Challenges of Delivering Food Hampers

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In 2009 our program distributed an average of 137 food hampers each day; well 137.3333333333 if you really want to get specific. That’s about 27 hampers for each hour that we’re open to the community. In an ideal world we’d be able to deliver each and every food hamper, regardless of if the patron could come down or not, to save each patron from worrying about transportation, but that’s not realistic given how many hampers we distribute. We’ve pulled off some incredible things here, like serving 278 hampers in a single day, but I don’t think we could find enough volunteers and vehicles to deliver all those hampers around KW. I also don’t think it would be possible to further stretch our drivers’ schedules of donation pick ups to help deliver any of those hampers. Luckily we just don’t have to worry about that, because it has worked for many years for a majority of our patrons to find transportation or arrange a pick up by a case worker, friend or family member. (Phew!)

Finding transportation is one of the biggest struggles for every patron in need of a hamper. In an attempt to avoid using our program, many stretch out their last few dollars to buy food. Then when that money runs out there is no other option but to ask for a hamper. But as many of these patrons are without any spare change to even buy a bus ticket, they are often forced to walk to our program. Or those who have a vehicle may not be able to afford the gas to drive both ways. Fortunately any patron in need of a hamper only needs to find a way here because we can offer a bus ticket (and a back pack, box or bag) to help them get everything home, if they don’t have a ride. Though it does come up from time to time where patrons request a bus ticket when they have a ride home or for a few bus tickets, we’ve come to learn this is often because they’re trying to find a way to an upcoming appointment, or to go to school, an interview, work, or to come back next time. Ideally we’d like to give our patrons bus tickets for all these reasons, but our budget is limited so we need to politely decline the request.

However, there are some patrons who can’t be expected to pick up a hamper, and have no one who is able to pick up food on their behalf, so we can be flexible to offer a delivery depending on the situation. Some of the reasons we often provide deliveries are for those with mobility issues such as relying on a wheelchair, or experiencing physical and/or mental health problems; single parents with multiple young children; and isolated seniors. Each reason presents different challenges as to why the patron wouldn’t be able to pick up food, and will be the topic of some blogs to come…so today we’ll just keep focussing on generally outlining our delivery process.

Our program can make a one time delivery based on a patrons’ situation such as a broken foot or recent surgery; but when it comes to a patron claiming mobility issues or other qualifying concerns we need to evaluate their need for regular delivery. But how do we decide this when we’re simply speaking to them on the phone? Well it comes down to trust, the basis of all the work we do here. We trust that people are being honest because we obviously can’t see if they’re lying when we’re on the phone; so we trust our gut to give them the benefit of the doubt until a driver can verify the situation. And our willingness to trust patrons seems to work out well, since very few people give us false information to persuade us into delivering a hamper when they could pick up the food themselves.

When a patron is in need of a delivery it would be perfect if we could receive the phone call in the morning and the patron would be able to wait until the next business afternoon for food. It works even easier for us if a patron calls on a Monday or Tuesday since our volunteer Mark is available on Tuesday and Wednesdays for deliveries. When Mark is available this means one less thing for our program drivers to remember during their very busy and well planned routes around the city. However, this is rarely how things seem to play out. Few patrons generally know that we prefer to have a day’s notice to make the arrangements for a delivery with our drivers. Furthermore, patrons calling us for assistance are in emergency situations, meaning they don’t plan out what day and time they call us for food, and they’ve likely already gone a few days without food trying to avoid making this phone call for assistance. So when we need to ask them to wait until the following afternoon, this can be challenging for them and us, unless the patron is aware of our protocols. No one truly expects to run out of food because their pension or pay cheque isn’t enough to hold them through the month, or hasn’t come when they expected it to. Therefore, it’s up to the staff of our program to create a solution.

Delivering a few hampers a day typically isn’t a big problem for us because we have two program drivers and a dedicated volunteer. Therefore with some notice it typically works out very easily for one of these three people to drive out a hamper. However there are some situations that create a little more chaos, such as when a patron calls around 3:30 on a Friday afternoon for a hamper. This patron needs food for the weekend and may have some type of mobility issue, so making a program referral doesn’t generally help and they probably can’t call in a favour to a friend for a pick up to be done in an hour or less before we close for the weekend. In this situation the first thing we do is try not to panic. Although our program drivers are gone for the day, it has almost always worked out for one of our staff members to make a detour on their way home so the individual or family in need of food doesn’t go without. Food is a vital part of human existence and all the staff and volunteers working here want to ensure that anyone in need of food will receive it, and we’ll do whatever it takes to help get them the food they need.

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