California Food Bank Uses Survey Solution to Support Food Delivery during the Pandemic
For 50 years, Yolo Food Bank has worked to end hunger and malnutrition in Northern California's Yolo County. The food bank coordinates the storage and distribution of food from a network of manufacturers, grocers, and growers, and includes a vast organizational network of staff, volunteers, and more than 80 nonprofit partner organizations. On designated days, residents can pick up food from distribution locations throughout the county.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has increased the demand for food assistance in Yolo County by more than 60 percent; likewise, the need for the food bank's services has grown. However, several of the food bank's distribution centers closed due to the crisis, creating a further hardship for some of the county's most vulnerable residents.
Yolo Food Bank needed assistance to deliver food to individuals unable to get to any of the remaining distribution locations. So, the organization enlisted the Yolo County Innovation and Technology Services Department's geographic information system (GIS) team. Under a new program, survey-based solutions have helped the food bank sign up families for food delivery, as well as enroll volunteers to deliver food.
Food Aid in a Pandemic
Yolo Food Bank created the food delivery program to address the needs of people who are unable to leave their homes during the COVID-19 crisis. According to Mike Martinez, IT manager of development and GIS for Yolo County, the initial problem the food bank approached the county with was understanding what impact the distribution centers' closures would have on current food distribution programs. Martinez immediately called in Mary Ellen Rosebrough-Gay, GISP, GIS coordinator for Yolo County.
"As things progressed, we realized new distribution centers were not going to be an option for some of our more vulnerable communities. For their health, we decided that we should look at the option of doing deliveries," says Rosebrough-Gay. "Yolo Food Bank asked us for help on how we might achieve that."
The food delivery program is designed specifically for seniors over 65 years old and people with medical needs. Those who do not meet these criteria can still receive food, but they must go in person to a distribution center. The Yolo County GIS team set out to create a survey to collect contact information for food recipients and volunteer drivers. The food bank staff also wanted a simple way to calculate how much food they needed to prepare so that they could tell the distribution centers.
A New Solution
The GIS team selected ArcGIS Survey123 to create a survey-based solution. Survey123 is software that allows users to create, share, and manage surveys, and it was selected for its ability to do calculations.
For example, the food bank determines how much food the recipient receives, based on their family size—a family of up to four people gets a smaller delivery than a family of five or more. Calculations are also needed for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursement, including how many pounds of food are delivered; this enables the food bank to get a dollar amount for all deliveries.
"I wouldn't have used [a data editing application]. I needed the new solution to do calculations, so that was the main reason I used Survey123 Connect [a desktop tool]," says Rosebrough-Gay. "I started in the Survey123 regular web browser version and moved to Connect because I needed to do calculations."
Staff created two initial surveys: one for enrolling volunteers to deliver food and another one to sign up food recipients. Rosebrough-Gay explains that the recipient sign-up form includes personal information from the applicant such as where they live and what their needs are and asks eligibility questions to determine whether they meet program criteria.
Using ArcGIS Dashboards, Yolo County created an accompanying dashboard for food recipients that lets Rosebrough-Gay filter data by day. So, if a user selects Wednesday as a delivery day, the dashboard indicates how many boxes are needed for that day.
The volunteer survey includes screening questions about things like schedule availability and how many pounds the applicant can lift. The food bank effort has 15 University of California, Davis, student and staff volunteers to help manage this, with tasks that include assigning volunteer numbers when a person signs up and checking volunteer availability.
Another helpful feature is the ability to edit existing surveys. The team added more screening questions and asked the volunteers to directly edit their original surveys in Survey123, saving staff time. Previously, when volunteers were asked to complete a new survey, the team would have to put the new and old data together.
The surveys were created on March 15, and they were used for food deliveries the same week. The survey form to sign up for delivery was also translated into Spanish and Russian, as many food recipients in the county don't speak English as a first language.
Support for the Community
The new Yolo Food Bank delivery program has been very successful, allowing the organization to provide food to 2,637 families (6,333 people in all) with a total of 34,231 deliveries. The group was also able to recruit more than 500 volunteers to drive and provide food until delivery availability ended, on June 26. The project, which began with two surveys, now includes two apps built with ArcGIS Web AppBuilder as well as three dashboards and four surveys.
Rosebrough-Gay says that there was a nonstop stream of people being added to the food recipient list. "We've also been very lucky with volunteers and the number of wonderful residents in our county that have stepped up to come and help us with this process," says Rosebrough-Gay. "Even people in other counties have come to help, so it's been great."
Day-to-day operations have been streamlined since the implementation of Survey123. The ability to do calculations with Survey123 has increased efficiency for the GIS team. Recipients enter their family size, and with behind-the-scenes calculations, it can easily be determined how many boxes they will receive and how many pounds of food will be delivered.
"If I didn't have Survey123 doing those calculations for me, I would have to create a spreadsheet and I'd be manually putting data into it every week. But instead, we can use Survey123 calculations and have it live feed a dashboard we created," says Rosebrough-Gay.
The use of Survey123 has also helped with volunteer recruitment. The screening questions for potential delivery drivers allows the food bank team to better assess applicants' qualifications and availability, and if a candidate cannot deliver food, the survey populates additional questions to find out how they can help the food bank in other ways. The well-designed Survey123 app helps guide the responses from volunteers.
"This cuts down on phone calls to those volunteers because we already know what days they are available; we already know if they are willing to lift over 45 pounds, because that's how big the boxes are; and things like that," says Rosebrough-Gay. "We still have to talk to the volunteers, but we start with a smaller pool."
The county has received very positive feedback on the new program setup from Yolo Food Bank, the community, and volunteers. The food bank now has the information it needs to more effectively deliver food to those in need, and volunteers have said that making deliveries is much more efficient with recipients' exact address and location details available.
Rosebrough-Gay says she's happy to be part of a program that has helped county residents.
"A lot of times, as a county employee, you don't know how your work is affecting people. With the food delivery program, we can see how many people we are helping. The GIS team can see that we have been able to deliver over 34,000 deliveries to some of our most vulnerable populations," says Rosebrough-Gay.
She adds, "And we're able to keep those people at home and deliver the food they need. It feels really good to be able to be a small part of that."
As things progressed, we realized new distribution centers were not going to be an option for some of our more vulnerable communities. For their health, we decided that we should look at the option of doing deliveries, Yolo Food Bank asked us for help on how we might achieve that.