When you walk into The Factory Market, it feels like entering a small specialty grocery, something along the lines of the Strasburg Market Place.
That's exactly the ambiance The Factory Ministries’ wanted to create when it decided to give its food bank a top-to-bottom overhaul, said Adam Nagle, The Factory Ministries’ executive director.
People have a fundamental need for beauty, and it dignifies a person to walk into an attractive space, Nagle said.
The Factory Market is part of The Factory Ministries' suite of wraparound services, which include counseling, referrals, housing assistance and resource workshops.
Last spring, as the coronavirus pandemic spread across Pennsylvania, The Factory Ministries made the decision to close the food bank to in-person visits until further notice.
In the first weeks after Lancaster County became subject to the state's stay-at-home order, the number of clients seeking assistance from the food bank had more than quadrupled. Between health concerns and dramatically increased demand, business as usual wasn't going to work.
So, The Factory Ministries shifted to a drive-through system, which allowed it to handle the larger numbers safely. Donors stepped up, too, allowing the nonprofit to distribute an additional $20,000 worth of food a week.
By fall, the number of clients had receded, to the point where it made sense to look at reopening the food bank to in-person shopping. But first, Nagle's team reasoned, why not take advantage of the closure to remodel it?
Nagle said Factory Market manager Kerri Burns deserves much of the credit. Well before the pandemic, she had envisioned transforming the space.
A plan was developed, and grant funding secured. A team of ninth graders from Pequea Valley High School's Career Oriented Readiness Education program, or CORE, built some new partitions. The flooring was replaced. Supermarket-style gondola shelving and reach-in refrigerator units were installed.
The whole effort cost less than $10,000, Nagle said. Following a "soft" re-opening in December, the Factory Market held an official ribbon-cutting at the start of the year.
The market offers up to 70 shopping appointments a week, Tuesdays through Thursdays. The Factory Ministries clients can shop up to twice a month.
Basic staples such as milk, fruit and vegetables are free. Other items are bought using Factory Bucks, earned by participating in Factory Ministries programs and completing designated steps to the way to self-sufficiency.
The Factory Ministries wants to empower those it serves, Nagle said. Shopping at the Factory Market shouldn't feel like a handout, but a choice, he said, one that brings value and fosters self-respect.
Soon after the reopening, Nagle said he passed a customer who had just finished shopping and was on her way out. He wanted to ask her what she thought, but before he could, she exclaimed: "My word, the market was beautiful. I can't believe you did this for us."
That, Nagle said, "captured the heart of why we did it."