Food for the Soul -- Community Outreach Coordinator Sara Gorath shares a light moment with one of Our Community Pantry's clients. It's estimated that one in six people living in North Texas might not know where their next meal is coming from.
Editor's Note: To see a video on TSSC's effect on the North Dallas Food Bank, click here.
Scott Porter has learned many lessons since joining the Toyota Production System Support Center (TSSC) as an advisor in 2010. But perhaps none has been more important than correctly identifying the customer.
That’s certainly been central to his work with the North Texas Food Bank (NTFB). The non-profit organization, which oversees the operations of 250 partner agencies, first asked for TSSC’s help not long after Toyota announced it would move its North American headquarters to Plano three years ago.
“People who need food are definitely their customers, but they’re not the only ones,” says Porter. “The North Texas Food bank also needs volunteers. Each of the pantries has just a couple of paid employees They can’t keep up with demand without unpaid help.”
Fill 'Er Up -- One of Our Community Pantry's volunteers helps a client load groceries into a shopping cart. The food bank, one of 250 in the 13 counties that comprise North Texas, has just staffers on its payroll. So it relies heavily on the contributions of unpaid helpers.
Balancing Customer Needs
So that was the heart of the challenge. The food bank’s agencies needed to find a way to serve more end customers. As NTFB Chief Marketing Officer Brett Gray notes, one in six people living in the 13 counties of North Texas is “food insecure,” which means they might not know where their next meal is coming from. But how could they pick up the pace without burning out their other customers – the volunteers?
Rather than simply ask the unpaid staff to work harder, Porter dipped into his TSSC toolkit to find ways to help them work smarter. The test bed was Our Community Pantry in South Dallas, the only facility wholly owned by NTFB.
Three core improvements soon emerged:
- Divide the shop floor into four zones – Originally, volunteers would be paired up with clients, guiding them along the aisles of food from start to finish. That flow was prone to bottlenecks and stagnation. Porter saw that more guests could be served if each volunteer assumed responsibility for one of the four zones, assisting people as they moved through their defined space. Yet, this approach allowed them to retain their commitment to personalized help. A client doesn’t move into a zone until the one that’s already there moves on to the next one.
- Simplify volunteer training – By breaking down volunteer responsibilities into discreet steps and then communicating them more clearly, newbies could be brought up to speed more quickly. That increased the size and efficiency of the workforce.
- Rely on the volunteers to restock the shelves – Before TSSC arrived, store shelves were restocked between shifts after all of the guests had been served. Now, volunteers restock their specific zones throughout the day, taking better advantage of breaks in the action. More often than not, when one day ends the food bank is ready for the next to begin.
Thanks to these and other process tweaks, Our Community Pantry went from serving 50 families per day to 80, a 60 percent improvement.
“And the volunteers came away with a better experience,” says Porter. “We were able to achieve a better balance, keeping volunteers busy without overwhelming them. That made them more likely to want to return and volunteer again and again. And that made them more likely to encourage others to come and help, or donate money to the cause.”
You can see the process improvements in action by clicking here
In the Bag -- Among the changes was a shift from replenshing the food bank's shelves between shifts to a continuous process of restocking throughout the day.
An Ongoing Relationship
Since achieving that initial success, NTFB and TSSC have since joined forces to focus on two other challenges: 1) improving the efficiency of the non-profits central food distribution warehouse; and 2) developing a “playbook” that spells out how best to deploy volunteers across a wide array of scenarios. Examples include managing an unexpected influx of guests to, on the other side of the spectrum, making good use of the volunteers’ time when the flow slows.
Though much has been accomplished, this is a relationship that will continue to grow – especially after NTFB combines two warehouses into one in Plano in 2018.
“Unfortunately, the need for the food banks continues to grow. So there’s still a need to further enhance efficiency,” says Porter. “I really enjoy what I do. There are some rigors with it. I often find myself living out of a suitcase. But when you see the difference TPS can make, it makes it all worthwhile.”
By Dan Miller