Beginning in January 2020, Joy Mission Center transitioned into a new client-choice style food pantry. In previous years, all community members received identical pre-filled bags. Two years ago, clients were able to choose what they would receive in their bags from a list of available items. Now, each client is able to walk through our food pantry to choose their own food straight from the shelf.

There have been many positive effects from making this change in our food pantry. Preserving every person’s dignity is one of Mission Centers of Houston’s values, and it is also a key part of ending the cycle of poverty. By giving more freedom and choice to our clients we communicate to them that we understand each family has unique needs and wants, and that we are willing to provide the opportunity for them to make those choices for their family. Some people have started to refer to the food pantry as a “store”. Imagine the change of perspective and self-worth when you are able to go to a “store” instead of an emergency assistance ministry. The staff at Joy are praying about more ways to empower the community in the future.

Another benefit is that we are able to provide a wider variety of foods. In the past, we could only put items on the list of foods for clients to choose from if we had enough of that item to give to the hundreds of clients who receive food from us. With limited space to store our food in our facility, we might only be able to order one kind of each food. For example, we would have to order at least 400 cans of peaches to offer to all of our clients in a two week time span. Now we can order 400 units of a variety of fruits. It also cuts down on food waste because our clients only get exactly what they want and don’t feel pressured to take anything they don’t care for.

After running our new food pantry process for a month, we have had a great response from the community. Not one person has complained about it, even though it meant we had to close our clothing closet ministry to make room. Joy Mission’s volunteers also love the change. Instead of hiding away in the pantry while they filled bags of food, they are working directly with the community, helping them through the pantry and bagging their food at the end. They have more opportunities for building relationships with the people they serve, which makes way for gospel conversations to place.

You may be wondering how you can support the new things that are taking place at Joy Mission Center. First, we would ask you to pray for us. Our end goal for having a food pantry and for building relationships with our clients is to see people become disciples of Jesus. The enemy will oppose us in this endeavor. We need saints who will help us by lifting the needs of our ministry to the Lord. Another way you can help us is to give. Providing over 800 bags of food each month is not free. We love our partnership with the Houston Food Bank, but we have to pay a fee to receive food from them. You can also donate shelf-stable food to our ministry, knowing that it will make a direct impact in the fight against hunger and food insecurity in Houston. Lastly, you can volunteer. If your Tuesday and Wednesday mornings are open, plug in and be a part of what God is doing at Joy.