Dignity in design - food pantry edition

Y'all know that I work for a nonprofit now. I've been learning so much about providing dignified design for people even when they are in extreme circumstances, from amnesty lockers for homeless shelters to beauty salons for fitting wigs on cancer patients. The goal of the space is to give people not only safety, but a sense of dignity in their surroundings.

One of the projects we worked on (not me, this was in our Chicago office) is featured in this article:

If you scroll all the way to the bottom and click on the picture you can see images of what the Free-N-Deed Market looks like inside. This is a *food pantry* but...the interviewee talks about the extremely different architectural experience from her early food pantry visits.  She was instrumental in changing the experience from being handed a box full of expired eggs to going into what feels like an upscale market and selecting the food one wants.

This is a trend in the design of social service spaces and I'm super excited about it. Everyone deserves good design.

Feb 21, 23 9:18 am

From the article:

"Dr. Scott: I can’t pick just one part, because I am excited about the entire space. I love how we’re able to set up the fresh produce, because that’s part of what makes it look like a market. I love how people are able to come in and pull the freezer doors open and get eggs and milk and cheese. We have a partnership with GCFD and another food bank in Bloomington, IL, and so we have a great variety of items available for people to choose from. Watching them move through the space and seeing their excitement about the options is unbelievable."

I love this! Of course a food bank should be able to be set up like a grocery store. That's awesome. It leads to other questions, like the possibility of offering cooking classes or other community workshops in the space as well during certain hours.

Feb 21, 23 10:55 am  · 
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Very cool.  I applaud and deeply respect the work you and your firm is doing Donna.  

Feb 21, 23 10:58 am  · 
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Thanks Chad. It fills my heart in a way that regular practice did occasionally, but not often enough.

Feb 21, 23 1:01 pm  · 
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That has be very satisfying. Now excuse me, I have to work on a spec for a MOB TI. ;)

Feb 21, 23 3:15 pm  · 
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Non Sequitur

Very good Donna.

I'm reminded of a time when a great friend of mine (non-arch) worked at a meals delivery non-profit.  The place served low-income to elderly and provided pre-cooked meals and groceries, delivered by bike couriers.  Anyways, the place was housed in some old urban montreal warehouse but was undergoing full design renovations.  I toured it with my friend and spoke to some of the staff who were absolutely enthralled by their cause despite their modest means. Great people.  

I just so happened to walk by the place 2 years ago by accident and it's just as wonderful as I remember it.

Feb 21, 23 11:24 am  · 
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This is amazing, Donna. I can only imagine how much satisfaction good design WITH social purpose can bring.

This is what architecture is supposed to do - no wonder these days I am a little less enamored of buildings with fancy details and facades (for example) just for the sake of it.

Feb 21, 23 1:07 pm  · 
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Seriously, sameold. I look at the new Bjarke or DSR rendering and I'm just bored. They occupy a world within architecture that I don't want to be in. I still love a pretty building, but I mostly want to see more happy people.

Feb 21, 23 5:19 pm  · 
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Go Donna! Well done!

Feb 21, 23 2:47 pm  · 
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Nice! Good work there, Donna.

Feb 21, 23 5:33 pm  · 
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Beautiful in the true sense of the word. Makes me smile.

Feb 21, 23 6:43 pm  · 
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And thank you Donna for reminding me why I became an architect in the first place.

Feb 22, 23 9:45 am  · 
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Beautiful! There is something really great about doing non-profit work. Not only is there a sense of good, but people are so grateful. My firm has a program where the company donates time for working on non-profit projects, and while they are not always the most photogenic work we do, I think it’s some of the best. 

Feb 22, 23 6:17 pm  · 
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In the early days of the pandemic I remember going to the grocery store - masked, gloved, alone - and for the first time in my life worrying about whether there would be any food available to buy.  For people who live in food deserts, be they urban or rural (a growing (lol) problem these days) this is a common stressor. Story below of a rural community facing this issue and how we helped:

Axtell Community Grocery

IFF closed a $275,000 loan for Axtell Community Grocery, which enabled the newly opened, full-service grocery store in rural Axtell, KS (pop. 398) to purchase coolers, freezers, check-out counters, a point-of-sale system, and initial inventory for its grand opening in January. Additionally, the loan provided the store with working capital to support its start-up operations. Owned by 37 residents of Axtell and surrounding towns and the nonprofit Axtell Economic Development Corporation through an LLC, the grocery store is a community response to the planned closure of the town’s only grocery store after no buyers expressed interest in purchasing the business. A steering committee was formed, which determined the most viable option to keep a grocery store in the community was to purchase the previous store’s building, demolish it due to the numerous repairs required to make it operable, and to build a new, 7,600-square-foot facility to house the store.

To facilitate the project, community members and local businesses contributed nearly $470,000, which was supplemented by a grant from the Kansas Healthy Food Initiative, a zero-interest loan from Axtell Economic Development Corporation that will be forgiven in five years if the store continues to operate, and the IFF loan.

You guys, we NEED creative solutions to the issues we face in this country (USA). Capitalism ain't fixing it for everyone.

Feb 23, 23 6:54 am  · 


Feb 23, 23 3:00 pm  · 
Wood Guy

Wow, really nice work, Donna. I don't have experience with food pantries but my wife and I were part of a food-buying club a while back and while we liked paying less for high-quality, locally-produced food, the space where orders were received and distributed was terrible--I've been in warehouses with much more charm. I imagine most food pantries are similarly bleak.

(Our buying club turned into a co-op, designed by architect friends of mine: )

Feb 23, 23 5:25 pm  · 
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