How a Nonprofit Delivers Service Is as Important as What it Does

How a Nonprofit Delivers Service Is as Important as What it Does

A trip to the supermarket is a pretty routine affair for most Island residents. We park our cars, grab a shopping cart, and start picking out what we need. When we get a bit of sticker shock, we either shrug it off or pick out something a bit less expensive.

But that would be a luxury for many of our neighbors. Some have no car and can’t buy anything more than they can carry. Some have a limited budget and need to carefully purchase items that they can buy – even with food stamps. Others have to figure out what they can store and prepare without a stove and refrigerator.

These are tough decisions that most of us don’t have to make. But they are, at least, choices that are within the power of the shopper.

For years, the Alameda Food Bank worked to preserve the dignity of our clients by creating an “all choice” shopping experience for them at our small distribution center at the corner of Atlantic and Constitution on the western edge of Sweeney Park.

That all changed when the pandemic hit in 2020. We had to move lock, stock and barrel to our Alameda Point warehouse to accommodate a tenfold increase in clients by creating a drive-through service.

By necessity, self-service selection was suspended. Clients were given a pre-packaged assortment of fresh produce, protein and baked goods. With some exceptions for people with special dietary needs, everyone got the same thing.

Our clients were gracious about it, but we all felt the loss of the personalized experience we had worked so hard to create.

But every cloud has a silver lining and the move to our warehouse meant that we had space to not only recreate the shopping experience but expand and enhance it. It took some doing to accomplish this while adjusting to the dramatic increase in need, but we persevered. The result is our new Island Community Market inside the warehouse where clients can pick what they need just as they would in a grocery store.

In addition to giving clients a more dignified experience, this new service cuts down on food waste, since clients can select only the items they will use.

As a nonprofit organization funded by the community with very little government support, we feel an obligation to deliver services to our neighbors in the most comfortable and convenient way possible. Some of our clients are coming to us for the first time to help them get through a temporary rough patch; others are people with on ongoing need. All deserve the same respectful service.

Alameda is a generous community that supports many nonprofits providing critical services to Island residents. The needs are widespread and varied, but one principle is universal: how an organization helps is as important as what it does. It’s essential that those in need be treated the same way that those with more resources like to be treated. They deserve no less.

Cindy Houts Executive Director, Alameda Food Bank