Big numbers are a problem


It is hard to get a handle on big numbers.  What do 5,000 or more people look like gathered in one place?  What does it look like to serve food to the 2200+ households those 5000+ people live in? It is hard to imagine, and often, even harder to describe. But, on average each month this year we have served that many households and people.  Sometimes, we have served even more.

We can give you a lot of statistics to help you understand how our donors and volunteers make a difference to all the people we serve, but after a while, lots of big numbers lose their meaning – they go in one ear and out the other, and if I asked you later, you would be hard pressed to remember them. Why?  Well, we, as humans, have a hard time wrapping our heads around big numbers in meaningful ways. It helps to have a frame of reference to put numbers in context.  People like hearing and sharing stories, they don’t like memorizing tables of numbers.  We are social beings, not walking excel spreadsheets.

But, I have a dilemma! I have some numbers I want to share with you! To help you understand all the ways our volunteers help, I have broken some of the important stats from this year down a little into things that might mean something to the average person.

Lets start at the beginning…

source: MCC website

On average, each month our volunteers help over 500 infants and toddlers!  If approximately 20 infants and toddlers fit into a day care, that’s translated into about 25 day care centers a month!  This is something to think about the next time you drop your kids off with a caregiver on your way to work, or when you give one of your grandchildren a hug.

How many school age children do we serve?

source: Transport Canada

At one point in your life you have probably ridden in a school bus. Especially if you grew up in a rural community like I did. Assuming that 50 school age kids fit on a school bus, each month our volunteers send home food to feed 30 school buses full of kids! That’s about one and half buses full each day we are open.  Think about that next time you’re stuck in traffic behind a school bus full of kids making faces at you.

What can you fit over 3000 adults into?

source: de zeen magazine

If about 300 adults fit into an apartment building, then on average, each month our volunteers help get out enough food to feed 11 buildings full of people!  Think about that the next time you are  shopping downtown walking past the apartment blocks. If you live in an apartment building yourself, walk up five flights of stairs and, on average, all the people living on those floors would equal the number of people we serve each day we are open.


source: Alabama local news

And finally, if about 300 people fit into a bingo hall, every two months our volunteers help feed a bingo hall full of senior citizens!  I was a bit of a loss to come up with a good yardstick to measure our service to seniors.  But, nevertheless, we called up a local bingo hall and they said that the most they could fit in at one time was about 300 people.  So, every two months our volunteers will call out BINGO and reflect on the 300 seniors our food went to help.

Generally, many people who work with food banks estimate that there are many seniors in our community who need the help but don’t come to us.  Part of the problem is knowledge.  Many of them don’t know we’re here.  The other part of the problem is that it is difficult for them to admit they need the help.

Adding it all up

So, where do our food hampers go?  Each month on average, the food hampers go to 500 infants and toddlers, 1500 school age children, 3000 adults and about 150 senior citizens.   That’s more than one child care centre full of infants and toddlers, one and half school buses of school age kids, half an apartment building of adults and a few tables at a bingo hall of senior citizens every day we are open.

Which is easier to remember?  We would love to hear some feedback from you.  How do you remember important statistics? How can we better share the story of our volunteers and the mountains of food they move to help so many people?


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2 Responses to “Big numbers are a problem”

  1. National Volunteer Week: how far have we walked together? | Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […] their heads around how many hampers 33,000 really is.  As we’ve written about in the past, understanding big numbers can be difficult. How can we possibly communicate to volunteers how much work they’ve done as a team, […]

  2. What do Volunteers, Early Explorers and Food Hampers Have in Common? | Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […] have talked in the past about the trouble with big numbers (here), specifically how difficult it is to communicate their scale in a way that makes sense. What does […]

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