Feeding America 2015 Member of the Year
Application Content Points
Average Pounds per Person in Poverty
Percent Nutritious Food Received
Total Meals Delivered via SNAP Outreach
Growth in Local Pounds Solicited
Food Safety Index
Fund Development Strategy
Cost Per Dollar Raised
Program Expenses Percent of Operating Expenses
Meals Distributed Per Dollar
Value Alignment with Feeding America
Average Pounds per Person in Poverty: Describe strategies to meet, exceed and maintain county compliance with Feeding America’s requirements for providing a certain level of food to each individual served throughout your service area
Each month, our Agency Services staff analyzes metrics received through agency reports to review agency compliance with our standards and to determine which counties are under-served. The Houston Food Bank’s internal formula for measuring our distribution to food insecure individuals has been more stringent than the Feeding America contract requirement. In 2012, our board directed us to only report on nutritious meals, comprising what is now the current contractual formula for Meals per Person in Need.
We encourage all partner agencies to increase the amount of food they distribute through an incentive program that corresponds to our board-established Allocation Priorities. The Allocation Alignment System rewards agency compliance with incentives such as discounted or free deliveries, and priority access to Community Food Fairs and bonus items.
We followed an example set by the Mid-Ohio Food Bank in Columbus in developing our most reliable strategy for increasing meals in under-served areas: mobile distribution.
Community Food Fairs provide either 10 or 20 pallet quantities, either left in a parked trailer or dropped. On average, fresh produce comprises 55% of food fair items.
In counties with few partner agencies, we often recruit organizations that are not traditional partner agencies to serve as anchor points or sponsors for Community Food Fairs. For example, in rural Walker County, the Junior League agreed to serve as the host for a Food Fair.
We encourage and mentor our three Partner Distribution Organizations to increase their overall output in rural counties. The Brazos Valley Food Bank recently achieved a record produce distribution: 42.45% of total output.
The second mobile distribution involves a bobtail truck donated by Kraft through Feeding America for our SNAP and Groceries To Go program. The Kraft truck carries 10 pallets of fresh produce and other items to a primarily rural location. We combine the food distribution with SNAP application assistance supplied through our Social Services Outreach Program.
After a 2014 dip in produce acquisition related to a budget cut, HFB produce receipt levels are once again climbing to support our desire to make fresh produce the centerpiece of distribution. In the prior fiscal year, total distribution was 32.71% produce (monthly average 2.14M lbs). So far this fiscal year, we’re averaging 37.98% (monthly average 2.75M lbs).
Last year, we restructured our product resourcing team to create the position of Produce Industry Manager. John Kreger maintains close ties with the Houston Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association year-round in addition to their annual holiday gift, which has grown to 2.6 million lbs this year. He cultivates “fruitful” relationships with companies based at the Port of Houston. For example, we received 14 truckloads of bananas to share with other Texas food banks. John also formed the Hunger Relief Team three years ago, comprising food companies that commit to donate monthly, or at least 100,000 pounds a year.
Besides seeking donations, we source specific categories of produce for Brighter Bites, a program that we are incubating to become a separate nonprofit. Brighter Bites distributes fresh produce to children in elementary schools.
HFB collaborates on produce acquisition with other member food banks in Feeding Texas – our state association. We have sent excess produce loads to other Texas food banks in Beaumont, Austin, San Antonio and Dallas, and we secure approximately two truckloads a month from the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, a major produce conduit. We are working with a volunteer expert to optimize produce movement into HFB through donated back-haul opportunities and other strategies.
To ensure our warehouse staff are able to reinforce the quality of the product we distribute, we brought in experts from USDA to provide training on produce inspection and grading. A professor at the University of Houston who was referred to us by a local produce donor will conduct a similar seminar for other Texas food banks at an upcoming Feeding Texas conference.
The Houston Food Bank conducts SNAP outreach through our Social Services Outreach Program (SSOP), which provides application assistance for other state-funded services such as Children’s Medicaid. In addition to nine office-based staff, SSOP has 17 field workers who travel to 56 locations to conduct SNAP interviews.
We have seen steady increases in overall SNAP meal equivalencies of at least 10% in the last few years.
HFB is one of five food banks in Texas operating a special SNAP program funded by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). Our staff is trained and authorized to conduct the interview portion of the SNAP enrollment process, which brings applicants days closer to receiving benefits. SSOP staff can put Texas Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards in the hands of clients on the spot. The EBTs are then loaded by HHSC. The interview process can take up to an hour, while only 20-25 minutes are required to fill an application.
SSOP field workers are required to conduct at least five interviews a day. Besides the field work, we conduct interviews in our main warehouse location on a daily basis. SSOP office-based staff can initiate the application process by phone for individuals who call our Help Line, or provide the location of SSOP field workers and SNAP enrollment events.
Opportunities for SNAP outreach expansion come primarily through our use of a mobile food distribution with a dedicated vehicle donated by Kraft through Feeding America: the SNAP and Groceries To Go program. The Kraft truck carries fresh produce and other items, serving as a draw to attract potential SNAP applicants. We target under-served rural communities through about 20 events each month.
SSOP staff are available on request to provide SNAP application assistance at special events such as health fairs and social service expos. We routinely offer opportunities for SNAP assistance to our partner agencies, and actively encourage them to supplement food distribution with services.
Growth in Local Pounds Solicited: Describe strategies developed to facilitate new product donations as well as methods designed to strengthen existing donor partnerships. Include methods for growing retail store donation and produce pounds.
In the last year, we restructured staff to move both product resourcing and volunteer services functions into our Operations Division, to optimize the impact on food processing and distribution. In seeking to grow our Retail Pick-up program, we added a full-time staff position so that two FTEs now focus on relationships with retail stores. We also now have a dedicated Produce Industry Manager, and a Product Industry Manager.
Launched in 2007, we have made adjustments as the program matures to increase economy and maximize the quality and size of receipts. In the current and previous fiscal years, we had double digit increases in average monthly pounds received (in FY14, 998,802 lbs/month with 23.86% overall growth from FY13; in FY15, 1,187,868 lbs/month with YTD 18.93% growth). We currently collect from more than 260 stores, 73 of them serviced by 34 partner agencies and PDOs.
One of the most valued aspects of Retail Pick-up is the stream of fresh meat. Last fiscal year, we received 2,241,796 lbs, a 23.43% increase over FY13. We project 2.6 million lbs this year.
Also retail-related is the Red Barrel program, which places branded collection units in 260 different stores. Currently 76 partner agencies make visits weekly or more often to collect food donated by grocery shoppers.
Our move to counting only nutritious food in recent years means that we must be diplomatically transparent in communicating with donors about the quality of product they wish to give us. For example, we’ve had successful conversations with Coca Cola, Pepsi and Frito Lay, asking them to reduce by 50% the amount of non-nutritious product they donate. To date, they have indicated they understand our rationale.
Three years ago, we formed the Hunger Relief Team, comprising food industry companies that commit to donate each month, or to give at least 100,000 pounds a year. Among other forms of recognition is an annual half-page ad in the Houston Business Journal, listing all Team members.
In late January, the Houston Food Bank had our second of two scored AIB audits and this time passed with a score of 920. We learned important lessons from our first scored audit in 2013 and instituted a number of practices that helped us achieve success this year. After our first AIB audit, we became more accountability-driven and determined that the most important elements in AIB compliance involve training, vigilant enforcement and staff buy-in.
Our Director of Facilities coordinated extensive training with staff at every level to ensure that we’re all aware of AIB standards. In addition to internally-conducted trainings, the director invited our pest control company to send a representative for training with staff on identifying pest-related problems and how to handle them.
Beside training the warehouse staff in upholding food safety practices, much time was spent with our Volunteer Services (VS) staff, which is responsible for coordinating extensive volunteer production. Last year, 49,939 volunteers handled 11,130,449 pounds of product. The VS team received extensive training on pest control, separation of product (e.g., pet food vs. human food), cleanliness, expiration dates, and accountability for their own area.
In training, the director notes that it is more effective to provide the reasons for each food safety standard. When staff understand why they are required to do certain things, they are more willing and prepared to comply.
We also trained all office staff so they can comply with AIB practices – for example, proper storage or placement of items such as hand lotion; or proper disposal of food trash.
Our Quality Assurance team conducts regular internal inspections based on the AIB audit form. Weekly spot inspections identify violations that are then reported directly to the appropriate supervisor by the QA team through a Warehouse Issues Report developed specifically to ensure AIB compliance. On a monthly basis, the Director of Facilities performs a review using the Feeding America Compliance Audit Sanitation Checklist.
The Houston Food Bank’s fund development strategy includes increasing the number of new donors as well as retention of those donors through our direct mail program. For FY14, we had a 55% increase in the number of new donors over FY 13, the highest number of new donors in four years. We attribute this growth in part to hiring a new direct mail company which offered bolder strategies and creative that mirrored our brand as well as consistency between online appeals and mail appeals. The first six months of FY 15 have brought in nearly 8000 new donors indicating that we will see an increase again this year.
We launched a young professionals society called F.R.E.S.H. (Feed, Respond, Educate, Social, Houston) last year which has resulted in over 100 members, several successful volunteer “Helpie” Hours and the development of a new F.R.E.S.H. Board. These young professionals bring additional personal financial support, new corporate connections and a new segment of volunteers.
Our foundation grants team identified and developed proposals to send to 12 new prospects including foundations that previously supported our capital campaign in an effort to further grow funding from both corporate and philanthropic foundations. This has resulted in new gifts including a first time $25,000 grant from a local foundation.
This past year, we used one of our direct mail e-appeals for Feeding America and Bank of America’s Give A Meal program. We were one of three food banks to meet their match of $50,000 by raising $25,000 resulting in $75,000 in new funds.
In FY 14, we hired a prospect researcher to identify and research new major gift prospects. As a result, our major gift portfolios have stronger prospects. Major Gift Officers have developed stronger donor relationships which has resulted in better attendance at events, an increase in the amount of annual donations from donors and more donor tours. One donor increased her annual donation by $25,000 as a result of the research and stewardship we provided to her.
The following strategies have been put in place to raise funds as efficiently as possible. Last year, we restructured the Development department by putting all events, annual giving and direct mail under one team and all major gifts under another team. This reduced the number of paid staff needed to achieve outcomes and streamlined responsibilities to better maximize each person’s time.
We trained volunteers to handle a number of responsibilities in Donor Services which would have been done by a paid staff person otherwise. We have two volunteers who have Raiser’s Edge skills and work regularly both in the office and remotely. In order to maximize our professional fundraisers’ time, we refined our third party and food and fund drive criteria regarding participation by staff. In order that we not turn down all requests, we recruited volunteers to help out at third party events and smaller speaking engagements and also invite our agencies and PDOs to participate in activities when it is financially unfeasible for us.
Our team has been very successful in growing the amount of in-kind donations we receive. As a result, we have not paid for food, alcohol, equipment and other items needed for a number of our donor cultivation events and our signature events. These included a recruitment event for our young professionals society, a professional sports stadium suite for a cultivation event and food and beverages for our marathon fundraising team. We are planning to combine all printing needs with other departments in order to receive the best price possible from one printing vendor for next fiscal year.
We review monthly budget expenses and trim costs wherever possible. We support professional development trainings but are judicious in who we send to what trainings. Each person who attends a training must come back with three new ideas for us to implement. We work very closely with our direct mail company to ensure that we receive postage refunds whenever budgeted expense projections prove to be higher than the actuals.
Stewardship over community resources is a top priority across the organization. Here’s a list of some of the ways we’ve implemented cost and management efficiencies.
- In FY14, we restructured staff to cut $700,000 from our salary budget.
- We revised procurement policies and procedures to ensure free and open competition for god and services. One result was a $175,000 savings in health insurance.
- We are participating in Feeding America’s Safe Source pilot program and anticipate further cost savings for goods and services commonly procured across the network.
- Instead of using a temporary service for warehouse labor, we use casuals and part-time employees.
- The warehouse operates in two shifts, 22 hours per day. Over-the-road deliveries come at night; HFB deliveries are loaded at night.
- Solar panels on our roof generate the equivalent of two meals per hour; we receive payments from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in exchange for agreeing to on generator power during times of high power demand.
- A truck maintenance firm now shares office space in our Truck Facility in exchange for a 75% reduction in per hour charges and a 66% reduction in parts upcharge.
- Fuel savings: we shifted more Retail Pick-up stores to agencies and PDOs; we created a central weekly drop of food sacks for our Backpack Buddy program to a school district central warehouse; a new contract with our fueling company tops off trucks daily at our facility at reduced cost.
- We use the Appian routing system to schedule donor pickups in the afternoon as backhauls, which helped increase our fleet utilization rate to an average 75%.
- Warehouse staff use Voice Pick to increase picks per hour. Order pickers are now required to meet hourly pick rates.
- We eliminated overtime at our Keegan Kitchen facility and converted exclusively to meals for children funded through the federal Child and Adult Care Program.
- All of our stretch wrap and plastic re-packing bags are provided through donations of resin and production; box costs were lowered through renegotiated contracts for more compact boxes.
- We reduced trash removal costs by starting two new recycling initiatives: Produce is now discarded into a composting machine; bread/pastry from Retail Pick-up is collected for a company that converts it into chicken feed.
The Houston Food Bank ships and receives food six days a week. Most days, 14 truckloads of product leave our warehouse. In order to operate at that level, our warehouse is staffed nearly 24 hours a day. Two shifts are scheduled to cover 22 hours. Our night shift receives most over-the-road deliveries and loads HFB vehicles so they’re prepared to depart first thing in the morning. We can use fewer forklifts overall, since we use them for longer periods of time during the day.
Our fleet usage is tracked daily using the PeopleNet system, which allows for monitoring and exception reporting of driver habits. Appian scheduling and routing software helps us schedule the most efficient, cost-effective routes for each vehicle. Overall, our fleet utilization rate averages 75%.
We reduce fuel consumption by plugging all of our refers into electricity, rather than running overnight on diesel.
Profit Point, the supply chain consultants, volunteered their expertise to help us optimize produce movement coming into HFB. A focus group of local food industry leaders including Sysco and Walmart discussed how they could utilize their fleets to assist, e.g., through backhauls or by taking over our long hauls to PDOs.
Inside the warehouse, our staff uses Voxware voice pick software, which increases picks per hour to meet hourly pick rates. Before using Vox, inventory accuracy ran 83%; post-Vox, 94%. Our inventory staff includes cycle counters who use hand-held scanners. As a result, agencies can order from the most up-to-date list using Agency Express, the web-based system through Feeding America with Aidmatrix. Cycle counting combined with voice pick also enables us to make better re-order decisions based on real-time inventory levels.
We average calculated annualized inventory turn rate, including produce, is 9.43 from our warehouse with a capacity of 14,676 pallets, including both dry and cooler space.
Like all food banks, the Houston Food Bank seeks to distribute more meals to hungry people. We are sharpening our focus overall to place more emphasis on shortening the line through our Food for Change initiative, which pairs food distribution with social and health services.
Our Core Connections Network comprises a group of eight partner agencies who commit to offering social services provision and/or referrals during food distribution, with a client-tracking component to measure client success.
Creative partnerships involving non-traditional partners allow us to expand access to nutritious food while helping clients achieve desired life goals. For example, we provide fresh produce to San Jose Clinic, which uses it as an incentive for attendance at diabetes education classes. A number of other efforts are in development, including a broad-based collaboration targeting clients of city and county housing authorities.
Feeding more hungry children is a priority. Our Backpack Buddy program continues to expand, now providing weekend food sacks to more than 10,000 children in 500 schools. We refocused meal production at our Keegan Kitchen exclusively to our Kids Cafe program. The number of sites grow annually. We’re currently feeding 3,300 children at 63 locations, including a rural county. Funded through the federal Child and Adult Care Program, we anticipate continued growth into additional rural communities.
We place high importance on accessibility to food insecure households with jobs. Our on-site Emergency Food Pantry, which distributes 1.2 million pounds of food annually, targets working families through evening and weekend hours. New partner agencies are required to offer extended hours, in addition to utilizing the client choice model of pantry operation and social service provision.
Because people are hungry seven days a week, the Houston Food Bank fleet runs Monday through Saturday, when our Community Food Fair schedule is nearly always full. We expand access to fresh produce through our Community Food Fairs by seeking new opportunities for partnership with viable non-traditional agencies.
The Houston Food Bank utilizes volunteers to provide service to clients both on- and off-site, primarily recruited through our Volunteer Services team.
On-site, our Emergency Food Pantry has the stated purpose of serving working families. Operated by the Emergency Aid Coalition (a partner agency), the pantry utilizes volunteers to register and assist clients as they “shop” for food items using the client choice system. Volunteers stock the shelves each day in preparation for the pantry’s 3:00-8:00 p.m. weekday and 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Saturday hours. Each month, the pantry distributes 100,000 pounds of food that fall into Foods to Encourage categories to roughly 1,300 employed households.
Our Serving for Success program provides warehouse and equipment training and certification to volunteers who come to us through the criminal justice system, in partnership with Houston Community College.
We utilize volunteers who are blind or visually impaired in our Call Center, our central telephone intake system. These volunteers can provide SNAP application assistance. This year, the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services selected HFB as the 2014 Business of the Year.
We are launching a new partnership with H.E.A.R.T., a vocational program serving adults with developmental disabilities. Clients of the program will volunteer in our Houston Texans Cafe.
Off-site, groups of volunteers are recruited for weekly and monthly distributions to approximately 800 children at two elementary schools through the Meals for Minds program, funded by Target.
Volunteers also assist in our Senior Box program, which serves 7800 seniors each month at 52 sites. Volunteers primarily help seniors load their boxes into vehicles.
Our advocacy effort benefits from volunteer participation. Our public policy manager recruited five board members who serve on our Public Policy Advocacy Team to help us implement our government relations strategy. Currently, our board is joining forces with board members from other Texas food banks in support of the Feeding Texas state legislative agenda.
The Houston Food Bank (HFB) is fully invested in Feeding America’s network-wide One Goal. Our board strategic goals include distributing 100 million nutritious meals by 2018. HFB’s internal formula for measuring distribution to food insecure individuals has been more stringent than the Feeding America (FA) contract requirement. In 2012, our board directed us to report only nutritious meals using FA’s Foods to Encourage.
Houston has strong alignment with FA’s values and actively seeks opportunities to incorporate great ideas from other food banks in the network. HFB’s organizational values are Passion, Accountability, Courage and Transparency (PACT). We stress the importance of living PACT at every level.
HFB has genuine passion for working with partners to maximize impact locally, regionally and nationally. As active participants in FA’s Collaboration for Clients effort, HFB initiated a local broad-based collaborative with a focus on clients in public housing. We were eager to connect Feeding America with the Laura and John Arnold, high-capacity donors who contributed to HFB’s capital campaign.
Through leadership in the FA Contract Task Force, HFB stressed incorporating board accountability into the revised member contract. For several years, HFB has had the courage to be fully transparent with our board in providing detailed metrics about every aspect of our organization. We inform our board about what other food banks in the network are doing so that our own board can hold us accountable and expect the same level of excellence as other food banks.
We engage with national and network level activities. In addition to our CEO’s leadership in the Contract Task Force and Collaboration for Clients, our Supply Chain Director serves on the national board of the American Commodity Distribution Association. Our Chief Financial Officer serves on the NAC Produce Committee and the Feeding America Performance Benchmarking Committee. Our Chief Operating Officer is an active participant in the FA network COO Roundtable.
We also welcome the opportunity to share resources beyond our nation’s borders by serving as host for the Global Foodbanking Network Leadership Institute, which relocated to Houston for its annual gathering three years ago.