When the pandemic hit, food banks had to pivot to continue serving their communities. Food distribution has changed forever with the implementation of new technologies, including client texting and better data collection.
- COVID-19 brought new challenges to food banks, including safety concerns, and they had to find new ways to serve clients.
- Safe, no-contact delivery is necessary.
- Digital applications eliminate the need for someone to be at a location to apply for services, making the process more accessible AND de-duplicating client tracking efforts for the food bank.
- With better data collection comes better client management and a much easier process to pull reports and show impact.
Food distribution continues to be a vital yet challenging endeavor in the U.S. The Department of Agriculture estimates that food banks distribute 2.5 billion pounds of food annually and still face many challenges in the distribution process in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Let’s take a look at how food banks work, the top challenges they face, and how they’re revolutionizing the system with tools like SMS texting through the Mobilize platform.
How do food banks work?
Food banks are nonprofit organizations that both gather and distribute products to communities in need by giving that food to charities that serve the hungry directly, such as food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters.
There are over 200 food banks in the U.S., serving more than 63,000 organizations that provide meals to those in need. Ranging from large storage facilities to very small mobile operations, each food bank has its own system and workflow for obtaining food and getting it out to communities safely. These operations rely largely on the people who donate their time to the cause. Depending on volunteer help means food banks need an organized operation and communication system.
Top challenges food banks face
Food banks are always in need of more food products and support from their communities. However, when a global crisis hits, like the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an even greater need to serve the community. Demand across the board increased as Americans struggled to provide meals for their families.
Distributing goods safely
The COVID-19 pandemic required food banks to shift processes almost overnight to implement safety measures that would allow the organizations to provide the same level of service. This shift required the application of the latest technologies, including SMS texting and communications platforms, to keep work moving and communities safe and fed. At one county-level food bank, we partnered with the operations managers to create a system that allows someone to schedule a pickup from their phone (eliminating long, unpredictable lines) and a text-in system to alert the food bank team who arrived and which goods they will receive (ensuring contactless delivery)
Making services more accessible
Many food banks have an application system that registers how many members are in a household, their income, etc. to determine which goods package they will receive. With many food banks, people need to go on-site and fill out an application with paper and pen, then wait for it to be processed. Now, food banks are implementing a text process where a person simply texts a word to the food bank’s dedicated toll-free number then receives a custom link to an application they can fill out digitally and updates when the application is being processed. This makes surveys accessible from anywhere and keeps applicants informed of their status.
Prioritizing efficient client data and tracking
Another challenge for today’s food banks is knowing how to effectively gather data and put it to work. Many food banks still use a paper-and-pen process or multiple legacy systems to house client data. This creates mountains of manual data entry and de-duplication efforts to ensure client records are clean. Now, food banks are switching to digital intake processes and APIs and integrations that eliminate hours and hours of time wasted on data clean-up, so they can re-dedicate that time to furthering their mission. We also found in our Food Bank Roundtable that a top concern for food banks is how to use collected data to improve the client experience. Between digital surveys that can reach unlimited contacts and processes that rival commercial and for-profit institutions, food banks can ensure they are keeping their clients at the forefront of development.
How food banks are using Mobilize to revolutionize pickup and delivery
SMS texting allows food banks to communicate with their clients in fast and easy ways. This technology allows for safe, no-contact distribution, in addition to providing a convenient way to communicate that can be used in any setting.
Mobilize is helping organizations combine texting with other resources in the food distribution world. The platform allows food banks to track distributions and communications in one place with organizational tools and features that integrate with existing systems.
For example, we recently helped the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) Food and Energy Assistance Division (FEAD) create a better plan for food distribution while pandemic restrictions are in place. Instead of putting one another at risk when food products are exchanged, Mobilize offered a contactless solution through SMS texting.
Food banks can use the platform to notify their clients when they arrive onsite for the products, or their clients can text them with updates. Either way, the food can be safely transferred without contact by using text notifications to coordinate the activity. When a client arrives at a facility, they simply text “HERE” to the facility’s dedicated toll-free number, which alerts a coordinator of their arrival, and the food transfer can occur.
Food banks can continue operating safely when they implement tools that are already used by the people they service. Mobilize can be used by food distribution centers, food banks, food pantries, and other charities to coordinate these crucial social services.
Contact Mobilize to learn more
Mobilize is committed to helping community organizations improve their processes, especially when faced with additional challenges during the pandemic. We help our clients deliver services and stay connected to those in need, especially during trying times like these.
Our platform helps nonprofits implement a simple, low-cost strategy to reach their audiences, members, and volunteers more effectively. Text campaigns can be sent to the masses in moments, and they can include surveys or rich content like images, GIFs, and videos that elevate the value of the communication.
The platform also provides data collection features so food banks can automate mobile surveys, learning more about how they can better serve their communities. The centralized system offered by Mobilize makes it easier to secure and store user data in one place while making this information more accessible to the nonprofit organization that needs to use it.
If you’re ready to learn more, contact the Mobilize team. We’ll discuss your options and our plans with you to find out how we can help you tackle your biggest priorities. You can also start by checking out our plans and pricing.