    This article is quite interesting in relation to a course I am enrolled to currently. Social Role Valorization is a topic frequently discussed and the issue of making valuable roles available to all is the goal always at hand. Restructuring the food pantry by means of setting it up does have benefits that include more option in being able to choose your own food rather than having it chosen for you. While the new renditions are seemingly role valorizing, the food pantry while generous, is still a devaluing concept. Setting the pantry up as a grocery store is almost toying the idea of playing house, or pretending you’re just like everyone else and grocery shopping. Changing the pantry’s appearance does not change its purpose and the feelings one has in requiring going to one. Embarrassment and shame are common wounds that come along with needing to go to a food pantry which unfortunately do not go away by restructuring the inside. One might instead consider looking deeper than the food pantry itself and wonder why a person might need to go there to begin with. Consider the devaluization that may have resulted in one being unable to provide for themselves. Is this person unemployed or unable to make enough money due to having a disability, uncommon race, gender, or culture? Where did this devaluization stem from and how can these people begin to live a valued life where attending a food pantry is no longer necessary? How can we prevent this from happening in the future? Perhaps the goal to achieve shouldn’t be how to disguise devaluing locations and services in order to make wounding less prominent, but instead we must consider how can we get to the true root of the problem and stop devaluization in its tracks in order to make the services unnecessary.

  19. Written by Robin Anderson
    on May 23, 2012 at 5:48 pm
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    I was awed by the simple, yet dignified, idea of a food pantry set up like a grocery store! This food pantry grocery store sends a message of positivity. People are not ashamed to walk through the door, do not have to depend on someone pack supplies for them, and can involve the entire family. The major message is: People are valued in times of need.
    I have served in a local food pantry. People often have downtrodden looks upon their faces as you are handing them their food. They rarely make eye contact. As I was reading this article, I had a feeling of hope. Just by changing the set-up of a food pantry, we can show people who need the help a little more dignity.

  20. Written by Nancy Schafer
    on June 4, 2012 at 7:56 pm
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    After reading the article ‘New model of food pantry helps people maintain their dignity’, I thought about how it not only meets the physical needs of the people it is serving, but also addressing the themes Wolfensberger (2004)speaks about. This food pantry is consciously is making an effort to help poor people’s social image and is helping the dynamics and relevance of their social imagery through treating them like a ‘real’ grocery shopper.This also ties in with Wolfensberger’s (2004)fifth theme of personal competency enhancement and the developmental model. It sends a loud message that some day, you will be able to afford to grocery shop so let us model this for you.

  21. Written by Molly
    on June 4, 2012 at 9:08 pm
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    What a wonderful idea! The idea of setting up a food pantry like a grocery store is a simple way to erase the negative image that many people associate with food pantries. The true fact is, that times are tough. Many families are finding it difficult to place food on the table for their family. More and more people are reaching out to food pantries. In the school district that I work in, a very high percentage of families take advantage of our local food bank. Treating it like a grocery store instead of a regular food pantry is a simple idea that allows the users to take advantage of this wonderful service without feeling ashamed or looked down on by others.

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