Family Food Box Update: Building the plane en route helps with great volunteers.

July 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Summer Family Nutrition Program provides the Food Bank with an opportunity to do what we do best: get a lot of food, to a lot of people quickly, efficiently, and with measurable results.  We ramped up our efforts (some have referred it to “building the plane en route”) and completed our first two weeks of distribution. We have a lot to be proud of, thanks in part to our awesome volunteer community. With more than 4,000 families pre-screened in the first two weeks, we’re well on our way to a happy, healthy summer.

Becky, known as JBINAUSTIN on SparkPeople, recently retired and now volunteers regularly at the Food Bank. She has agreed to share her experience building Family Food Boxes.

My Food Bank has a Summer Family Nutrition Program, where a needy family gets two 25-pound boxes of staple foods each month, education on cooking healthy on a budget, and information about other health and human services in our area. Go, Capital Area Food Bank!

This week, they changed how the SFNP boxes are created. I’m no longer grocery shopping for strangers and that’s a good thing.

For the last couple of months, volunteers packed the boxes at the same time that we sorted donations. So each box contained whatever food we happened to be processing in the donation pile. I didn’t think that resulted in the best assortment of food in each box, even though we volunteers tried our best.

People and grocery stores donate items in bulk: 12 identical cans of green beans, a case of stuffing mix, a bag full of tuna and canned chicken, a grocery bag full of assorted pasta, a bag of oatmeal and Pop-Tarts, a variety of soups. I’d put my green beans in other volunteers’ boxes. And they’d put a stuffing mix, 3 cans of tuna, or a box of lasagna noodles in mine. You take the next bag of donations out of the bin and hope it evens out.

We tried to make sure there were several meat sources and beans in each box, although that’s was sometimes hard to do (“I need meat–got any tuna or chicken!”). We tried to make sure people got complementary foods. If you put pasta in a box, you want to make sure you also put in some pasta sauce or canned tomatoes. Put a little breakfast in every box to go with those protein-packed dinners. Give them a variety of fruit and veggies, as well as you can when working from grocery bags full of donated food.

Love-it-or-loathe-it items like canned sardines or sauerkraut get spread around thinly, in case the recipient of a box didn’t care for it. I mean, if you don’t like fish, how would you feel if the only protein source in your food pantry box was canned tuna, mussels, and herring? Picture feeding that to a five-year-old.

But now, the Food Bank changed the process.

[whoo hoo!]

We volunteers clean the donated items, check expiration dates, and sort them into canned food, non-canned food, and snacks/beverages/condiments/de
sserts. But the actual packing of the individual staple food boxes is done by a group of paid temporary workers who have access to big bins of pre-sorted food. They can pick through the canned food bin for tuna and chicken cans to make sure there’s some in each box. It will be easier for them to put protein-packed beans in every box because they can pick them out of the dry goods bin.

We volunteers can process more donations during a shift because we don’t have to juggle donations to make the contents of each box a good mix. And the people who put the boxes together don’t have to worry about expiration dates or recalls or anything other than putting a nutritious variety of food in each box.

I hope the recipients of the SFNP boxes like them better. I know I like my volunteer shift better.

Please continue to spread the word about the Family Food Boxes. Click here to learn more and to download a flyer to promote within your community.

Read more blog posts about Becky’s volunteer experience at the Food Bank.

Free food vs. a workout–everybody wins! (food bank blog #1)

Listening to Tom Petty & bagging frozen peas (food bank blog #2)

What were they thinking? (food bank blog #3)

Shopping for strangers (food bank blog #4)

100% nectar = 40% juice (food bank blog #5)

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