A Healthier Pantry: the Sharing Place

A couple of Mondays ago at the Sharing Place food pantry in Lawrence Township it was 11 degrees outside and a line was already forming for the pantry 30 minutes before it was scheduled to open.  For the people waiting, this would be their one opportunity to access food from the Sharing Place all month.  Until recently, the Sharing Place didn’t give a lot of thought to the nutrition of the food its shoppers were accessing – food is food for someone who is hungry.  But Jump IN for Healthy Kids’ Community Demonstration Project in Lawrence and the Far Eastside had changed that, and changed the pantry’s layout, signage, and offerings for the better.

Produce displayed at the Sharing Place Pantry

Jump IN’s Community Demonstration Project is a program to pilot numerous strategies and interventions to address childhood obesity simultaneously in Lawrence and the far eastside.  Healthy food access in pantries is one intervention, and we’ve partnered with the Purdue Extension.  Last year, Purdue Extension Community Wellness Coordinator, Emma Craynor, approached the Sharing Place about implementing a healthy pantry plan, introducing healthy “nudges” to the pantry to encourage people to select healthier food.  The plan includes a redesign of food placement, so that healthy food is more prominently displayed, a reworking of the shopping flow, so that healthier options are easier to access, better signage, food tastings to introduce people to healthy options they may not know about, and a nutrition and physical activity class each month that includes an exercise portion and cooking instruction with ingredients to make at home. 

Sharing Place Director Crystal Wilmot says the changes have all been positive.  The produce, meat, dairy and bread are the first things people see when they enter the pantry.  She said they’ve widened their main aisle so that more people can access the produce more quickly. “It’s now laid out more like a traditional grocery store.”

Volunteers lay out the items offered at the pantry

The Sharing place used around 80 volunteers; above, a volunteer sets up the produce in the morning

The once monthly rule will be changing soon, and families will have the opportunity to access food from the pantry an additional time each month.  At the second visit, the Sharing Place will restrict the food access to perishable items only:  produce, meat, dairy, and bread – helping those in need get healthier and stay healthier. 

Crystal says that the most popular changes are the nutrition class and the different food tastings regularly offered.  “People are glad that the fresh food is available to them.  I got a woman to try jicama yesterday, and that never would have happened before.”

Jump IN for Healthy Kids’ work in Lawrence and the far eastside is only one focus area of the many-sectored approach Jump IN takes to reduce childhood obesity in central Indiana, its core mission.  Jump IN also manages programs that address childhood obesity in schools, in child care settings, in workplaces, and the quality of built environments (sidewalks, trails, bike paths, etc.).  More information about Jump IN’s programs and a comprehensive, free, online healthy resource library is here