• Home
  • Videos
  • Coordinating bulk purchasing and distribution of food

Coordinating bulk purchasing and distribution of food

Eric
Should
we?

Jacob
Yeah. Um. So. I'm really
interested to see what Zoom cultures like across the world, but in our group we use the stack system for sort of asking and responding to questions.

I think that my work here is some kind of generally the way the way it works is that if you if you have a question or you'd like to respond to something if you just type stack into the chat I'll keep track of who's who's next to speak. This is the way we've been doing it in our group for like sort of larger meetings and it works pretty well. And then if you have something that you'd like to respond to urgently just throw it in the throat in the chat and as facilitator also like work it work it into the stack as I say does that does that work for everybody?

Eric
Sounds good
to me. Thanks for doing that Jake.

Jacob
Course.

Eric
Do
we want to start by going around and asking everybody who's here what they want to hear know about or talk more about?

Jacob
Yeah. That
sounds great. Yeah. So maybe just do a real quick around the horn. Myself first. I'm Jacob Morgan with 5 percent and mutual aid on the bulk buying side of it. Sort of getting all of the the whole salary in order to figure out how to hours are spec sheets for packing and the logistics like the real world like physical logistics and into things I'll pass that to Amy.

Amy
Hi, I'm Amy and I also work on Flatbush United less on the tech side, definitely. But really looking at how we train our volunteers to use the tool and connect to our neighbors who may be in need of food resources and then also looking at how we assign how we map and cluster the different deliveries and how that relates to how many drivers and packers we have. So also the logistics side on the weekends. And Eric?

Eric
I am
also from Flatbush United, it's the neighborhood I live in and I happen to also be a CiviCRM techie who just happened to end up in the middle of a chaotic situation and figured I'd throw some good tech at it. But really the work that that Jake and Amy and everybody else is doing is the real work the organizing and the creativity that they brought into the project and the way that the different talents and experiences of different people came in to brainstorming out an idea which they then sort of prototyped. In Google, just to give an idea of what the forms were, with what the process could be. And then I was able to build out this system very quickly because of the foundation that they had laid and the then we've gone through a series of iterations going back and forth where further refinement of the tool was being based on the actual use of the tool.

And we're about to make a big change in data model in order to respond to them. They just wanted to give them the credit that we're not techies is just to cover the project planning and – ability to spec something out and understand the data that's technically. So that's my long introduction. I will pass to Bruno next.

Bruno
Sorry I'm
munching guys. It's almost dinner time here in the UK. I'd be normally eating right now so I'm business development manager for Circle Interactive, Circle is one of the largest Civi developers in the UK. I'm quite new to the community. I've only been working with Circle for just under six months now. Which means I'm still understanding how it works in a way even though I'm selling it which means I. Yeah I do understand the basics of it by now and I use it as well obviously, I became interested to learn more about what you guys did because it does sound like a fairly complex use of CV.

Perhaps more complex than than I've seen closely with any of our clients I'm more involved in projects that although yeah they have certain element a certain element of complexity. I quite like how your use of it goes from the digital world to the physical world in a big big way. So I think that's that's probably the most interesting and attractive thing about about the way you've been doing it.

I think the keyword that Eric said is creativity because he just took this this system that's kind of a you can use it for anything and you've done something that's large scale. And like I said goes onto the physical world, so kudos. That's really interesting. And you guys sound like you're doing a lot of good. So look forward to hearing more about it. Thank you.

Eric
Can someone
to introduce themselves next Bruno.

Thorsten
Yes, hi this is Thorsten from Leipzig in Germany. Yes when we started in March with the corona help activity and we brought together about 200 people who needed help with volunteers. We used Geo Matching and Geo Coding. That was very helpful to get people close to where they live but it was a lot of cut and paste. We used Civi activities to bring those people together and that's why I heard this CiviCase. We didn't get into the complexity of CiviCase.

Now at the moment. It's more and more open here fortunately. But there is a fear of the second corona of a Corona wave. So to say and we would like to be prepared and to be more efficient because current pace we we simply brought them together. It's not that in CiviCase we had like lists what somebody would need to buy in the grocery store. So we just got the people together and then they called each other and then they decided what they would need to do when to grow up and and how to how it works with the money. So we gave them some tips but it was on behalf of them how they would make it happen. In a way so yeah. CiviCase. That's my basic question is there an easy way - to to to to reduce the number of cut and paste and to go away from our 15 minutes per case to say 5 just by, Yeah, just by using CiviCase. I would add – I might enter in the chat link where unfortunately everything could only be read in German language but there you see a little workflow that we used and which we would which would we'd like to automate.

Eric
So let's
see I'll I'll just pick somebody going next William give us an introduction and what do you want to know.

William
So
I'm William I'm based in Newcastle in the north of England. I work for an arts membership organisation with the national membership organisation for visual artists in the UK. So we used CiviCRM in a very different way from the way you're using it. I'm just interested to hear more about what you're doing is your introduction earliest and it was nice to make and I'll pick Joe next.

Joe
Hi.
So I'm Joe McLaughlin in Irvine California. I did a little bit of work with a group nearby in Riverside County California. The Democratic Socialist of America. Inland Empire and help him set up a new Civi instance and we get a very basic call list and scheduling using web forms CiviCRM and calls through the group's contact list to I.D. folks looking for support and needing to check in. And I'm particularly interested in hearing about Eric and Jake and Amy. Any integration you might have created between you mentioned AirTable or was using me we'd still be using or was using it first in Google Forms and Slack if any of that stuff is integrated with what you developed. I work with an organization actually based in New York called the Working Families Party that's been using air table and slack in other stuff for kind of volunteer management and I'm eager to hear more about that. Thanks so much.

Jacob
Marco, if
you want to introduce yourself.

Marco
Yeah.
Hi can you hear me. Yeah. So I'm Marco from Serbia in the Balkans. We host CiviCRM in Serbian countries of the region and we also provide support to many organizations in Serbia primarily and I'm interested to hear more about the technical aspects of your solution. So that's what attracted me. I'm here with two of my colleagues. Nathan and Tomas which so maybe Thomas can introduce himself next yeah?

Thomas
I'm
Research Coordinator at the Catalyst Balkans Foundation and I'm also a co-founder of the small scale system building association that's been trying to implement a food donation delivery system in Belgrade Serbia but completely unrelated to civic activists. So I'm specifically interested sorry to specifically CiviCRM. So I'm specifically interested in hearing the technical implementation of your project. Thanks Nathan?

So I'll just jump in and say Hi I'm Nathan the director of Catalyst Balkans I'm really interested in this this example. Interested in hearing how how do you go from the collection of of all of the cases and severe case to making purchasing decisions for the inventory. How do you how are you had Jim and that still ongoing so how do you hedge your bets against how much to buy and how a CiviCRM helping you to to make those decisions beyond getting a collective shopping list as it were.

Jacob
Well thank
you so much everybody for being here. I want to take Joe, Joe's question first about how we're integrating. So one of that one of the major sticking points is we inherited this like Air Table / Slack system from another Mutual Aid group and there were certain aspects of their system that we didn't get. I've had a lot of automated bots like populating information between the two systems and we just didn't have that functioning on our own for a while. It was very frustrating. And that's more like one of the the big things that CiviCRM kind of streamlined for us and right now we're tackling the issue of how do we integrate since we're still using Air Table to gather the requests and then add in volunteers are are putting the relevant information into the form too. 

Like how do we integrate that? And that's sort of that's sort of our 2.0 model is is moving away is just moving away from AirTable. Hopefully that's gonna be a little bit of a longer process to fully get ourselves extricated from our table because the the the majority of our issues where there are just volunteers mis mis typing details and us having to sort of do a match up thing it's also one of our big motivators for switching to a case based model is that as calls and requests come in cases get created and then we can follow those cases all the way through our own proprietary system. Not have to do a pencil and paper like check between AirTable and CiviCRM. Also hopefully as as people start as you sort of start move out of lockdown here, you know, we're hoping that grocery and food delivery becomes less of a focus for the group like it has been like.

I mean the situation in Flatbush has been dire for a while even before the outbreak in terms of food being a food desert not having access to good quality produce. So there will always be a part of what we do but as a mutual aid organization we also want to be able to focus on like tenant rights, things legal assistance cash assistance, like unemployment assistance, senior check ins all all the other things that a good mutual aid organization can do. And having having a case based model is going to allow us to perform several different actions for a neighbor right.

Because who need groceries oftentimes also need a one on one check in and like health health check ins folks seniors and so yeah. So that's in terms of integrating AirTable, our impetus to sort of move move away from that as much as possible because it is it is a rather it's in some ways good in its versatility but it is also kind of like a sprawling and confusing tool for a lot of volunteers use as well. Yeah

Joe
Yeah
it's great thanks. And then also for later work now you won't have time but I'm just curious about Eric. You might know these folks, you know Dana Scholem and other folks who were involved in Occupy and Occupy Sandy and aid efforts with Sandy and we're using Civi I think. Did you got do you know them? Is there any overlap or stuff that they're still around? I've no idea…?

Eric
So all of the people that were involved in that wave of mutual aid are mostly somehow involved in this one but it's taking different forms. You know it's a whole different crisis and so it's it's it's much more neighborhood-by-neighborhood focused right now. During Sandy there were certain regions of the city that really were impacted more than others and we were able to. People were focusing, you know, people in all sorts of neighborhoods of Manhattan were focused on Chinatown and getting food to people who lived 20 storeys up in buildings that uses the elevators were turned off because there was no power.

This situation is very different and we are all sort of locked into our own neighborhoods pretty much you know. No one taking a subway to go somewhere else. And the integration. The only real integration between AirTable and Civi right now is a weekly data import for new data for volunteers and things like that which is just a straight import standard deep checking on email and a name. But that's really the only integration that's happened now

Joe
Is
a manual export from air table. Yeah OK cool. All right thanks Jacob

Amy
Can I say one thing too which is interesting. So AirTable we take the code that our table generates and that is pasted into the Civi tool that we're using and the phone number from AirTable is pasted into our new tool. And then at the end we can do an export of of the codes and the numbers and compare the two lists to see if we got off anywhere

Joe
In the code look at the case code basically or…?

Amy
Yeah AirTable generates like. Well our AirTable, I think they function differently, but ours generates a four letter code that we then use in the Civi tool and then that AirTable as a reference becomes a reference for that case.

Joe
Good.
Great. Thank you so much.

Amy
We can also share our screen if that's easier to sort of yeah

Jacob
That
would be a good idea guess I wanted to answer the question about how it informs our purchasing decisions as well. Eric I don't know if we have the port the the page right where you're setting the portion and guidelines on the orders. So on for my for my end of things. We have once once all the volunteer ones other volunteers fill out the the order form with the neighbors. It gives us an order summary of like the number the number of orders placed and then it also gives us an output that is number of orders placed affected by family size as well.

So like for example like we're getting we're getting apples and and so you have we have 70 orders for apples this weekend. And but 30 of those orders are for a family of five or greater. And a family in our system we have or we have apportioning guide. So when because when we get bulk produce and it all gets split up into into a standard sized bag by volunteers. So a family of five or more will get three standard sized bags of apples. Right.

So we will have one data output output that tells us we need to bag one hundred and sixty three standard sized bags of apples in order to cover the 70 requests for apples. And then that will also reflect on the packing sheet that the volunteers get when they're actually packing the bags for the neighbors. Where. Yeah. Perfect.

Yeah. So let's take the potatoes right. As as I totally filled out here for this week. But I and we can we can. Yes we can in fact we can in fact like the amounts who like 4 pounds of potatoes for one person six pounds of potatoes for two people ten for three and so on and so forth. That'll print off on the packing slip for the volunteers as well. So that day they see when they're packing the actual grocery bags that they need to grab six pounds of potatoes for a two person family. And this from this, the third to output is the actual like counted to produce needed for a weekend. And we can compare that week to week to sort of get like a running average. So we'll buy when we're purchasing with bulk buying wholesale we had to place the orders at least a couple days in advance before the farm is closed so we're able to get sort of a an average like weekly need for potatoes. Right. So we know we know after doing this for for four weeks that we need roughly four hundred 50 pounds of potatoes to get through a weekend. We can purchase those potatoes on Monday and then by Wednesday night we'll know whether or not we're on on that number. So if we had an exceptional number of requests for potatoes or extra large families for that week which does happen especially when you're doing it kind of we're scaled up to a point where we can get some good averages but it's still a small enough sample size where like this that the average size of the families can fluctuate. Right. So we'll know on Wednesday night if we need actually five hundred pounds of potatoes and then that gives us the lead time to find a source for the extra 50 pounds of potatoes for the weekend.

So having having those those three outputs the number of orders the orders affected by size for creating respect sheets for our our our baggers who are separating the bulk goods and then having the actual like poundage output really like makes my job a breeze and that's been super super helpful does that answer that question about bulk buying?

Joe
And
may I ask one more? I'm just curious about whether you tried to – or two questions to two questions – so all the other stuff you're putting all the words together are you putting all the request together and only doing the bulk ordering you not like ordering up front and then saying OK we got thousands of potatoes whatever right. What what's one question. Another one is curiosity. Are you trying to use like QR codes, barcodes or anything to track stuff coming in and out or whatever? Like is that…?

Jacob
So
this a conversation. I'm gonna answer the second question first because this is this is a conversation that me and Eric had at the beginning of this thing. And from like from a warehouse perspective like having having the QR codes or barcodes to track inventory coming in and out of a system makes a lot of sense if you're trying to get a precise like live inventory on coming from. I'm a I'm a chef. I work in kitchens. The idea of control of controlling a live inventory in an operation as small as ours is is a recipe for like sort of over overworking on the system like that. You know having a like check things in and then like monitoring like the quantities as they're in our system the sort of the way that we've done this is to monitor the data.

So you know because we can say we can know how much we have coming in and we can monitor how much we have going out and then have the discrepancy between those to be our actual inventory and that reduces the need to have volunteers dedicated to only maintaining inventory for us. And it takes it out it takes it out of it. It makes a lot less work for us than monitoring a live inventory.

And as far as the first question goes. The tricky part with moving to a wholesale program is, and especially especially since we've decided if we wanted to if we wanted to work with just like a standard produce supplier who's gonna get us like California carrots and Mexican avocados and Canadian potatoes all coming into warehouses at Hunts Point Bronx, like, we could we could place our orders like the day before right and get the delivery. But another thing that we decided to do was to work with farmers, local farmers, especially local farmers who are suffering because of the restaurant closures who are a lot a lot of people that I typically work with and what my my job exists.

And sort of have mutual aid be able to benefit that system as well. And the trick with that is that those orders typically have to be placed since we are being harvested from the field specifically for us early. Yeah. And so we place we place the orders on Monday or Tuesday but we don't know our actual needs until Wednesday. But being able to track week to week our averages means that we're actually, we're actually fairly accurate on what we need and any excess, can get sent home with volunteers or given away like we haven't – actually have I have a 16 gallon batch of apple cider, of hard cider waiting in my my apartment right now, from from an over-order on apples, so we're we're making sure nothing goes to waste but we're we're actually fairly accurate.

Eric
We
got one person on stack. Bruno?

Bruno
Yeah. A
question that I asked before we effectively started that I asked about whether you managed to use just CiviCore functionality to do all of this or if you had to do any custom code to make it work.

Eric
The initial
iteration was all core Drupal 7 Civi functionality. Civi Web Form creates the orders and the cases. We're moving to a slightly different model where we're going to a node based model instead of a Web Form model. And for that there's two functions in a module that needed to be written in order to create the case properly with the data we wanted to and then bring back a link from the case to the node. So there there is a note in the case that links to the node and then there's a field in the node that links to the case. That's the only custom function. Everything else is core CiviVolunteers, CiviCase and there's a lot of Drupal Views involved in terms of doing the calculations and things like that.

Jacob
We got Thomas on stack.

Thomas
Yes thank you. So I was wondering I have actually. Let's see say a two part question the first part is how much inertia have you encountered when implementing this with volunteers or beneficiaries implementing this system. And as far as I understand you don't have traditional suppliers in terms of formal companies or whatever providing the food in donation form through which reform but you have of sort of a local supplier system. I'm sorry if I'm not if I'm not using the terminology right but is there also any inertia in terms of the user interface or in terms of the just the general use that suppliers also have in whatever form they take take?

Eric
I'll take
the first part and then I'll pass it to you all to talk about the suppliers. Yeah. Lot of friction. Lot of resistance. Introducing new tools is really difficult. One of the things about Civi is you know it's gotten older looking interface it's not as fancy as AirTable and there's some resistance that we've found because of things like that. But for the most part once people start, have started to use the system, they've started to realize that those other things don't matter that the functionality and the way that it's facilitating their ability to actually do the human-to-human contact has lowered that that resistance. But getting people to that point is still been very difficult.

Thomas
Can
I just ask a follow up? Are there instances in your current experience where people are trying to go around the system so they now acknowledge the system in terms of it's useful. You know we can implement it but are there like ways that people try to take shortcuts to fix the problem more quickly in their in their view or in their kind of approach to it.

Eric
Yes
sort of, there's there's so many facets to this organization that yes there's a lot of things moving in different directions like that where people just are like oh I'm going to use proprietary system X to just push this forward. That's why the the food and the bulk buying is where the tech team is really focused at this point because that's the subgroup that has been receptive to this and slowly where we're inching out into other parts of the organization we're bringing like bringing in the ability to send out CiviMail to volunteers and to group volunteers by their interests and send out CiviMail is something that has enticed certain other people to start being willing to use the system and not not just through other solutions together so.

But yeah there's always going to be resistance like that especially in such an ad hoc, no-one has power to tell anybody what to do and make decisions kind of organization making decisions is impossible as well.

Jacob
I just want Amy to comment on this because there's definitely a huge difference between the inertia from the admin planning side versus the actual volunteers on the ground.

Amy
So yeah I will say that it's been a huge game changer for us. I was training volunteers who were just giving up after after one try because it was about our initial system was about matching one individual family's request to a shopper and it was incredibly stressful especially if they were if the family was based far away then you had to fight. You know you were hoping that someone would pick up this request who might have to drive pretty far and so and then you had to keep continually checking back. What's great about this new system is that the volunteers know for 100 percent we are going to guarantee this delivery on the weekend. So it takes a lot of the anxiety a lot of pressure a lot of the guesswork out of it. And it's also a lot easier to use.

It's much more user friendly than trying to post on slack and then change the icons and then remember to update here. And so it's it's from a volunteer perspective. I think we're doing a lot better in terms of retaining our volunteers because it is easier to use and it is more efficient.

Jacob
Are we meant to
be heading back to the main room? or no. All right.

Amy
Yeah
I think we are. Did anyone have any other questions?

Thorston
Yes. Yes I. We could could we talk a little bit about the CiviCase thing for example. Do you have a good documentation for people that have a basic knowledge in the Civi I am that then could work with CiviCase.

Eric
T
here is some documentation on the Civi site for CiviCase but it's pretty small. It's pretty and so it's mostly I have not written any documentation and just one other thing to point out is that in how the the worker cooperatives that I am a part of in my day job. We do CiviCRM development for non-profit organizations. That's what we do. And the perspective we bring to it is often we want to remove people's interaction with CiviCRM while using CiviCRM as the data store because it is very efficient and it can do all these things.

And so a lot of the user interface is actually Drupal views that is pulling data out of savvy CRM into a more familiar format for people with fewer items on the page, fewer things to look at. Fewer confusing buttons to click but with CiviCase the goal is to move some people eventually into using the CiviCase's interface because of the CIviCase interface is pretty nice. And it will provide just an easier way of them keeping track of what they're responsible for. But in the most part it the goal is to keep all that kind of user dashboards on the CRM – on the CMS side.

Thorston
Would you also share your email address for questions to CiviCase or not?

Eric
There it is. It's in the chat. Feel free to get in touch. You know maybe I can help. Maybe I can't but you know I'll do what I can. It's you know the duty of the community. Yeah.

Thorston
Thank
you very much. Now may I have another question.

Eric
Sure. One more and then I think we're done.

Thorston
OK. Talking about the volunteers. And you said a difficult with systems before. I just said we just bring people together. And then they do the job. So they call and say OK what shall I buy for you at the grocery. So they had practically nothing to do with with with big system. Of course we didn't buy at farmers so that other people could could cook something could get something to eat. But what what made you choose this way. So buying all big quantities and then send it out to people and not let them decide on an individual basis who needs what? And then the volunteer just simply goes to the store and gets it and brings it back. Why did you go this way?

Jacob
Cost. Cost and volume. We're talking about thousands and thousands of requests in our neighborhood at our, at our at our former pace and costs. It was not sustainable in any way shape or form so we developed we develop these tools to find a sort of like happy medium between, we didn't want to dictate what people had to eat. You know we live in a very culturally diverse neighborhood.

—Yeah—

So we developed we, we did a bunch of research on commonly requested items and developed an inventory from from those commonly requested items. And keeping in mind that the various cultural backgrounds of the people we were serving to come up with our inventory. So they don't you know they don't have to. If someone doesn't like green plantains they don't have to get green plantains. They they just they can  opt out of that. And we still we still buy some items individually for people as well so we're able to serve you know a number of people a magnitude greater than we were before with our system without having to force them into a food pantry like charity model.

And kind of the idea that we want to expand on that is to be is you know there's also room for growth in that model rather than just like creating more more bags of food for four more people. It's like creating more diversity in our selections using using the power of community to create purchasing power so that we can go and get better deals from farmers and find more variety.

For example we've got feedback from the community that callalloo leave would be a good like a good addition and we're able to find a for a first generation immigrant-owned farm that was growing callalloo leaves that was able to sell to us and our price point because we're buying in bulk so that's. That was kind of the impetus was that we can do we can do more. We can do more good well with this system then if we went to a food pantry system or if we stayed on the individual purchases just like you…

Amy
Can I say something about the question that's come up about suggested donation? This has been really successful for us. We we do ask in the script when we sign people up to bulk buy. We say you know what. We're just neighbors helping neighbors. There's a lot of people in need now if you have a couple of extra dollars and you can give those dollars to your delivery volunteer that's going to help pay for the next family's set of groceries. And obviously not everybody can do that, but there's plenty of people that can and sometimes it ranges from five dollars to 20 dollars and then that money we use as a runner's float for if we're short, or if items are short the next day or we need to go out for something unexpected.

So it is helping to buy the next neighbor's groceries and what we found is people really love to be part of this bigger initiative, so they're not just passively receiving aid but they're also helping others in the community. So it's definitely possible to do a suggested donation or to ask people to contribute and that's what we do.

Jacob
I think the problem is suspect in the manner

Eric
Yeah thanks all for the great questions – let's continue the conversations on whatever forums and formats we can.

Playback speed: 1
  • Presenter
    Eric Goldhagen – Open Flows Technology Cooperative – openflows.com Amy Rebecca Marsico & Jacob Missen, Flatbush United Mutual Aid
  • Filmed in
    New York City, USA
  • Filmed on
    25 June 2020
  • Length
    41.01 (mm:ss)
  • License
    CC-BY (Attribution)

This is a test project – the transcript was auto-generated with some human clean-up, so please ignore any typos.