Cindy and I have been working on actionable solutions for Food for Free. We created some mockups for a tablet app, and are excited to show the proposed design to their team for feedback in the coming weeks. We have some ideas for what it could look like, and are eager to user test with the drivers. We have also been coordinating talks with local partner organizations that Food for Free works with to get a better sense of Food for Free’s existing digital initiatives. More to come soon!
This week we have only a short update, as it has been a busy time for courses. Cindy and I began planning based on Joel’s suggestions for actionable areas to help Food for Free. In the meantime, we are examining existing technology solutions for tablet and phone APIs that allow SMS notifications to an organization (in the vein of Uber’s texts when your driver has arrived or is on their way). We are also hoping to coordinate a trip to highly-effective packing grocer, and planning another meeting with the operations manager to discuss our ideas.
On Wednesday, I attended Food for Free’s weekly staff meeting with three of the five drivers, and the Operations Director. I introduced myself and the project. I listened to what they chatted about during these sessions, and occasionally asked questions to explore shared frustrations among the team. After learning about some of the pain points that the three drivers identified, I took notes on their feedback. I asked the Operations Director for a sample day of what Friday’s ride along would look like from their database, and plotted the drop-off and pick-up points using Google’s My Maps feature. I attempted to draw out routes based on proximity, and used this map as a point of comparison and preparation for the upcoming ride-along.
On Thursday, Cindy and I presented during the mid-term review, sharing our progress so far. As mentioned during the review session, we are still in the process of determining what problems we can address, as the team meeting and ride alongs have further illustrated a breadth of inconveniences. We also gained some insight into the volunteer management system as we prepared for our individual ride alongs.
On Friday, I accompanied one of the drivers and a regular volunteer on a full-day pickup and delivery run–it was a really enjoyable experience, and they were a pleasure to talk to. We met at 8am at the Food for Free office, and started loading the truck from the office. I informally asked questions throughout the drive and learned more about some of the difficulties of the job, how orders are processed, how technology is used by the drivers and staff, how routes are determined, and so on. They provided interesting insights on problems they encountered while on the job, and gave great food for thought on possible solutions. I helped load and offload materials and gained some insight into the physical struggles and strains drivers and volunteers regularly endure. Throughout the experience, I took photographs and some videos to have an internal archive of what the drivers and volunteers regularly do during a lighter-load day (Friday’s transport was an approximately 1,500lb load, whereas a heavier day might mean 9,000lbs). During the ride, I used Map My Run to track truck movements, and to get a sense of the timing of deliveries and transit. After the ride along, Cindy, Joel and I met to discuss the experience, our future plans with the organization, and how we might be able to help Food for Free from these observations.
In the future, Cindy and I will look through some of the maps (Google’s My Maps, and the Map My Run path) to get a better sense of how the team works together and coordinates the movement of food.
Cindy and I asked Food for Free’s Operations Director to look through some of their data. They provided information from their operational database, such as locations of pickups and drop-offs, inventory present, and times of movement. We hope that we can help map out where drivers spatially move during the course of their day and better understand their organizational flow, before accompanying drivers on the delivery trucks and getting a sense of how that manifests physically and emotionally.
Though we were unable to meet with the Food for Free team last week, we are planning introductions with the drivers and full staff on Wednesday, and accompanying drivers later this week. We’re really looking forward to meeting the drivers and hearing their stories, and seeing how that informs the project.
Our next check-in will be with more stories of things learned from the data, and time with the drivers.
I’m Soraya Okuda, one of the two-person team (myself and Cindy Yang) working on the Food for Free project. Food for Free is a non-profit that has been operating since 1981. They serve more than 100 food programs every year, delivering to shelters, day care centers, after-school programs, clinics, drop-in centers, and more. This past year, their food rescue centers distributed 1.5 million pounds of food. They provide a vast number of food-delivery services, such as 4,000 to 8,000 pounds of freshly-grown vegetables from a quarter acre of land at the Lindentree Farm, a home delivery program that serves 90 to 100 housebound seniors and people with disabilities, and a transportation partnership that picks up food from the Greater Boston Food Bank on behalf of agencies that don’t have their own transportation (delivering more than a million pounds of food in the next year!).
Most recently, they began a new partnership with Harvard University Dining Services, redistributing flash-frozen foods from undergraduate dining halls. They are looking to expand this service to include other universities. Cindy and I are excited to help Food for Free’s small staff in increasing operational efficiency for food pickups and deliveries to people in need.
Cindy and I met with Food for Free’s operations director, Kelly, earlier this week to better acquaint ourselves with the variety of challenges that their organization faces. We learned more about their vast programming for food deliveries, which reaches Cambridge and Boston residents in need. We are setting up a time for a site visit to their office, where we will see how they use organizational tools, like Salesforce and a tracking app for deliveries, as well as to get a glimpse of how their staff works together.
We are still in the process of determining where we can be most helpful–there are a number of possible areas to pursue. After the site visit, as well as a future ride-along where we will accompany a driver in making pickups and deliveries, we will have a clearer idea of where we can help.