The YWCA Eastern Area Food Pantry was one of five pantries and food banks selected from around the nation to take part in a study by Kaplan University online graduate students.
The students were asked to analyze the operations of several food banks across the U.S. to determine best practices and offer some solutions to problems they face. As a result of the analysis, the students developed recommendations to improve food collection and distribution.
Pat Calahan, of Batavia, was one of the students who participated in the study.
He said that the food pantry was using old boxes, which had been used a number of times and were in bad shape. They were looking for ways to improve the distribution and he implemented the box program. As a result, the food pantry will be receiving heavy-duty boxes from companies which would otherwise destroy the boxes.
Calahan spent several days at the YWCA Food Pantry, arriving early on a Thursday morning to watch the operation and find out, first-hand, how the food is distributed.
"Our truck arrives about 7 a.m. and we have community service help us unload all the food," said Lynn Stranz, coordinator for the food pantry. "We order food from the Free Store Food Bank, they bring our food along with orders from other food pantries around the county to the Red Barn where we load our pallets onto our truck and then bring them to the pantry."
The process is repeated each week and according to Stranz, about 50 families a day, four days a week, benefit from the pantry resources. Volunteers pre-package the boxes for families of four or five and prepare them for distribution.
Stranz shared some tips with Calahan of her techniques to get free donations. She makes trips each week to Kroger and Gordon Food Service for donations to the pantry. She has been working with these suppliers for several years.
"We work with a lot of organizations around the county to get both food donations and monetary donations. At least every month there is somebody coming in from somewhere with donations. From our schools to area businesses," said Stranz. "But as fast as food comes in the back door, it goes out the front door. We have been serving 200 more families each month since October 2009. Each month we serve about 700 families."
The students involved in the study discovered that food banks are serving more people than ever before on budgets which are strained. Stranz, who has been food pantry coordinator for 23 years, said that when she started with the pantry in 1986, they served about 2,000 people annually. Today that total is more than 16,000.
One of the findings from the report which Stranz intends to use is to find ways to become more visible.
"We want to make more people aware of the food pantry," said Stranz. "We have been here for 30 years, but a lot of people don't know about us. The more people know about us, the more help we get."
One of the recommendations was for the food pantry to find a better location. They have been operating out of a house located 55 South Fourth Street in Batavia. According to Calahan, the building makes it difficult to load and unload large quantities of food. Most of the food has to be carried up stairs for storage.
Calahan noted that the food pantry also needs to plan for the future.
"When Lynne retires there will be no one who knows how the operations works," Calahan said. "We recommended that she get somebody trained to do her job and that the pantry needs a data base with all the information about seasonal food distribution."
Stranz agreed that the pantry could better utilize their computers to keep statistics on each family they serve.
As a result of the study, Calahan's wife, Sharon Calahan, is now working at the YWCA one day a week using her computer knowledge to update the data in their computer. She noted that computer tracking helps the food pantry better serve the families in the area.
"We are urging everyone to fill out the census paperwork this year," said Sharon Calahan. "The more the government knows about the people in our area, the more funding we can receive from the state and federal government. It only takes about 10 minutes to fill out the form, but it can make a big difference for many people."
Not only has Sharon Calahan joined the team at the food pantry, but she has enlisted her friends to help as volunteers with food distribution.
"That is the way things work around here," said Stranz. "It seems to be by word of mouth. Someone tells someone else and then we have more workers."
With the stimulus money they received last year they were able to give $20 gift cards to those who received food boxes during the holidays.
"That money is gone now and we could use donations of personal care items and paper products," said Stranz. "Monetary donations are great because we receive free food from the USDA free store, but we have to pay a 10 cent per pound maintenance fee to truck the food to us. When I buy 3,000 pounds of food, that donated money is put to good use."
"It (the study) really opened our eyes up to see what shape the economy is in," said Pat Calahan. "To see other families, some of them are professional people like me, out of work and in need of assistance was eye opening. We have found that there is a whole new world out there that needs our help and our time to provide them with those everyday things we take for granted. What they only hope to have, we have and need to share."
The results of the food bank report will be published and distributed to food banks around the country in the Feeding America Network.
To find out more about the study visit www.portal.kaplanuniversity.edu.