Route Optimization for Thanksgiving Meal Deliveries

In a few weeks, millions of American families will celebrate Thanksgiving with a dinner of foods and dishes indigenous to the Americas, namely turkey, potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie.

Each year, countless families facing financial hardships are unable to share in the joy of a Thanksgiving meal. This is where Thanksgiving Heroes enters the picture.

Thanksgiving Heroes is a national nonprofit organization founded in 2015 in Utah with a vision for every American family to be able to come together to experience true gratitude over a delicious Thanksgiving meal. This remarkable organization relies on an army of compassionate volunteers to bring this vision to life, delivering Thanksgiving dinners to feed an entire family of five for a week with a turkey and all the familiar trappings of the holiday, including potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, pie, and other traditional Thanksgiving goodies. Thanksgiving Heroes is on a mission to make sure no one is left hungry during this cherished season.

Families in need are scattered throughout several counties around Salt Lake City, Utah’s most populous city. Enter Adam Radel, the Spatial Strategy Manager at HNTB, an employee-owned infrastructure solutions firm, who has been a dedicated volunteer for Thanksgiving Heroes for three years running.

Adam is no ordinary volunteer. He’s a tech-savvy problem-solver with a heart of gold. His role in this incredible operation? Optimizing delivery routes. In early November, the Salt Lake City chapter of Thanksgiving Heroes compiles a list of families in need. There are approximately 2,400 family addresses to account for. To ensure everything runs smoothly, Adam takes these addresses through a geocoder to verify their accuracy. And then, the real magic happens.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, Adam, using ArcGIS Network Analyst, sets about crafting routes. This desktop extension offers advanced routing analysis tools, ensuring that every volunteer’s journey is as efficient as possible. Each route is fine-tuned, enabling volunteers to deliver meals to three families along the way. Adam then generates a route slip for each journey, saving them as easy-to-follow PDFs. The nonprofit promptly prints these route slips for the dedicated volunteers.

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, approximately 800 volunteers converge on the nonprofit’s distribution center. Each of them arrives in their own vehicle, ready to pick up the carefully prepared meals, complete with a printed route slip.

ArcGIS Network Analyst, the secret behind these geo-optimized routes, plays a vital role in this charitable endeavor. It’s more than just a tool; it’s a means of saving precious resources. With optimized routes, gas is conserved, emissions are reduced, and time is used efficiently. It’s a tool that ensures the spirit of Thanksgiving extends beyond the dinner table, touching the environment and the hearts of those involved.

About the author

Laurence Litrico

As a marketing manager at Esri, Laurence works closely with Esri sales and professional services teams, and business partners to promote awareness of GIS to Architecture, Engineering, and Construction firms. With 20+ years of experience in developing marketing strategies for software and GIS solutions, she has a passion for building community and empowering customers to become GIS champions and advocates.

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