“It was a logistics miracle,” said Barbara Abbott, Vice President of Supply Chain at the Food Bank, beaming as she walked out of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank’s San Rafael warehouse on Saturday afternoon.
From the moment the pantry opened at 9:45 a.m. until it closed a little after 2 p.m., staff and volunteers loaded 30-pound boxes into cars. The length of the line waxed and waned – at some points even wrapping around the building – but the flow of cars remained steady throughout the day. By the end, we had served more than 600 households – 100 more than expected.
Necessity: The Mother of Invention
The setup was designed to promote social distancing – something none of us considered before COVID-19. Participants drove up and opened and closed their trunks, so the Food Bank could continue the essential service of distributing food while minimizing person-to-person contact.
Despite how seamless the operation appeared, it wasn’t as simple as it looked. A lot of thought went into the day.
For example, how do you efficiently pack 500-600 boxes while maintaining social distancing? “It’s not easy to keep 20 people away from each other at six feet distancing,” said warehouse manager Steve Coover. “The way we set up was pretty difficult at first. But we finally figured it out and it went smoothly.”
After a trial run on Friday, Saturday looked like a well-oiled machine. A carefully organized assembly line of volunteers slid boxes across a conveyor belt as they loaded in fresh produce, meat, and healthy non-perishables. The process was streamlined and efficient and even the social distancing was a success.
A Team Effort
Katy McKnight, Director of Community Engagement, provided a practical explanation for the team’s success: “We applied best practices we’ve learned over our 30 years delivering food and have been able to bring that here to our San Rafael facility.”
Everyone agreed the logistical success of the drive-through was only possible because of the community support.
“The community is really rallying around us now,” said McKnight. “People have turned up to volunteer, allowing us to run a project like this, and allowing us to pre-box all of these groceries to make it as safe for our volunteers and participants as possible and as efficient for our participants as possible.”
Coover, who spent much of Saturday managing the line of cars and directing traffic heard many participants saying, “thank you, we appreciate you guys being here.”
He was also out there reminding them we’ll be back again next Saturday from 10-2. The San Rafael drive-through, at 2550 Kerner Blvd, will be a weekly operation for the foreseeable future.
For those who want to volunteer, please sign up here. We especially need the support of those who are bilingual.