In a time when pre-packed food boxes became the norm, some food banks have moved to give clients online “dignity of choice.”

Just as grocery stores are making it possible for Americans to do more of their shopping online through apps like Instacart and FreshDirect, so too are food pantries embracing digital choice.

While some pantries had begun experimenting with online ordering for clients before Covid-19, others made the switch as a way to preserve dignity of choice at a time when pre-packed boxes and bags became the norm to meet the nationwide increase in food insecurity. 

Now, online ordering is colliding with the ongoing surge in drive-through food distributions, bringing a small but growing number of pantries to a higher level of service that emphasizes both choice and convenience. 

“It’s one of those ‘Why haven’t we been doing this all along?’ things,” said Courtney Wright, Senior Food Assistance Network Strategist at Oregon Food Bank.

In Oregon, the Portland Open Bible Community Pantry operated much like a supermarket before Covid, Betty Brown, Executive Director, said. When Covid hit, Brown’s son, Aaron, started planning a drive-up version of the shopping-style model. 

Wright from the Oregon Food Bank was eager to assist. “When I told her what we’re going to do, she said, ‘Okay, what do you need?’” Ms. Brown said. 

With a $5,000 grant from the Oregon Food Bank and support from the local health authority, Mr. Brown enlisted the aid of a techie friend and they got to work on an order form. Now, anyone with access to the internet can get the online form, choose their language, check off the foods they want, and submit it.