Chelsea Johnson puts on her Salvation Army apron and smiles. She starts to open boxes of fresh fruit on the counter, as her mom, Donna Goodwin, organizes paperwork. They volunteer together every week. Donna’s sister Joyce glances over the shelves stacked with canned goods and non-perishable foods. As the Pantry Coordinator, she wants to make sure everything is in place as they ready to open the door of the Choice Pantry on this Wednesday morning.
“Everybody needs help. We do what needs to be done. It’s God’s work,” says Donna.
The Salvation Army of Norristown has provided food assistance to families in need for more than 20 years. Now, rather than distribute food that’s already been bagged with various non-perishable items, The Salvation Army created the Choice Pantry. It’s like a mini-market where clients use a shopping cart and select food from the stocked shelves, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, and frozen meat.
“I like this way better,” DeHaviland, a client of The Salvation Army of Norristown, proclaimed with a big smile as she walked into the new Choice Pantry. “Are those grapes? Oh lord! God is good,” she said.
DeHaviland is among dozens of individuals and families who come to The Salvation Army of Norristown once a month for food assistance. On this day, she navigated the narrow aisles of the Choice Pantry with one hand on the shopping cart; her other hand clasping a list with categories of food from which she can select. She scans the shelves of choices and then eyes the piece of paper: protein, vegetable, fruit, dairy, cereal, pasta, prepared foods.
“Oh salmon! I am going to make salmon cakes,” she said and grabbed the can from the shelf.
According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau, it is estimated that 18.1 percent of Norristown’s population is living below the poverty line (approximately 6,230 citizens). This is an especially alarming figure when compared to the rest of Montgomery County which is, 5.57 percent. At The Salvation Army of Norristown, those numbers don’t appear to be decreasing any time soon.
“Every week we add more families to the program,” said Donna.
Taking that into account, as well as a growing trend with food assistance programs, The Salvation Army transformed a space in the back of its Norristown building to accommodate its new Choice Pantry. The renovations were made possible thanks to a
$10,000 grant. An additional grant has allowed The Salvation Army of Norristown to expand the foods offered, such as gluten-free, to aid in an individual’s dietary needs.
“In giving our clients the choice of what food they receive, in a setting that resembles a grocery store, we hope it allows them to feel dignity and respect,” said Captain Felicia Flora, Co-Commanding Officer, The Salvation Army of Norristown.
“While they are shopping they tell us their story and their kids can pick out some things too,” said Chelsea Johnson, Choice Pantry Volunteer. “To see them smile and say ‘Thank You’ – it makes you feel so good,” she added.
When DeHaviland’s shopping cart is full with food she selected, she bags them and excitedly tells the women about the meals she intends to make. Chelsea, Donna and Joyce wish her well, as more men and women line up for their turn to go through the pantry aisles.
“Thank you, this is awesome,” DeHaviland said as she gives Joyce a big hug. “See you next month!”