SoV – Smart Choice

Westerville Area Resource Ministry

Scott Marier, Executive Director

The Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) was founded in 1972. One of their major programs is the Choice Market food pantry, which distributes the equivalent of 600,000 meals a year. They were one of the first agencies in central Ohio to adopt the choice model, and see it as integral to their mission of treating people with dignity and respect.

Prior to COVID, the market was set up like a grocery store where clients worked with a volunteer to pick out their food. Each person was allotted enough food to provide for three meals per day for a week for everyone in their family, and clients could visit the market twice each month.

With the pandemic, WARM had to revert to a curbside model, providing their clients with small, medium, or large bags of pre-packaged groceries. As the crisis progressed, the lack of choice became a serious issue. WARM responded by partnering with Smart Choice to create an online shopping platform similar to that used by large grocery stores. Clients are now able to sign in 24/7 and select their groceries from more than 325 different items. Those without internet access can place their orders over the phone, and as each item is selected the software automatically removes it from WARM’s inventory.

All orders require two business days to process. Clients have to choose a pick up time when placing their order. Volunteers pull the selected products from the shelves and bring them to a central table where orders are double-checked and sorted for quality. When clients arrive, volunteers greet them, verify their names, and assign them to a parking space. Once parked, groceries are delivered to their car.

WARM makes an effort to offer pastoral care as well. Usually a pastor from WARM’s network of churches is available on site. Clients can have access to support and spiritual counseling while waiting for their food. In addition, clients can make an appointment to speak with one of WARM’s family service coordinators for more in-depth assistance.

While this approach has returned clients to some semblance of choice, WARM’s goal is to reopen the market to in-person shopping. They believe connections formed during in-person shopping are essential to building real relationships and helping people move towards self-sufficiency. At the same time, WARM recognizes that not everyone wants this type of in-depth assistance. Moving forward, their plan is to offer two ways of shopping: in-person for those who are open to case management, and online ordering for those who just want the food.

WARM is working diligently to document the process they developed in setting up this system in an effort to provide a set of simple, user-friendly procedures for other agencies to follow.

To learn more, click here – https://warmwesterville.org/choice-market

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