On Tuesday, Sept. 13, one reporting class from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism sent its students out to talk to patrons and providers at a dozen food pantries and kitchens in Brooklyn. Here is one of the scenes they found:
Sometimes technology can enhance the most basic needs in life. St. John's Bread and Life food pantry has computerized its operations to keep track of what clients need – both groceries and additional social and legal services.
Executive Director Anthony Butler said the need for streamlining and understanding patterns is essential. Located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bread and Life is the biggest emergency service provider in Brooklyn, serving 700 to 800 breakfasts and lunches on a typical day.
For its food pantry, Butler said the center saved space by developing a computer touchscreen program. Instead of putting all the groceries out on shelves, the center can more efficiently store the groceries and then fill “orders” from clients. People coming for groceries place an order on one of four computer terminals, then volunteers and employees put together their order in a back room and bring it out within 15 minutes.
Peggy Barbour, 71, said she uses the services at Bread and Life every day it is open, Monday through Friday. She said she's especially impressed with this food pantry compared to others she's used.
“It's so convenient for me to come, place an order and wait for someone to call my name to and then pick up my groceries,” Barbour said.
Bread and Life, which is affiliated with St. John's University, is also using technology to collect and analyze data on its clients, in hopes of better meeting their needs. Client visits are tracked, along with what they order; the results are being monitored and analyzed by St. John's professors and students.
With a handful of studies completed, Bread and Life has adjusted what foods are available and when they are offered during the week.
But clients can opt out of having their shopping preferences collected and analyzed. “We know the importance in recognizing the dignity of the people we serve,” Butler said.
Bread and Life offers additional services such as tax preparation, Medicaid paperwork assistance and a lending library. The center's annual budget is $3 million; about 10 percent come from government grants, with the rest equally divided between individuals and foundations.
Read the rest of our 'Lunchtime, Tuesday' reports:
At Brooklyn Pantries & Kitchens, New Need is Getting Old