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(Article originally appeared in Tulsa World )
By MIKE AVERILL World Staff Writer | Posted: Monday, April 6, 2015 12:00 am

A west Tulsa food pantry is using technology to offer its clients more choice in the assistance they receive.

Restore Hope Ministries, 2960 Charles Page Blvd., has developed an app that allows its clients to select which proteins, veggies, fruits and grains they receive when they seek emergency food assistance.

“Before, we had clients who might leave food behind at the bus stop,” said Jeff Jaynes, executive director. “We weren’t asking them what they needed, or wanted or knew how to cook. Now we know what we provide is going to good use, and we are using our donations in the most effective way.”

With the app, clients meet with a caseworker who guides them through the steps — the app is on the caseworker’s tablet, not the client’s.

The clients also select the mode of transportation they used to get to the food pantry.

“You have to pack differently for a bus than for a car. Those folks taking the bus need good, solid grocery bags,” Jaynes said.

The new program automatically calculates adjustments by family size, formats an order sheet for the warehouse staff and volunteers, and updates the inventory.

Last year, the agency served 4,500 families, distributing more than 160,000 pounds of food.

Families are able to receive food assistance six times a year, however, 70 percent of its clients only visit one time, said Michelle Reagor, a spokeswoman for Restore Hope Ministries.

Since 1978 the agency has worked to restore families in economic crisis to economic and spiritual vitality through hunger reduction, homelessness prevention, and other emotional and spiritual initiatives.

“Anything can happen to anyone at any time, and not everyone has a support system in place,” Reagor said.

For many years, the agency operated a typical food pantry where clients would come in and receive prepacked boxes of food.

“They were just big boxes of charity, and there’s not a lot of dignity in that,” Reagor said.

Jaynes agreed.

“It’s already enough when you have to come to a social service agency and ask for help. That’s already a tough thing to do,” he said. “Giving them a big bag of food that they don’t like is treating them like a need, not like a person.”

The agency switched to a choice-based model in 2013 after expanding its storage warehouse following a roof collapse during a 2011 snowstorm.

The app was launched in October of last year and expanded on the choice model.

Tammy Yenglin, a client with Restore Hope, said she appreciates having the ability to choose what food she receives when she needs assistance.

“For me, it’s nice to have options because I have health issues,” she said. “It’s nice to come here and know I’m getting things I can eat.”