Our team has been volunteering at a local food pantry and have found it both rewarding to be able to give back and it’s also a good mental break from the work day. As with any change of pace/environment it is a way to refocus and clear your head and a good learning opportunity. A couple of lessons that struck me as we were up to our necks in baked goods and frozen meat.
1. Don’t over think processes, adapt accordingly
The ever changing nature of a food pantry full of volunteers makes instituting processes difficult and quite frankly not always the best option. The sheer volume and variety of goods that come into the facility make the job always new. One minute you are sorting Pop Tarts checking expiration dates (yes they do expire) and repacking open boxes. The next minute you could be packaging packets of ranch dressing; 2lb per bag, seal the bag, then label. The only thing constant is change, each assignment lasts 30 minutes max, you can’t waste too much time over-tihnking the process. For those shorter tasks its better to sacrifice some time with an inefficient process than to waste time teaching a process to people that may or may not ever come back. Process is good when the situation requires it, adapt according to the situation.
2. Know who your customer is, you may be doing something wrong.
You can only sort so many sheet cakes and packages of doughnuts before you begin to become lax in your stacking and handling. The thought process might lead you to the conclusion that “I can do it faster and after all its all given away free, whats the difference if a few might get ruined”. While the food was donated, the end user of the product is paying for the goods you are sorting. Some of the boxes we sorted are sold by weight to smaller food banks in the area, they pay regardless of the condition of the goods. The lack of care may cause a paying customer to have to discard food they paid good money for. Having a proper perspective of who the customer is sheds light onto where the value needs to be added. Always ask who your customer is, internal or external.