Chapter 4 – Clients and Hours and Intake (Oh my!)

Asking for help is hard, especially when it is for something as basic and personal as feeding one’s family. When they get to you, your clients will almost certainly be frightened, frustrated, and humiliated. The last thing you want to do is make them feel even worse. This chapter will look at what you can do to make sure your clients have a good experience.


Take your clients’ lives into account when planning the hours in which you distribute food. Many of those in need of emergency food aid are employed; to serve them you will need to plan some distribution time outside of the normal workday. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are badly underserved in many communities – if yours is one of them, try to fill that gap!

At The Door

  1. Make sure clients feel welcome – have someone greeting people as they come in.
  2. Serve clients promptly, or if they have to wait, give them a reasonable reason why (“Hi. As you can see, we have a number of people in line ahead of you, but we will get to you as quickly as we can.”).
  3. If anyone has to wait, make sure they have a comfortable place to sit.

The Interview

Intake interviews are tricky – it is all too easy to turn one into a humiliating reminder of the client’s situation. Here are some things you can do make the process as friendly and non- confrontational as possible:

  1. Do not seat the client and your interviewer opposite each other in an adversarial positioning. Have the client seated at the side of the desk (a conversational positioning), and make sure they can see everything that is being written down.
  2. Give the client a chair comparable to the one used by the interviewer. An inferior chair is a clear reminder of the client’s status.
  3. Keep the tone of the interview positive (“I just need to get a couple of pieces of information from you to help us do our job better…”) rather than negative (“We have to weed out the liars and cheaters…”).
  4. Ask your clients only for information you really need. In most cases, the following is sufficient:
    • Name, address, phone number. (In case of product recalls.)
    • A count of how many people are in their household.
    • A best guess of how many days of food they need.
    • A brief account of why they are in need (someone lost their job, got sick, etc.).
    • Have them sign a brief, simple declaration of need, something like:

      “I understand that the (name of pantry) exists to provide food assistance to people and families who really need that help. By accessing help from the pantry I affirm that my household genuinely needs food assistance.”

Some state and federal programs may require you to confirm various bits of information, but in general the interview should take the form of questions and answers – we want clients to feel comfortable, and there is no quicker way to tell someone you don’t trust them then to require they produce documentation, two forms of I.D., etc. Leave the bureaucracy to the government.

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