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As I reflect on one year of serving our neighbors in the pantry, I feel immense gratitude.
I feel grateful that Catholic Charities has given me the opportunity to serve in a meaningful way.
I feel grateful that our team has come together in shaping and creating this space and model of distribution.
I am grateful for our volunteers for showing up and embracing this community.
Finally, I am grateful to the community of neighbors we serve for accepting something new and being willing to learn and be patient with this model of service.
When we opened the Catholic Charities Food Pantry in Jefferson City we knew, in keeping with Catholic social teaching, we wanted each person we served to feel that were treated with dignity.
In thinking about our physical layout, the software we use at checkout, and the language we use with our neighbors — every decision we made kept this mission in mind.
One year later, we’ve seen that vision of encountering neighbors, caring for them, and forming relationships while bringing them closer to food security realized.
As I reflect on this progress I am also filled with joy.
Our pantry members continually let us know that they love coming here.
It’s common for the staff and volunteers at the Welcome Center counter and in the pantry to visit with our neighbors and hear, “this is my favorite place to go for food!”
And for us, we know that feedback isn’t only because we’re helping people put food in their carts and in their pantries.
This feedback is deeper, and I know it is because our team genuinely loves what we do — and shows that in how they treat our visitors.
Our staff and volunteers in the pantry create and nurture an atmosphere of love.
I see it when we hand out numbers to shoppers, when we welcome a new family into a membership, and when we’re stocking the shelves.
This atmosphere builds relationships with our visitors, and trust within our community.
Trust that we will encounter and care for the whole person — regardless of faith, culture or situation.
Our neighbors and our community partners know the pantry isn’t only a place to have needs met, it is also a safe place to engage and be cared for.
That is so real to me, when neighbors bring their children in to visit and play in the kid’s playroom, when they share with us that they have a new job they’re excited about, when they show us pictures of their pets.
We share life with them, and it feeds something deeper than even food can.
The healthy, fresh, nutritional food we’ve got in stock will always be the most visible and engaging characteristic of our client-choice food pantry.
We are honored to be part of ensuring access to healthy and equitable nutrition — a foundational pillar of our mission in the Health and Nutrition Services program at Catholic Charities.
And we’re honored to be a great part of someone’s day.
That less tangible piece of this pantry is a gift.
Knowing our visitors well means we know the situations they face and sometimes help shoulder the hardships they’ve experienced.
It’s just a reality that we cannot expect to meet all the needs of the community — but when people realize how easy it is to access our pantry and experience the level of care we provide, I get a sense of surprise and relief.
Pretty often, visitors will bring their friends back because they had no idea this client-choice model existed, and they appreciated the experience so much.
That network of care is rippling out, and the work of love of encountering and serving our visitors is like reaching out a helping hand.
A hand that invites others to shop the pantry for healthy food, but also referrals to supportive services that can help create sustainable change in their situation — whether that is financial, housing related, or in the form of mental health support.
As I think back to the preparation, planning and execution of the Catholic Charities Food Pantry, all I can think about is how it has far exceeded my expectations of the impact we would have on supporting this community.
How every part of the plan, from pouring over schematics to determine the layout of our building, and the research that it took to design a client-choice model, to the hour we open the door for shoppers, is a gift.
Lori Stoll is the Food Programs Coordinator at Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.
In her role, she oversees all aspects of the Catholic Charities Food Pantry and was integral in researching, developing and executing the vision for a client-choice grocery-model pantry housed in Catholic Charities’ central office at 1015 Edmonds Street in Jefferson City, Missouri.