A food bank that looks more like a small-scale grocery store, minus the checkout lanes, is now open in New Bedford thanks to a PACE decision to reimagine its old food distribution model.

The new site at 477 Park St. retains PACE’s drive to get food into the hands of those who need it but adds the opportunity for people to choose the products they want to eat.

That means gone are the pre-pack-aged food bags.

Pam Kuechler, PACE Executive Director, said the organization knew it needed to change its model for how people get food. feel it’s a way for people to really be served with the dignity they deserve and for them to be able to choose the food they’ll use,” Kuechler said about the grocery store model. “It’s really the key to making food stretch further.”

Under the new model, recipients sign up and are given a key tag to swipe as they enter the food bank. There are small shopping carts avail-able for them to wheel through the well-lit and spacious building and select what is needed from the variety of food and personal care items. A food bank staff person accompanies shoppers to help pick appropriate amounts based on family size and USDA recommendations.

Because people select what they like, the new model helps reduce food waste which in turn helps more people benefit from the food bank’s products.
The response from those who use PACE’s services has been enthusias-tic, she said. Food insecurity contin-ues to be a challenge for people, one in which a little support can help fami-lies better use their limited resources. PACE is still seeing levels of need as they did during the COVID pandem-ic, she said.
PACE is excited about the new building not just for food-related changes but also because it lets them offer additional services on-site. MassHealth support, for example, will be staffed in the building. People can also get help connecting with services like fuel assistance, housing, and childcare, at the food bank.

For those who have accessibility concerns, PACE will schedule food bank appointments before or after its normal hours. They also respond to emergency situations, said food bank director Emma Melo.

“If there’s an emergency, especially if they’re elderly and sick, we’ll be there,” Melo said.

The new food bank is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Its location is accessible via the SRTA Bus 6 route. Donations are accepted.