A new online ordering system at The Open Door called “SmartChoice” has brought efficiency and agency—not to mention expanded choices—to clients at the community food center serving low-income residents from Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester, and Essex.
At Open Door’s food pantry hub in Gloucester, The Open Door’s Distribution Programs Coordinator Katherine Rask works from a corner open processing area that is the brains of the program. She clicks open the back end of the e-commerce platform, reviews orders in the queue, and readies them for processing with the pick-and-pack stock warehouse behind the retail store. She then assigns each order to a 15-minute same day window of time for pick up.
“It’s a great system,” said Rask. “Customers really love it.”
And why shouldn’t they? SmartChoice launched at The Open Door in June, allowing clients to place a weekly grocery order. They can match any special dietary needs—low sugar, gluten free, vegetarian—as well as their personal taste. Clients select from featured items like fruit and juices, vegetables, protein and dairy, ready-to-eat items, grains and cereal, baking, snacks, condiments, special dietary items, pet supplies, household supplies, health and hygiene products, baby food and supplies, and miscellaneous items.
“When people choose their own groceries, we know they’re getting the food they’ll eat and enjoy to thrive,” said Open Door President and CEO Julie LaFontaine said. “We’re proud to have this new resource for our clients."
Since The Open Door launched SmartChoice in June, it has fulfilled 4,078 household grocery orders and distributed 13,440 fresh meals made from its kitchen. The system accounts for every item available in The Open Door’s inventory in the agenc
The pandemic brought focus to organizations like The Open Door which has a mission to alleviate the impact of everyday hunger in local communities. It uses practical strategies to connect people to good food, to advocate on behalf of those in need, and to engage others in the work of building food security. And it’s grown. What started as an organization local to Cape Ann now serves low-income residents of Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester, Essex, Ipswich, Hamilton, Boxford, Rowley, Topsfield, and Wenham. In 2020, The OpenDoor helped stabilize the lives and health of 9,681 people from 4,703 households by distributing 2.46 million pounds of food, amounting to 2.05 million meals. Requests for food assistance during this pandemic year were up 27 percent.
And now, with the online ordering system past its “test phase,” The Open Door bring a sense of agency and empowerment to that equation. And that works just fine, according to Rask.
“Our clients have more choice than ever before, and they like it,” she said. The proof? “With the system, the average individual orders are bigger, and they’re documented clearly, which helps our clients and helps us cut down on waste. It’s good all around.”
y’s warehouse. Grocery orders are managed by the fulfillment center, where staff and volunteers package grocery orders Monday through Friday.
Before the online ordering system became available, The Open Door provided bags of pre-selected groceries for clients starting in March 2020 in response to the pandemic. This was done through a curbside, no-contact model used at both the Gloucester and Ipswich food pantries, and protected the health and well-being of clients, volunteers, and staff alike while also expanding the nonprofit’s capacity to meet increased need. While the curbside model was necessary to feed more people, it left shoppers with less personal choice.
At the height of the pandemic, The Open Door met a 40 percent increase in need for food resources, and continues to meet ongoing need. Today, clients are still picking-up their groceries at either site or receiving deliveries if they qualify for the agency’s grocery and meal delivery program.