As Diane Bruce made her way through the aisles of Holy Foods Market pantry during its grand opening on May 5, her volunteer guide assisted her in making her food selection. Her guide helped Bruce chose a can of diced tomatoes and placed them in her bag. 

“This is the first time I’ve done it this way,” Bruce said. “I’m visually impaired, so I couldn’t see what was on the shelves. The gentleman helped me a lot.” 

Located at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Washington, the new market-style pantry allows guests to browse the four aisles and select their own food. Pantry volunteers distribute pre-packed bags as well for those prefer them. 

Father Bill Carloni, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus, said he was inspired to transition to a market-style pantry after he visited a local grocery store. He said he wanted to give a similar shopping experience to people in need in the parish’s neighborhood. 

“The way I describe it is the difference between going to a restaurant and to a cafeteria,” Father Carloni said. “You get food either way, but it is a much more enjoyable experience to go to a restaurant, where you feel like people are serving you.”

Father Carloni said the market-style both empowers the guests who get food there and prevents waste. 

“It keeps people from receiving items they do not want, so there is less waste,” he said. “Certain items need to be stocked less because they may be less popular.” 

Opened in 2014 with just a few cabinets of food, the pantry has been completely renovated over the past few months. A wall was removed to expand the pantry, which now contains two refrigerators and two freezers – acquired through Brian Mulholland of the Mulholland Family Foundation – which contain eggs, meat, and other perishable items, and shelves stocked with canned and boxed goods from the Capital Area Food Bank. 

The pantry had more than 60 guests, with some shopping, and others opting for pre-packed bags, in less than 40 minutes of its opening, which volunteer Teresa Smith said was a significant number for its first day. 

Volunteer Cheryl McLaughlin said the one-on-one market experience with a volunteer guide helps people get to know each another. 

“It’s part of the community building,” she said. “You get to know them, and they get to know you.” 

Father Carloni said though the individuals may come for the food, he hopes they will return for the community experience at his parish. 

“As we build community, we are servicing another, deeper human need,” he said. “Not just a basic need, but the need for fellowship, community, and love. Hopefully we can serve both the material and physical at the same time, in a way that people feel loved and valued.” 

David Williams, who has been volunteering at the pantry for years, said volunteer work is a way of giving back to the neighborhood. 

“I’ve received many blessings,” Williams said. “This is my way of showing the Church my appreciation. I do whatever I can to help.” 

The pantry is open the first Saturday and the second Thursday of the month.