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Some area food pantries are making an effort to get fresh vegetables, fruit and meat out to people in need.

 Pantries in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania began experimenting with allowing people to select foods earlier this year, and officials say the market-style food distribution is working well.

 Carey Chirico,  director of outreach and children’s ministries at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, said its pantry allows people to shop its shelves. The volunteers wanted to try something other than packing bags with food that people might not like or want.

“We try to see ourselves as a free farmer’s market,” Chirico said.

Letting people pick what they want is a more dignified way to give out food.

 “It’s a respectful way to help people connect with free food,” she said. “They make their own choices.”

 She said the church has been intrigued by the response.  Their clients are more health-conscious since the fresh-food program there started.

She said that though the pantry opens at 10 a.m. people begin lining up outside as early as 7:30 a.m. so they can pick what fresh produce they want first.

St. George’s gives out 3,000 pounds of food per week through its pantry.

Since January, 1,000 pounds of it has been fresh produce.

In June the pantry, which has seen a similar rise in demand as other pantries have, gave food to about 250 households.

She said that the volunteers like the way the pantry is now run, too.

“It’s like a party,” she said. “We put on salsa music and have fun helping people.”

The food pantry at Wilderness Community Church is also investing in a market-style pantry where people pick what they need.

Lisa Tucker, who manages the pantry, said they began in March serving 12 families. Their reports to the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank show that they now serve more than 100 people.

The pantry also offers items such as hygiene products, nonperishable food and fresh fruits and vegetables. Each visitor is also given a bag of meat, the size of which depends on the size of the family served.

“Although there is a lot of work that goes into this style of pantry, it is well worth giving the families the opportunity to choose what they know their family will eat,” Tucker said. “They enjoy picking for themselves, and it doesn’t feel like a handout to them. We are also able to get to know the families better by shopping with them and talking with them.”

Lindley Estes:  540/735-1976