Clients of the Mitzvah Food Project pantry at the Klein branch of the Jewish Community Center next year will be able to touch a computer screen to get not only healthy servings of food from the pantry, but a lot of choice, too.
Where many charitable food suppliers hand out identical pre-assembled food packages, the “Choice Food Program” will provide the neediest members of the Northeast’s Jewish community as well as the community at large with food that is selected based on their own preferences and dietary restrictions.
“It will be a first in the city,” said Drisana Davis, Mitzvah Food Project manager for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
The idea is not only to give people what they want and what they need, but also to cut waste, Davis said.
Work on transforming the JCC’s current pantry into the new computer-aided food program began last week with the ceremonial smashing of an old racquetball court in the center on Jamison Avenue. Offices to serve the new pantry are going into the old two-story court.
“We will know what the community is looking for and how we can allocate resources,” said Roy Neff, the swinger of the ceremonial sledgehammer and chairman of the federation’s investment committee.
Neff and his wife, Lyn, chairwoman of the federation’s Center for Social Responsibility, researched methods for restructuring the federation’s food programs.
Last week’s ceremony was the culmination of “many years and many miles” of work, said Lyn Neff, who was all smiles.
“For me, this is better than an Oscar,” she said.
Davis said the “Northeast has a large population of low-income Jewish households, and low-income households in general.”
The pantry at the JCC currently serves about 1,000 individuals, and the federation is hoping to double that, Davis said.
Most of the region’s impoverished Jewish population that needs a “safety net of providing agencies,” live in the ZIP codes around the JCC in Somerton, according to a 2009 Jewish Federation food survey.
When the remodeling and pantry are reorganized by 2013, the “Choice Food Program’s” clients will be able to use their personal swipe cards and touch-screen computers to select the food they prefer, Davis said, and the pantry’s software, modeled after one used by a Brooklyn, N.Y., charity, St. John’s Bread and Life, will be able to track individual clients’ nutritional needs and preferences.
For example, food choices will be filtered for clients who are diabetics or who have high blood pressure.
That information will allow the pantry’s volunteers to provide fresh foods, too, Davis said, and more efficiently reorder food.
Giving all clients identical food packages is wasteful, the federation said in a news release, because not everyone likes is or able to eat the same things, which means some foods are discarded.
The pantry will provide the equivalent of a half-week’s meals, using U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional standards, she said.Walk-in hours at the JCC pantry will be expanded from four per week to 16 per week. ••EndFragment