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Online Ordering System At Food Pantry Helps Create More Choices, Eliminate Returns

GLOUCESTER (CBS) -- The Open Door food pantry has locations in Gloucester and Ipswich, with an assortment of food and plenty of people to feed.

"As the pandemic tipped the world sideways last year we took our two food pantries and moved them to curbside models only. And we distributed 2.5 million tons of food to nearly 10,000 people," said Julie LaFontaine, President & CEO of The Open Door.

They started using the no-contact curbside model in March 2020 and while it was efficient, but they noticed a problem using pre-packed groceries.

"While it was a lot of good, nutritious food, it might have also included things people wouldn't necessarily eat," said LaFontaine.

They decided to modernize the process and moved to an online ordering system called "SmartChoice."

The Open Door food pantry ordering system (WBZ-TV)

"Being food insecure can be traumatizing and it really helps to return choice and control to someone who's experiencing food insecurity," said LaFontaine.

"The online ordering system has helped us reduce tremendously the amount of products that are distributed and then returned to us," said Katherine Aparorask, The Open Door Distribution Programs Coordinator.

The online ordering system has been in place since June, allowing clients to choose individual items based on dietary needs and personal preferences on a weekly basis.

"We're finding that many more of our clients are selecting low sodium options, gluten-free options, whole grain options, and making requests for organic products. We're seeing people feeling comfortable to make a choice," said Aparorask.

And while The Open Door says they aren't the first food pantry to do this, they anticipate it's a trend that's here to stay.

"I think we're going to see a lot of pantries moving towards systems like these in the future," said Aparorask.

"I really think that the pandemic leapfrogged us about five years forward in terms of technology making sure that we're modernizing the way people are connecting to food," said LaFontaine.

For more information, visit The Open Door website.

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