April 26, 2010

A week of choice!

After two successful dry-runs, Client Choice recently went live for an entire week at our Southeast Center, and these experiments have made one thing perfectly clear: our clients love the ability to choose what food they receive from our pantry. This alone makes it a priority for us to implement Client Choice as a permanent feature of our food program.

Permanently instituting Client Choice is going to take time and work. Our average "cycle time" (the total time it takes for a client to receive a bag) is a lean 4 minutes in the regular pantry setup; during the choice experiments our cycle time averaged 6.7 minutes. That's not bad, but we do want to keep our pantry as efficient as possible -- so we intend to tinker with the pantry's layout, adding new tables that mimic a grocery store experience.

We are also developing a volunteer training module, breaking out everything step-by-step, so that experienced volunteers can easily train first-timers, and staff have the help they need to carry the extra workload.

Even with increased cycle times, however, we find that most clients don’t mind the extra waiting. As one client explained, “I don’t mind waiting if I get to shop for what I like. This is fun!” This sentiment is music to our ears. But despite this, we want to be sensitive to people's schedules. Sometimes a client needs to make a job interview, catch a bus, or pick up their kids from school. So we intend to offer a choice for choice. If clients need to rush out, pre-made bags will be ready and waiting for them.

Client Choice embodies the very mission of BFC: identifying opportunities to meet people's needs in an environment of dignity and respect. For people who often have little control over their circumstances, we believe it is important to establish an opportunity for them to decide what food they need from us. With that in mind we will continue our choice experiment and make improvements until it becomes a permanent feature of our pantry.

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