Surrounded by boxes of bananas and cases of bottled water, George Schultz saw opportunity.
Schultz, director of operations for Amazon, and other company officials toured Harvest Hope Food Bank today to brainstorm how some of the processes and practices in place at their West Columbia plant could help feed the hungry.
The ideas began to flow immediately as the Amazon employees asked questions of Harvest Hope CEO Denise Holland and members of her staff. Clear signage and color coding could help keep incoming and outgoing products separated and easier to distribute. Bar codes could help keep better track of inventory. Best practices team members dedicated to ongoing safety cross-training could bring methods that have proven successful at Amazon to Harvest Hope.
“We should be able to provide them some basic standards and some basic floor prints to follow that should help them out a great bit,” Schultz said. “There are already some things today that we know they’re going to implement from a safety perspective. Within the next week, I would say we’ll have some of the signage up that they can use.”
Amazon will donate the signage, Schultz said. To kick start the implementation of other ideas in what Shultz hopes will be an ongoing partnership, the company also announced a $5,000 donation to Harvest Hope.
“We believe that we should support those in the communities we serve,” said Schultz, whose company also donated money and materials to Harvest Hope during October’s historic floods. “When we look at what Harvest Hope is able to achieve and the scope of what they face every day in feeding the hungry in South Carolina – we’re excited to be a part of that.”
Last year, Harvest Hope, which also has locations in Greenville and Florence, distributed more than 28 pounds of food, or 32 million meals. To fully meet the needs of the hungry in the 20 counties it serves, that number will need to reach 75 million meals by 2020, Holland said.
“These guys see it on such a large level, they exponentially help us to do it better,” Holland said as Amazon representatives took in Harvest Hope’s 40,000-square-foot Columbia warehouse. “We only have so much space here. We have a lot depending on us and a lot to do, so making us more efficient here is very important.”
One in five adults and one in four children and senior citizens are at risk of being hungry each month in South Carolina, Holland said, and feeding them requires a complicated logistical dance behind the scenes. Harvest Hope’s warehouse processes dry, wet and frozen foods, and bulk donations – such as cases containing 144 eggs each, or a load of sweet potatoes delivered by dump truck – must be sorted and packaged while an emphasis on safety is maintained.
Some donations, such as canned goods, meat and produce, are quick-in, quick-out. Others have a longer shelf life or – like 30 pounds of crushed sandwich cookies, for example – require specific distribution targeting.
“There’s needs on the back side of that that no one sees, except for the staff and some of the volunteers, that you also have to do in order to keep it moving,” Holland said.
While Schultz and other officials inspected equipment and took notes, other employees took a hands-on approach, helping Harvest Hope volunteers pack food.
“They said a normal group, in an hour, will pack about 200-250 boxes, so of course we want to do 300-350 and prove we actually know a little bit about efficiency,” Schultz said.
Holland said Harvest Hope’s service area has doubled since she began working with the organization 18 years ago.
“We have more counties than we used to have, we’ve got more food than we used to have, and the food component in itself, the component that you have to put it through before you can distribute it, is much more in-depth than it ever was,” she said. “The need is there. It’s having that growth, which you need, to meet those needs. Marrying the two together in the most efficient way possible is key.”