When the Just Food pantry was founded in 2009, we were among those who questioned whether the agency would simply duplicate services already being provided by other local social service entities.
At the time, it seemed that the effort to provide food to local people was more in need of additional coordination and efficiency than another agency that collected and distributed food.
Now, with a helping hand from United Way of Douglas County, Just Food is part of an initiative that will make it the go-to food pantry in Lawrence. Just Food now will take over stocking food pantries that have been operated by the Ballard Center, Penn House and the Salvation Army, freeing up those agencies to redirect their energy to other efforts that benefit their clients. The goal of the program is to allow all of the agencies to better address United Way’s priority of making low-income residents more self-sufficient. Not only will Just Food provide a dependable supply of food to the other three agencies, it will give those agencies more time to help their clients with affordable housing, job training and other services.
As its name implies, food is the only focus of Just Food, which allows it to run a more efficient operation than other agencies. Its facility at 1000 E. 11th St. also is better-equipped than smaller pantries to store and distribute larger quantities of food. The result is an agency that is able to leverage donations to provide more food — and healthier food — to local people in need. Just Food obviously appreciates the food that is donated by individuals and through local food drives, but the agency notes that, through its connections, it can buy about twice as much food as a donor can buy with the same amount of money.
Over the years, United Way and other community groups have focused considerable attention on trying to eliminate duplication and bring more efficiency to local social services. This effort appears to be a tangible step in that direction. The community didn’t really need another food pantry, but it definitely can benefit from the coordination and cooperation Just Food is spearheading with other local agencies.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated that Just Food still was part of the Harvesters Food Network in Kansas City, Mo.