Meeting emergency food need in Atlanta, GA: Innovative “Turnups” at Concrete Jungle

21 Jan 2021, by Admin in Harvest Blog, Concrete Jungle

Lorie Bonham serves as a Harvest VISTA at Concrete Jungle in Atlanta, GA, coordinating volunteers and emerging programs. Since its founding in 2009, Concrete Jungle has rescued and redirected 117,583 pounds of produce (470,335 servings) to hunger relief organizations in Georgia. They credit their success to the vast networks of volunteers that harvest, pack, and distribute produce. 

Eight months after the inception of their Covid-19 Emergency Grocery Delivery Program, Concrete Jungle (CJ) faced one of their most daunting challenges – how to ensure the more than 300 families in the program would have food through the holidays while also giving their volunteers and staff a much-needed break. In the last six weeks of 2020, CJ delivered more than 300,000 servings of healthy food with the help of more than 350 volunteers.

One of the main reasons the Thanksgiving delivery, aka “Turkey Turnup” and the end of year delivery, aka “Tinsel Turnup,” were so successful is CJ’s culture of trying new things and quickly adapting to make things work.

Food Sourcing

To ensure that CJ had enough food to serve their client families, they launched their first-ever Holiday Food Drive. From Girl Scouts to grade schools, from church groups to neighborhoods, folks all across the metro area stepped up to donate over 5500 pounds of food. While the food drive was a success, it raised several new challenges for donation pick up and storage, inventory management and distribution, and marketing. As CJ prepares for its 1-year anniversary of the Grocery Delivery Program, they are already planning another food drive. They will use their experience at the Holiday Food Drive to create a “Food Drive in a Box” model to simplify and streamline the program and address many of the challenges they encountered.

In addition, the entire CJ key team jumped on the phones to find as many sources of donated food as possible. These calls resulted in huge donations from Feed a Billion, Second Helpings, and many other national and local organizations. In the coming weeks, CJ will undertake a larger food sourcing project to further diversify their food sources in hopes of reducing costs and providing greater variety for their clients.

Volunteer Recruitment and Communication

Delivering 2-3 times the normal amount of food required a significant increase in volunteer packers and drivers. CJ engaged 64 first-time volunteers through recruitment efforts on social media, community groups, and friends and family. Happy volunteers are return volunteers, so the communication to volunteers needed to be clear, concise, and fun. After debriefing on what worked and what didn’t at the Turkey Turnup, before Tinsel Turnup CJ texted volunteers to remind them of their shift start time and other important details. In addition to their standard email notifications, this new communication meant volunteers knew where to be and when. It also reduced the number of no shows. Into the New Year, many of these volunteers have continued to be a part of the Grocery Delivery Program, and CJ continues to use texting to engage volunteers.

Operational Efficiencies

Having two large events within a month gave CJ the ability to test new processes and refine them. A few of the changes made between the Turkey Turnup and Tinsel Turnup included:

  • Moving from three driver pick-up times to six times. Spreading out when delivery drivers arrived reduced car loading backups.
    Putting the daily schedule on a whiteboard for everyone to see. This gave volunteers a better understanding of what was needed of them and how it fits into the larger scheme of the day.
    Using a walkie-talkie app to improve communication across site leads. This allowed leads to stay in their location and continue working while also communicating important information.
    Creating two driver pick up stations (first refrigerated items then dry goods) created greater efficiencies in vehicle loading, allowed for better and faster staging of dry goods, and significantly reduced the work on volunteers to move all items to one place.
    Pre-packing before the event. This allowed the team to better handle three times the typical food delivered.

The client feedback for these delivery events was overwhelmingly positive. They especially appreciated the variety of food, including whole turkeys and all the ingredients to make a Thanksgiving dinner, as well as enough food to provide for their families over the holidays.

After a well-deserved holiday break, CJ is back to their regularly scheduled weekly grocery delivery model. They will include many of the key learnings from the Turnup events in their weekly program.