By: Gabrielle Mills, Follow South Jersey Intern
PATERSON, N.J. — The Center for United Methodist Aid to the Community, or CUMAC, runs a foodbank unlike most others.
The setup allows those experiencing food insecurity to choose what groceries best suit their needs instead of the catch-all method of standard food banks. However, adhering to thousands of people’s personal grocery lists is not an easy feat, but it’s a challenge that CUMAC has embraced.
The ability to choose one’s own food at the Choice Marketplace is what those at CUMAC call “giving back power.” It was instituted in hopes to enable people who are going through a difficult time to be met with respect and autonomy.
“I want them to look forward to coming here,” says Operations Associate Angely Fransisco.
The marketplace requires a lot of moving parts. First, the food is sorted in CUMAC’s warehouse area, then after being received, weighed, and sorted, the food is brought into the marketplace by CUMAC’s warehouse associates, a team of men and women who handle the processing. Next, the food is put into its respective areas, perishables in the refrigerators and nonperishables on shelves.
Upon arrival, clients fill out their information and food choices on an iPad, and their list gets sent to a printer inside of the marketplace. From there a volunteer or a marketplace associate shops on their behalf and gives the client their groceries. Lastly, clients are given the opportunity to shop for themselves from a selection of produce, breads, and specialty items.
Apart from food, working in the marketplace also involves managing thousands of clients on CUMAC’s online repository, PATH. On it, client information as well as appointment dates are stored. Fransisco remarks that running the marketplace requires meticulous attention, but she enjoys seeing the impact of her work in real time.
“Despite the stress of feeling overwhelmed I always go back to the feeling of how much I love it because of all the lives we get to touch,” Fransisco says.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, CUMAC never closed its doors, the organization instead turned to home deliveries; however, the usual operations of the marketplace suffered.
Director of operations Laura Purdy states, “For a while it was just a regular old food pantry, when we got back into choice it was a good thing.”
Currently, the marketplace is back up to full speed, with the help of volunteers, talking on 8-10 clients per half-hour, ensuring that CUMAC can continue in its anti-hunger mission.
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