The Napa Valley Food Bank's food pantry program is moving into the 21st century with a new downtown location that gives hungry Napa families the chance to select their own staples.
“We are completely changing the way we operate the food bank,” said program director Shirley King.
Operated by , the food bank is getting ready to open its new facility, the Napa Store House, in early April at 1764 Yajome St., across from .
Providing food and staples once a month to low-income families, the food bank has long operated on a by-the-bag system:
On the day the food is distributed—the current location is at on Linda Vista Avenue—clients line up outside, waiting to receive their groceries.
“Everyone is given at least one bag of groceries, depending on their income and size of their family,” King said.
“They had no idea what is in the bag. They had no say-so in what food they received. Many times people got items they didn’t particularly care for or didn’t know how to prepare,” she said.
But that's all changing with the Napa Storehouse, where clients will be able to browse the aisles pushing a grocery cart while selecting their choice of groceries.
The process of using the food bank’s pantry has also changed: No more waiting in line outside in the cold, rain or heat.
Those waiting their turn inside the store can relax in the bright waiting room while sitting in the comfy chairs and browsing through a magazine.
Once they are called into the intake office to check in, they are given a tag showing the number of items they may select.
“For example, a family of one may take only one can of soup, where a family of four is allowed three cans,” King said.
As they meander through the store, shoppers can select from canned goods, staples such as pasta, light snack foods, bins of fresh produce, refrigerated dairy products, breads, frozen meats and chicken and even a pastry table.
“Everyone is allowed only one pastry item, no matter how big their family is. You can tell, it’s the highlight of the shopping trip,” King said.
The store has guides to help clients reach high shelves and explain labels. Shoppers can also get recipes and tips on how to cook certain products.
“We have such items as Swiss chard or canned pork. Some people have never heard of Swiss chard let alone how to cook with it. And there are also those who don’t know what to do with a can of pork,” King said.
Right before bagging their groceries, clients have the opportunity to select items from the non-food section.
“We never know what we are going to get. We have had toilet paper, diapers and other such sundries,” King said.
The food bank hasn’t forgotten the family pet: “We usually have canned dog and cat food,” King added.
Other features of the store include a storeroom which houses the large walk-in freezer and refrigerator. The canned goods and non-perishable items are stored in large barrels.
“We check all of the products to make sure of expiration date, labels and for badly dented or damaged cans,” King said.
There is also a bathroom for the customers and a break room for the volunteers who work at the pantry.
The bulk of the food is donated by grocery and other stores.
“We buy some of it as well,” King said. “We have a deal with the California Association of Food Banks with the growers and packers. We pick up food seven days a week.”
Other donated items come from residents who grow their own gardens and have more bounty than they can use.
“It’s called our Gleaner Program,” King said. “We have people who call and say they have an overabundance of vegetables and fruits. We send our volunteers over, and they pick the produce.”
Qualification for the food bank is based on the income and number of people in the household.
“A one-person household cannot make more than $1,300 a month to qualify,” King said.
“Anyone can call or come in for an intake evaluation. You don’t need a referral.”
The food bank serves 600 to 700 households in Napa monthly. People are allowed one visit per month.
Napa is just one of the several food banks served by Community Action of Napa Valley from Calistoga to American Canyon.
“We serve about 13,000 individuals countywide annually,” King said. “We go through about 11,000 pounds of produce a year throughout the county.”
The food bank’s annual budget is around $700,000, King said, adding, the majority of funds comes from grants and private donations.
The Napa food bank has four full-time workers, three part-time employees and close to 150 volunteers.
The Napa Storehouse will be open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. The hours are still to be determined.
For information about the Napa Valley Food Bank, call Shirley King at 707-253-6128 or visit the website at www.canv.org/napa-valley-food-bank.