Food banks in the United States are going high-tech in an attempt to automate and effectively distribute food to the people who need it the most. By using bar coding, GPS tracking, and automated warehouses, administrators hope to use technology to their advantage to feed more hungry people.
“What we tell people a lot is that we are a food distribution business wrapped in an altruistic skin,” says Jan Pruitt, president and CEO of the North Texas Food Bank in Dallas.
Pruitt’s food bank along with the Food Bank of Central New York in East Syracuse are testing a $60 million effort to create state-of-the-art national computer network that will help automate services. This system called the Athena Project will let food banks standardize accounting, inventory, and donor software, use the Internet and manage pickups and deliveries using GPS tracking. Feeding America is installing the systems at no charge.
“We are going to gain so much efficiency,” says Linda Nageotte, Food Lifeline’s president and CEO. “We’re going to be able to provide so much better accountability, and this also really increases our credibility.”
Athena, she and others say, opens a world of possibilities:
-GPS tracking and instant communication to send trucks on the most efficient routes. Lutz says this alone can cut transportation costs by40 percent. Food Lifeline is equipping drivers with smart phones that eventually could scan in donations as they are picked up.
-Inventory management systems to track every food item, from truckloads of potatoes to individually donated cans. This not only saves time and reduces waste, but is a safeguard for product recalls.
-Generating lists of food, money and volunteer hours for donors, handy at tax time.
-Common software and backup computer servers, allowing agencies to trade or divert food, share donor information or step in if a food bank is overwhelmed by a disaster.
Such innovations aid a strategy that”needs to be twofold,” she says. “It needs to be about feeding the people who are standing in line better and it needs to be about making the line shorter.”