A critical component in running an effective charitable food distribution program is to provide foods that your clients can and will actually use. This story from John Arnold shows just how small a process change is sometimes needed to achieve this…
This story came from Texas. I was down there presenting, and I forget now whether it was for the Food Bank in Dallas or Austin, since I’ve done this for both of them. But I was able to go around and visit some of their agencies.
One of the agencies that we got to was cute, in a funny kind of way. It was maybe twelve feet by twenty-five feet, maybe not even that long. We came in the door, and to either side of you there were maybe three or four little guest chairs, and then straight ahead of you was the intake desk, and no wall or anything behind it. There were shelving units that pointed the length of the room so you could see up and down those aisles between the shelving units with all the food on it.
As we arrived, the elderly woman who was staffing the pantry was doing an intake interview with an elderly gentleman. When she finished, she said that he qualified to get food, and told him to go have a seat again in one of the guest chairs. Then she got a box and started walking up and down the shelving units, picking out the food that he was going to be given.
I was absolutely riveted by his face as she went up and down those aisles. She was probably twelve feet away from him, and he was sitting there in absolute anguish while she mused aloud to herself, “Hm, I wonder what kind of vegetable he likes? I’ll give him these.” And she’d take a couple of cans and put them in the box. She did the same with all the other food products. Obviously it never occurred to her what was happening, and how horrible this experience was for him – how excruciating it was to have someone else picking out his food without him having any voice in the matter whatsoever when he was sitting ten, twelve feet away.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world for her to just look over and say, “What kind of vegetables do you like?” and then give him those, but she never did.