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8 Lessons from a Food Pantry

Count your points - you only get 20

Count your points – you only get 20

I recently joined a group of volunteers that helped out at the Saint Vincent de Paul food pantry.  Some of us moved food, others checked customers in and out and helped them get their food to their transportation.  Others made sure each customer had a cart.  The experience opened my eyes and reinforced the concept if want to begin to understand your customer walk a mile in their shoes.  In fact walk several.

I saw this in a food pantry but these lessons are applicable in any business.

  1. Start with a process.  Individuals were checked in and given a number.  They waited for their number to be called, had their entry permit validated, were given a numbered shopping cart and given permission to go through shopping line.  After completion their food items were counted and they bagged them.  The process reduced chaos.  The process reduced stress.  Customers understood that one person was not being favored over others.
  2. Service with a smile.  If you smile at someone they will usually smile back.
  3. Observe what the customer does. Each customer received 20 points for food.  Each item was assigned a point value.  Meat and fish were extremely popular.  Few were taking the breakfast cereal.  They reduced its point value and ended up giving a lot of it away.    It is much more valuable to observe what a customer does than to ask them what they want.
  4. Learn something new. I learned avocados can be cleaned, placed in airtight bags and refrigerated and will stay fresh for 2 weeks.
  5. Look at a problem from the customer’s view.  A women came through the line in a wheelchair.  She was pushing a cart with her feet with no expectation that someone would help her.  Her concern was not the type of food but the size and weight and how would she transport it home.
  6. Each customer had a story.  Some were first timers, some were regulars, some were by themselves, and some were from large families.  Each was unique and approached the shopping line in a different way.  Some things are not as black and white as they seem.
  7. Remember to say thank you.  Take time to appreciate others
  8. There is a lot of good in the world.  The entire operation was run by about 40 unpaid volunteers.  The leader said the only person getting paid was the security guard.  In this day when negativity is so abundant it was refreshing to know that people are improving their neighborhood at little at a time.

I read a quote from Jennifer Christ that summarizes my experience.  “Sometimes we are the giver, sometimes the receiver.  Both positions require open hearts that allow love to flow in both directions in good measure.  When we get the rhythm right, we experience an abundance that is more than the sum of the parts.”

A great lesson for business and personal life.  Maybe that is what some mean by a good work / life balance.

Until next time – all the best!


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