The idea of transitioning to a client choice food pantry model had been circulating at CUP for several years. With the issue of food insecurity greatly magnified by the pandemic, our plans for this transition were accelerated.

Planning began the midst of many pandemic-related pivots and changes within all existing CUP programs. Aided by a team of experts from University of Illinois Extension, implementation of the client choice model in our setting is being led by a dynamic team of three Americorps VISTA Summer Associates – Bridget Beck, Kate Schechter, and Sarah Sheahan. The VISTAs spent the first three weeks of their summer service completely redoing the pantry set-up while continuing to operate the original food box model.

Unsure of what to expect when they began serving at CUP, our VISTAs found themselves surprised by the scope of the client-choice transition. Learning about behavior economics, healthy nudges, and other elements of client choice; the VISTAs rearranged the set-up at least three times to maximize its effectiveness for those shopping at CUP’s new “HUB Foods.”

For our VISTA members, the experience of creating the new “HUB Foods” has been transformational. Executive Director, Toni Muhammad is amazed by the dedication and leadership of the VISTA team in making the vision of client choice a reality at CUP. “It is amazing how much is possible with a small group when an organization trusts your capabilities to get things done,” said Kate Schechter.

Our Americorps VISTA members end their summer service on August 6th. We are looking to fill 24 pantry volunteer positions. Can you make a weekly commitment Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to noon or 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.? Do you know someone who can? Please spread the word! Contact Jenn Lyke at 618.398.5616 or jlyke@catholicurbanprograms.org for more information.

Get a first-hand look at what it is like to serve in the pantry from Bridget, Kate, and Sarah