North County Food Bank Chapter Opens Client Choice Pantry After Two-Year Wait

Update: As of October 17, 2022, the drive-thru food pantry will only be open Tuesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Our North County Food Bank chapter opened our Client Choice Pantry on Monday, June 20th after a two year wait.  The project was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, replaced for the duration by a contactless drive-thru distribution model.

Diapers and period supplies are also available for pick-up at the Client Choice Pantry. 

The Client Choice Pantry is open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with 15 minute appointment slots available.  The pantry resembles a small grocery store, in which clients can self-select nutritious foods they prefer for their families on a bimonthly basis.  They may also pick up diapers and period supplies. The last two items empower clients to comfort their children and to attend work and school.

Why is the client choice model important? Because it acknowledges the dignity and enhances the agency of every client. As Wendy Starling, the North County Food Bank Director, states, “We believe every individual is worthy of their basic needs being met, so they can prosper. Giving our clients the power of unlimited choice has created an environment of hope and a sense of relief at the food pantry.”  In that spirit, shoppers are not required to display documentation or proof of income to receive food. 

Two of our first Client Choice Pantry clients, Lydia and Miguel, “shop” at our pantry.

 Client dignity isn’t the only benefit.  Unlike traditional food distribution models, which give clients a set menu of food items, client choice pantries can reduce waste by having each household take only what they want and need.  

Foods provided at the Client Choice Pantry include fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins, dairy products and nonperishable canned foods.  Ready-to-eat meals are also available for clients facing housing insecurity.

As Starling says, “Food distribution at the food pantry is not seen as a handout, but as a resource for our community.” Hunger and malnutrition are both symptoms and further causes of poverty.  When a person is hungry, they are less likely to be able to focus at work or school.  When a person is malnourished, they are at a higher risk for preventable diseases, leading to health scares and expensive medical bills. All these impacts make it harder to escape the poverty trap. 

We aim to support and empower low-income people and families with our services.  The new pantry will be a great tool in our toolkit, enabling us to expand from the 850 families we currently serve each month to accommodate even more North County residents in need.  The drive-thru pantry will also remain open Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for clients who prefer a contactless experience.


To set up an appointment at the North County Food Bank Client Choice Pantry, please visit calendly.com/ncpantry. To see a list of food distributions near you, please visit sandiegofoodbank.org/gethelp and input your location.