On a warm Tuesday morning in August, hundreds of our neighbors in the Canal District of San Rafael shopped for groceries. To an outsider, it might look like a farmer’s market, teeming with activity and brimming with bright produce. Birds chirped, kids shouted and laughed at the nearby Pickleweed Park play structure, and people stood around chatting.
This Marin food pantry looked much different than Tuesdays past. In late August, Bahía Vista was the first to switch from pre-bagged groceries back to farmer’s market style pantries – the way our pantries operated for years, prior to COVID.
COVID Pantry Pivots
Farmer’s market style means people choose what they want (and leave what they don’t), rather than taking home grocery bags packed by volunteers. Pre-COVID, all food pantries run by our neighborhood partners operated this way. But due to social distancing guidance, pre-packed bags became the norm.
Now, nearly three years later, we are slowly working our way towards re-opening farmer’s market style at all food pantries.
“What you’ll eat, you take”
At Bahía Vista, community members voiced their support for the transition.
“I thought this was kind of cool. There were times [before] where you might get something that you don’t necessarily need,” said Aaron, a dad of three and private security worker. “For us, six onions is a lot – I don’t know what to do with so much onion.”
Other neighbors like Mirsa agreed. “I love this. What you’ll eat, you take; and what you won’t, you can just leave, so it doesn’t go to waste.”
Picking what you like, what you know how to cook, taking as many ingredients as your family can use and leaving the rest are all meaningful decisions. And an essential part of offering services in a dignified way means ensuring our neighbors can say no to items they don’t want, or can’t use. As Community Support Coordinator Angela notes, “participants are more relaxed as they shop.”
Farmer’s Market Style Forecast
The Food Bank is hoping to pivot all Pop-up Pantries back to this model in the future. Our second Pop-up Pantry, Golden Gate, just made another successful transition to farmer’s market in late October. And though it will take time and careful planning to pivot the remaining pantries, given that some see thousands of neighbors in a day, the positive reception and seamless transition at Bahía Vista and Golden Gate bodes well for farmer’s market style at other Pop-ups.
“Participants love the fact that they don’t have to take all the food items, and the children like helping the adults shop. And one of our favorite things, as staff, is seeing our participants interact with volunteers, as they now meet face to face while shopping for their desired options,” shared Mikey, Site Supervisor at Bahía Vista. “It’s been a great success.”