November 19, 2017
 
Strategic Plan Enabled JF&CS to Deal with Logistical Overload

Jewish Family & Children’s Service, a Waltham-based social services agency, was experiencing a logistical overload with its food pantry program and used a strategic planning process to address the problem.

Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS), which offers programs to strengthen families, enhance the quality of life for seniors and people with disabilities, and provide a safety net to people in need, last year delivered close to 20,000 bags of groceries and served more than 500 families through Family Table, a key program.

However, in 2011, demand for the food pantry was peaking: a Sunday Family Table food distribution would entail packing groceries for 140 deliveries and 125 clients who came for pick up.

“We were operating well beyond our capacity,” explained Robin Kahn, senior vice president of marketing for the agency that has an annual budget of a $32 million and nearly 700 employees.

“With more than 250 volunteers and 260 sets of groceries (or 1,200 bags), logistics grew complicated and no new clients could be accepted. We started a waiting list and undertook a year-long strategic planning process to vision a new model.”

The goal was to add a weekday grocery store format to serve pick-up clients, use the facility and volunteers on Sunday for delivery clients only, and become more cost effective. Freeing up capacity would also allow JF&CS to accept new clients.

Strategic Plan Led to New Service Model

The planning process, led by three JF&CS staffers, involved numerous meetings over the course of a year with the Family Table team and senior managers in the agency. The organization learned that its constituents wanted the agency to remain committed to its Jewish mission while continuing to reach out to the broader community, and got affirmation of the importance of providing healthy food and nutrition education. Toward the end of the year, JF&CS engaged a strategic planning consultant to help it work through some final issues.

The new model that emerged—Family Marketplace—sought to empower clients to make their own food choices.

Family Marketplace launched in May of 2012. Two days each month, JF&CS runs the Marketplace in its Waltham office, and clients come in and “shop” for food they need.

“We serve more people since we are less resource intensive and minimize waste since clients select what they actually need,” Bernice Behar, Family Table program manager, said. “On a Sunday in Waltham, we deliver to 190 clients, a 35% increase from our peak. With only a handful of exceptions, former Sunday pick-up clients now come to Marketplace.”

Marketplace now has more than 190 clients, about 130 of whom attend the distribution in any given month. On the North Shore JF&CS serves about 30 clients with delivery and approximately 10 through a similar Marketplace distribution. In total, it has enrolled 220 delivery clients and 200 Marketplace clients.

JF&CS has also achieved efficiencies through its new approach. Since the Marketplace is partially supported by volunteers, there is less need for staff. The nonprofit has also reduced food costs by 30%—while maintaining the high quality of our food—due to better alignment between what clients need and what is offered.

Family Table Marketplace has delivered another important benefit: It has deepened and enriched our relationships with its clients.

“In one case, a Russian translator took an older client aside and showed her a better way to bend and lift her bags when she noticed that the client seemed to be showing some back discomfort,” Behar said. “In another situation, a case manager sat and had a quiet conversation with a woman who had accompanied her daughter-in-law who was a client. Our volunteers trade recipes with clients and each other.”

Behar observed, “The power of this system is that it brings everyone into conversation about good food, healthy eating, and the challenges of feeding our families – topics that unite us regardless of our economic status. There is no doubt that the Family Table Marketplace is connecting us with our clients in a way that is far richer than before. Our clients tell us how much they love coming to Marketplace and, as a team, we feel energized by the positive atmosphere.”

November 2014


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